Denise was concerned about her best friend, Jack. Because of recent surgery on her knee, she’d been unable to take him for walks and hikes. Once slim and active, her three-year-old beagle/Lab mix had begun to adopt a couch potato lifestyle. He seemed a bit depressed and had put on weight. Denise knew this wasn’t healthy.
The vet told her it was essential to get Jack moving. He realized Denise currently wasn’t up to walking him so asked if her physiotherapist had suggested a treadmill or swimming to strengthen her knee. When Denise replied she was doing both, her vet broke into a smile and said: “Get Jack in the pool and on the treadmill too!” As more people realize the benefits of fitness not just for themselves, but for their dogs as well, they’re looking for exciting new ways to give their companions the exercise they need. Why not explore some of today’s most popular canine fitness trends?
1. Tread the treadmill
Treadmills and pools are valuable tools for recuperative therapy, but shouldn’t be limited to that. Both are fantastic ways to exercise your canine companion. Some canine rehabilitation facilities, such as Essex Animal Hospital in Ontario, Canada, and the Canine Fitness Center in Maryland, offer their exercise equipment and hydrotherapy pools to dogs that just need to stretch their legs.
Dogs love to run and most can quickly be taught to accept a treadmill. For extra fun, partner with your dog and have him run behind you. A treadmill is perfect if you can’t walk your dog outdoors because of physical problems or inclement weather. If you don’t live near a canine rehab center with a treadmill, you can buy one made especially for dogs. Hammacher Schlemmer is one company that has recently introduced an exercise treadmill designed specifically for canines.
2. The water ’s fine
Release his inner Michael Phelps! Many dogs love water, are natural swimmers, and revel in a good old-fashioned dip in the backyard pool or at the lake (or indoors at a rehab center during chilly weather).
Bring along a Frisbee to toss in the water. It’s amazing what a few rounds of “chase the Frisbee in the wet stuff” will do for your dog’s physical and emotional balance. Better still, get in there and frolic with him! If you have a cottage, take your dog to swim in the lake when the weather gets warm enough. Just be sure the water is safe for swimming.
Swim clubs for dogs are part of the new wave of canine fitness activities. A canine swimming or splash club involves friendly competition among a group of dog lovers whose goal is to see which dog can make the biggest splash and jump the farthest into a pool. It’s loads of fun, and a perfect way for your dog to release his energy, socialize with other dogs and stay fit all at the same time. Ask around to see if there’s a canine swim club in your area; if not, and you have a pool, consider starting your own with a few dog-loving friends.
3. Swing your partner!
Dog dancing or canine freestyle is another exciting trend. It’s been around since 1983, and has really caught on in recent years. You don’t have to be a world class ballroom dancer, and neither does your dog, to enjoy the benefits of this sport.
Although some canine dancing styles require considerable agility, you and your dog can choose a style that best suits you both. Canine dancing is a beautiful way to cultivate a deeper bond and partnership with your dog and the fitness benefits are invaluable.
4. Downward facing dog
Doggy yoga or Doga started in 2002, thanks to Suzi Tietelman’s puppy, Coali. A yoga instructor in New York City, Suzi found that Coali would join her on her mat while she practiced. She began to put Coali in yoga poses that were natural for a dog and soon noticed her little companion becoming more centered, relaxed and limber. Suzi offered Doga at her fitness club and it quickly caught on. Dogs worldwide are now breathing and stretching with their humans. “Doga means you are in a yoga pose and so is your dog,” says Suzi. “You can do it anywhere, anytime, and it will keep both of you feeling great.” Although Doga isn’t the rough-and-run type of exercise dogs normally engage in, it calms them, strengthens their physical balance, keeps their muscles supple and builds a wonderful bond with their human partners.
5. Agility action
If your dog needs mental as well as physical stimulation, agility is an excellent fitness option that can be enjoyed by just about any breed. Many communities across North American
6. Do dogs fly?
These sure do, and it keeps them fit and healthy! Canine disc sport is a wildly popular activity that started over 35 years ago and is now enjoyed around the world. “It was an instant hit with dogs,” says Jeff Perry of Skyhoundz/Hyperflite. “It focuses on their natural love of running, jumping and grabbing things with their mouths. It helps condition their bodies, builds strength, provides socialization and is an all-important outlet for energy.”
7. From parks to beaches
About 44 million people in the United States have dogs. That’s a lot of canines who need a place to run, play and socialize!
•Dog parks: Len Kain, co-founder of DogFriendly.com, an online travel resource for dog lovers, states that before 1998 there was only a handful of dog parks in the U.S. and Canada. There are now over 800, and new ones open every week.
•Take a hike: More people are traveling and hiking with their canine companions, and a lot of national parks are becoming friendlier to dogs. While some restrict where in the park a dog can be walked, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is one location that allows dogs full access, with the exception of lodging units. Many parks require dogs to be leashed, so they don’t disturb wildlife and areas of sensitive vegetation – check the regulations before setting out.
•Hit the beach: Most beaches used to be strictly off-limits to dogs. But again, in response to the rising number of people who take their canines on vacation with them, a lot of fantastic beach areas have opened up to those canines who love to scamper through the sand and surf with their human sun-worshippers. Again, there are usually some regulations, so find out what they are before giving your dog free rein. And always remember to pick up after him.
8. Camps for canines
Remember being sent to camp when you were kid? Now you can do the same for your dog! A lot of pooches gain weight and get out of condition because they’re stuck at home for long hours while their people are at work. Recognizing that some of us are just too busy to give our companions the exercise they need, a lot of dog daycare centers offer fitness programs and outdoor activities for canines.
A fun alternative is going to summer camp along with your companion. Plenty of dog camps are springing up these days, including Camp Gone to the Dogs in New Jersey, which offers a wide range of outdoor activities you and your dog can enjoy together, such as rally obedience, agility, flyball, swimming lessons, dock diving and more. For year-round activities, Dog Paddling Adventures in Ontario, Canada offers hiking, paddling and camping outings for you and your dog during the spring, summer and fall, and snowshoeing and skijoring during the winter.
No doubt about it – canine fitness has come a long way. Gone are the days when a dog was limited to a romp in the yard or a walk around the neighborhood. With all the activities to choose from, you’re sure to find something to suit your dog’s needs and interests. Whether it’s disc play or dog yoga, the main thing is that he does something to stay fit. A healthy mind and body is as essential for him as it is for you!
Essex Animal Hospital, essexanimalhospital.ca
Canine Fitness Center, caninefitnesscenter.com
Hammacher Schlemmer, hammacher.com
Canine Freestyle Federation, canine-freestyle.org
World Canine Freestyle Organization, worldcaninefreestyle.org
United States Dog Agility Association, usdaa.com
Dog Paddling Adventures, dogpaddlingadventures.com
Camp Gone to the Dogs, camp-gone-tothe-dogs.com
Lake Edge Cottages, lakeedge.com
Tessa Kimmel has over 25 years' experience in animal care and own MedPet & Cozy Critters Pet Care Services, a Toronto business specializing in care for animals with medical conditions and special needs. She also works part time as a veterinary technician and shares her home with an assortment of special needs kitties. Tessa enjoys writing on pet care for a number of publications, including Animal Wellness Magazine.