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October 14, 2011

Exercising Your Pet’s Body and Mind - The Dog Nanny

The Dog Nanny

Just like humans, dogs and cats need exercise, and for the same reasons. Exercise is critical to maintaining good health. It tones muscles, boosts circulation, strengthens bones, and helps prevent obesity. But physical exercise, as important as it is, goes only so far. Your pet’s brain needs exercise too, to prevent boredom and depression. By channelling your pet’s energy into healthy outlets, you can help prevent it from contributing to destructive behaviours. And that makes everybody happier.

Physical exercise for dogs
Most dog breeds were originally created to perform a specific job — retrieving, herding, tracking, hunting, guarding, rescuing, and pulling carts or sleds. So the urge to work is in their DNA. But these days, most dogs kept as pets don't have a job to do. In fact, with family members gone at work or school for hours, dogs are in danger of being under stimulated. That's why some dogs resort to activities like excessive barking, chewing and hyperactivity, and why many trainers say that a tired dog is a good dog. The bottom line is, if you don't want your dog to be wired, get him tired.

Choosing the right exercise
The type and amount of exercise you choose for your dog will depend on many factors. His size and weight are important, of course, but so is his genetic makeup. If you have a dog with short legs, like a dachshund, you won't want to take him on a run with you. The same is true of short-snouted dogs, like bulldogs, who may have trouble breathing during vigorous exercise. Even dogs bred for racing, like Greyhounds, were never meant for extended sessions. Dogs tend to run in short bursts, stopping to sniff, greet other dogs, and do the things that dogs do. To be safe, consult with your vet before embarking on a running program. And if you do start, be consistent. Dogs don't fare any better as weekend warriors than people do.

Go fetch!
There are plenty of other activities that can give your dog a good workout and enable you both to have fun. Fetch is a big favorite, and can be played with balls outside and plush toys in the house.
Another great sport is frisbee because it requires your dog to anticipate how far the frisbee will go — an excellent mental exercise. Here's how to teach your dog to catch a frisbee:
* Start with a disc designed for dogs. (You can find these from Hyperflite, Hero or Aerobie.)
* Offer the frisbee to your dog and praise him when he takes it from you.
* Play tug of war gently and let your dog win.
* Roll the disc on the ground and encourage your dog to retrieve it.
* When you feel your dog is used to and interested in the frisbee, throw it a few feet way — but never at your dog's face. Praise him when he catches it and never show anger or frustration.
In no time, you'll be playing frisbee regularly.

Just for kicks
Another physical activity that's fun for both pets and humans is soccer. Use a medium sized ball or a hard rubber toy like Kong® that bounces in unpredictable directions. If your dog is social, you can bring him to a dog park (choose one that is securely fenced) and let him play with other dogs. This can be good for physical and mental stimulation.

Dive in!
Some dogs are natural swimmers. Others can be taught. If your dog shows fear or lack of interest, don't force him. Some breeds, like short, heavily built dogs (think basset hounds) are non-swimmers. But if your dog takes to water like a duck, swimming or playing fetch in the water is a great aerobic activity. Some dogs even go surfing!

Mental exercise for dogs
In addition to providing challenges to help keep your dog alert and happy, mental activities are a great way to bond with your pet. Dogs thrive on attention, and you may even find your dog returning the favour by being more attentive to your commands. One thing's for sure — you'll both have fun.

Make mealtime even more fun
Turn one of your dog's favourite times of the day (especially if you're feeding him BLUE) into a treasure hunt. Surprise him by putting his food bowl in an unexpected place and creating a kibble trail. Just be sure to account for the kibble trail in his overall daily food amount so he doesn't gain unwanted weight. If your dog is particularly good at tracking, you can vary this by placing small amounts of kibble in different areas around the house.

Tug of war
Some dog books advise pet owners not to play tug of war for fear it will encourage aggression and dominance in your dog. While recent research suggests this is not true, it's always best to let your dog know that you control the game.
* Choose an appropriate toy (never a sock or a leash) and use it exclusively for this game.
* Start by letting your dog know you're playing "tug," pick up the toy, and encourage your dog to take his end. When he does, give him praise or a treat.
* Tug a few times, then use a neutral command voice when you want him to "drop it."
* If your dog initiates the game, don't play. Wait until he gives up, then play with him. If he grabs the toy, end the game.
* Once you are playing successfully, you decide when the game ends. Reward his last "drop it" and put the toy away where he can't find it.

Name that toy
Each time you play with a certain toy, name it. Once your dog is familiar with the names of all his toys, put them on the floor and ask him for each toy by name. When he brings you the wrong toy, repeat the name and guide him to it. When he brings you the right toy, praise him and place it in his toy basket. Eventually, your dog may be able to put his toys away!

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