Spring’s here, and it’s time for you and your dog to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Long walks are a favorite form of human/ canine exercise, but for those looking for something a little more aerobic, biking and jogging are often the activities of choice.
Many dog guardians believe biking with their canines is a great way to release energy, especially for a dog that has been stuck in the house all day. Dr. Annie Harvilicz, founder and chief medical officer of the Animal Wellness Centers in Southern California, agrees that it’s an excellent way to exercise your dog, but that you need to pay close attention to make sure he doesn’t get too tired. You’ve probably seen people whizzing along on their bikes with dogs running relentlessly by their sides, tongues hanging out and looking beat. “Imagine having to run alongside a friend riding a bike,” Dr. Harvilicz says. “It can be exhausting.”
Before starting to bike with your dog, Dr. Harvilicz highly recommends a thorough veterinary examination, including blood work. “We need to make sure the internal organs are functioning properly so we don’t overstress the system,” she says. “The heart and lungs are especially important when doing any high-energy activity such as running.”
Physically pre-training a dog for bike riding is mandatory at all ages, but starting him at a younger age is best. However, keep in mind that over-exertion can impede the proper growth of bones, ligaments, tendons and joints in puppies, causing problems in adulthood. “Dogs of different sizes have growth plates that close at different times,” says J. David Sessum, veterinary technician at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. “You should consult with your veterinarian for the best time to start strenuous activity with young dogs.”
“Much as children should not lift weights I feel growing puppies should not be given high-impact exercise,” adds Dr. Harvilicz. “In other words, don’t take puppies on long, fast bike rides on rough surfaces like roads and sidewalks.”
The best recommendation is to start training your puppy by having him walk short distances alongside the bike. To avoid accidents and injury to either yourself or your dog, he should be trained to heel, to walk beside the bike without any tension in the lead, and not react to sudden noises or distractions such as cars passing by, other bikes and dogs. “Start with short distances and gradually work up to the distance you desire,” says, Dr. Harvilicz. “Make sure your dog is fully trained before attempting to take him on long rides, and be patient with him. You should use a harness instead of collar to avoid damage to the neck or trachea (windpipe).”
Small breeds should never walk or run alongside a bike, especially those that have really short faces, such as pugs and bulldogs. These brachycephalic breeds have more of a tendency to overheat and get exhausted. “Their little legs have a hard time keeping up,” adds Dr. Harvilicz.
Put on your jogging shoes
While biking may be easier for people, jogging is actually easier for dogs. “After all, they have been doing it for thousands of years,” says Dr. Harvilicz.
“Dogs need exercise just like people and jogging is a good way to do this,” adds David. Again, although jogging may not be as physically strenuous as running alongside a bike, David recommends having your dog checked over by a vet before starting such an exercise regime. “Older dogs need to have a physical exam to make sure they are healthy enough for strenuous activity and don’t have any underlying conditions such as heart disease.” He also warns that some breeds are better suited for jogging than others. “Larger dogs do well with jogging. Small dogs may have a more difficult time due to their short legs. Short-muzzled dogs should be evaluated to make sure their airways can handle strenuous activity such as jogging.”
As with bike riding, proper training is crucial. “Heel is a great command so the dog stays next to you while running,” says David. “And tripping or pulling the dog will not be a concern. The standard six-foot leash allows dogs to move freely on a relaxed lead.”
• Avoid any strenuous exercise, including biking or jogging, during hot humid weather. “Since dogs can only cool themselves by panting, they can get heat exhaustion a lot faster than humans can,” says Dr. Harvilicz. Warning signs of heat exhaustion include excessive panting, sloppy gait, an extremely red tongue, slowing down dramatically and head bobbing.
• Even if the weather isn’t hot, keep an eye on your dog, regardless of how well trained and fit he is. Dogs can’t tell you when they are tired or not feeling well, so it’s necessary to be fully aware of his condition during exercise. “Evolution demanded that these pack animals never show signs of weakness or fatigue so they hide it as long as possible,” explains Dr. Harvilicz..
• Hot asphalt and sharp gravel can hurt your dog’s feet. He may need boots to protect his pads.
• “Food should be avoided before strenuous activity,” says David. “A large meal followed by exercise can lead to gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome (GDV), known as bloat, which usually requires surgical correction.”
• Make sure to take water along. “Water can be given at any time, as long as the volume is limited to small amounts at each offering,” advises David.
• Take plenty of breaks so you have the opportunity to assess your dog’s energy level and give him a chance to rest and have a drink of water.
• “Consider jogging [or biking] with your dog when vehicle and pedestrian traffic are minimal,” says David.
Now that the weather’s warmer and the days are longer, you and your dog have the perfect opportunity to improve your health and enhance your bond by exercising together. Jogging and biking can be a part of the fun and fitness, as long as you start slowly and always take your dog’s safety and comfort into consideration.