A vet once told us that one of his least favourite things to do was to tell clients that their dogs were overweight. People tended to take it personally and would get defensive, or occasionally some would cry. More exercise would always be part of his recommendation for the dog. But regular exercise has far more benefits that just slimming down a fat dog!
Every dog needs exercise ... tiny dogs, huge dogs, young dogs, old dogs... exercise helps to keep dogs healthy, happy, and makes them better pets too (really!). Our busy lives mean that sometimes our dogs spend too more time lazing about on the couch rather than moving around like they're meant to (letting a dog out into the yard by himself doesn't count as exercise).
Exercise not only helps control a dog's weight, but it also actively helps him get healthier. It keeps joints flexible and hearts healthy, and works to trim extra weight. Overweight dogs are more prone to developing joint, heart, and lung issues due to the stress from the extra weight. They're more prone to diseases like canine diabetes. And on a more day-to-day basis, it's also harder for them to get up from a down-position, and harder for them to cool down in hot weather.
Execise also reduces behavioral problems like destructive chewing, excessive barking or whining, digging, and other issues that can arise due to boredom. The neighbourhood dog that barks and barks endlessly, day after day, is probably bored.
There are so many ways to exercise a dog. Aside from taking him for a walk or a hike, or going to off-leash parks, you can also try dog sports like agility, flyball, dock diving, tracking, and more. Or take your dog to a dog-friendly beach or lake for some swimming - an excellent way to exercise, especially for overweight dogs that may find it more easier on the joints. You can also organize a play-group of your dog's canine pals, or take him to a doggy daycare for some play-time with other dogs.
Interacting with your dog during exercise is an excellent way to strengthen the bond between the two of you. It also gives dog owners the opportunity to observe their dog in action, and see if they appear to be sore or injured. Part of our responsibility is to know when our dog has had enough. Dogs will sometimes keep going and going, even if they should stop.
Combining mental stimulation with physical activity is also a great way to keep your dog healthy. Play games: play hide-and-seek, or play nose work games: teach your dog to find an object in the yard or the house after you hide it. Be creative! We know a dog who's freely allowed to play with all of his toys in the yard (and he has a huge basket of toys!). He romps around with them and scatters them, rolls around with them, or plays fetch with them. At the end of the day, it's his "job" to clean up the yard: his person tells him to get his toys, and one-by-one, he's told which toy to retrieve. He gets the toy and returns it to his toy basket, then waits to be told which one to get next. He loves the game and looks forward to it every night.
Regular exercise is also better than doing the "weekend warrior" routine. If a dog is basically inactive during the week, his muscles and joints aren't warmed up. Then engaging him in high levels of activity on the weekend makes him more prone to injury.
If your dog isn't accustomed to regular exercise, ease him into it. The amount of exercise your dog needs will vary depending on his current health, his age, breed of dog, and other factors, so check with your veterinarian first to make sure your exercise plan is appropriate for your canine pal. A tired dog is a good dog!
"If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise." (Author Unknown)