If getting more fit is on your list of New Year resolutions (and isn’t it on everyone’s?) you may be tempted to include your couch potato pup in your regime. Afterall, they say that having an exercise buddy will help to increase commitment and achievement of your goal, and your dog is ever available, right? We all know that our pets can suffer from the same negative side effects of being overweight as we do; diabetes, heart issues, joint degradation, arthritis and more! So helping them get into better shape is a win-win, right? Absolutely! As long as you use common sense and a bit of patience with the process.
If neither you or your pet are currently physically fit, be very realistic about what you are embarking upon and gradually build up stamina and endurance. Otherwise you run the risk of injury and possible ligament and joint damage which will sideline you for months. That would be a great excuse to give up that resolution but who wants to risk permanent impairment? The whole reason for this resolution in the first place is that we all want to remain mobile for as long as we possibly can. So no weekend warrior-ing! For you – or your pet!
Besides starting out all gangbustery and over-doing it, the two other mistakes commonly made are not taking your pet’s breed in mind when deciding if he should join you in this venture and not considering her age. Certain breeds should never be forced, or even allowed (assuming they were willing), to run or even do a long distance brisk walk. Those include any of the Brachycephalic (pushed in nose) breeds such as: Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Pugs and so on. They quickly overheat from the exertion regardless of the temperatures outdoors and have a difficult time getting enough air to sustain any real exercise. Stick with a more athletic breed like huskies, retrievers, setters, hounds, etc. and then take into account the individual’s age, weight, health status, and enthusiasm for joining in. You might have to scale back your vision of you and your devoted canine competing in a 10K.
Some people think that you must start a puppy off young to develop the training and conditioning necessary to become a life-long running/jogging partner. But just like it’s not realistic to expect your 5-year-old child to be excited to join you in a 3-mile run, neither can you expect a 4-month-old pup to do that – even though they have energy to burn. Not only don’t they have the attention span to maintain focus for any length of time, but you could do real damage to the skeletal system of a still developing puppy. It is not recommended that they do any repetitive impact exercises until their growth plates close – and this can vary from 6 months to 2 years depending on the breed and size of the dog. A trauma during this developmental time can lead to bone deformities and permanent damage.
I cringe when I see someone running with a young dog trying to keep up. The saddest part of that is that it’s clear they are trying to be a good pet parent and give their pet exercise and time together. So often we do damage through ignorance, which is why it’s very important to share this information with anyone you know who has a young dog! Playtime, training and short walks are a great way to start a pup off and wait until your vet gives the OK to up the speed and distance. If you are patient and do it right you will end up with a well-trained jogging buddy -one that will be dragging you off the couch long after you’ve given up your resolution!
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.