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How to safely exercise your dog or puppy

If you have a dog or puppy, or plan to get one, it’s important that you let them exercise on a regular basis. Exercising is not only good for their physical and mental health, but also helps them to socialise with other dogs and puppies, which is crucial to their behavioural development. What’s more, exercising with your dog or puppy is a great way for the two of you to strengthen your bond and be active together!

There are some safety precautions you should take when exercising with your pet.

Before exercise

Prior to exercising with your dog or puppy, here are some things to consider:

  • Assess the exercise needs and fitness level of your pet. Dogs have different exercise requirements depending on their individual needs, e.g. more active dogs may require more exercise each day compared to an average pet dog. Most dogs need a walk or visit to the dog park once or twice a day.
  • Some dogs with short snouts can find it hard to breathe and exercise can exacerbate their breathing difficulties or older dogs may have joint problems that can slow them down or make it uncomfortable to exercise, so ask your vet about your own individual pet’s requirements.
  • Also ask your vet for advice about when puppies can safely go to the park according to their vaccination status.
  • Check the temperature outside. Dogs can over heat if exercising in warm temperatures. A dog only sweats through their pads and they lose body heat through panting, so exercise in the morning or late evening when the temperature is cooler is advisable during the warmer months. Hot pavement or sand can also burn your pet’s feet.
  • Don’t exercise your pet immediately before or after they’ve eaten, as this can cause problems such as bloating, especially in deep-chested dogs.
  • Talk to your vet about how to protect your pet dog from paralysis ticks which can be picked up when exercising.

During exercise

  1. On the lead
    One of the ways you can let your dog or puppy exercise is while on the lead. Here’s what to do and what not to do if you decide to exercise this way:
    • Walk your pet at a normal walking pace.
    • Walk your pet based on how long they should be exercising for, e.g. take a puppy for short walks only.
    • Stop to rest if your pet sits or lies down during the walk, and then continue walking when they are ready to get up again.
    • Stop walking and return home if your pet seems too tired to continue.
    • Avoid over-exercising your puppy. Over-exercising puppies can negatively impact on their musculoskeletal development and this is of particular concern in large and giant breed puppies. Some of the large and giant dog breeds can continue to grow up until 18–24 months of age.
  2. Off the lead
    Another way to let your dog or puppy get the exercise they need is while they’re off the lead. Here’s a bit of advice if you choose to exercise that way:
    • Allow your pet to run freely in a safe environment, such as your backyard or a designated dog park. This way they can regulate their own pace and the amount of exercise they get, as when they become tired they can just sit or lie down and rest before running off again.
    • Don’t over exercise your pet by doing too much ball or Frisbee throwing and catching, especially if they’re still young and growing.
  3. General tips
    • Watch out for signs of fatigue, such as your pet panting, slowing their pace, or lagging behind you or stopping. If you notice this, allow them to rest.
    • Watch for overheating, such as your pet panting excessively, drooling, showing signs of agitation/confusion or vomiting. If this happens, move them to a cooler place and shade immediately. Apply tepid/cool water to their fur/skin, belly and under legs followed by fanning, to cool them down quickly. Then take your pet to the nearest Veterinarian immediately as heat stroke is a life threatening emergency.
    • If you’re walking in the snow, avoid roads that have been treated with salt as they can sting your pet’s feet. If they lick their paws this can also upset their stomach as well.
    • Keep your pet hydrated by offering them some water to drink at regular intervals during exercise. Use a collapsible bowl or a bottle with a special spout for dogs.

Avoid forced exercise

Forced exercise such as the following should be avoided:

  • Jogging or running with a puppy or dog.
  • Excessive ball or frisbee throwing and catching.
  • Running your pet alongside your bike. This is against road rules in some states. In NSW, for example, the RTA states that a bicycle rider mustn’t lead an animal while the bike is moving, including by tethering.
  • Take fast paced or very long walks with your puppy.

After exercise

After exercising with your dog or puppy, you’ll need to:

  • Offer your pets some water, and then allow them to rest. After they’ve calmed down and have rested for a while you could offer them a small healthy treat.

With these tips in hand you can ensure your pet’s safety when it comes to exercise, as well as keep them healthy and happy for years to come!