Regular walking, exercising with your dog benefits you both.

Taking the dog for a walk, even if it has the full run of a backyard, is beneficial for both owner and pet. Regular walks together help fight off stress and obesity, and increase the bond between man and his best friend.

Dr. Ernie Ward – veterinarian, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Program, personal trainer, USA Triathlon coach and author of Chow Hounds – has spent his long career encouraging owners to consider involving their pets in their weight-loss journey.

“That leash is a constant reminder that you should be going outside, getting physically active and hanging out with your best friend,” Ward says.

 First steps

Ward encourages owners to have themselves examined by their primary care physician and their pet by its veterinarian before getting serious about walking or running together.

“If you haven’t been regularly exercising or your dog is older, it’s always a good idea to get checked out first,” Ward says. “Your veterinarian is there to uncover those hidden problems you can’t detect just by looking at them.”

It’s not uncommon, especially in older dogs, for there to be a heart problem, an arrhythmia or murmur, that won’t be evident until your pet is under physical strain and at risk for harm.

Ward also recommends using a short leash that offers a little more control than retractable ones. A 4- to 6-foot leash, about an inch wide, along with a walking harness and a good pair of walking shoes, are all the gear you’ll need starting out.

 Incorporate more activities

Something as simple as walking the usual route in reverse will bring a little excitement to your dog. Walking in a storm is never a good idea, but a little rainy drizzle can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog.

“A light shower is no excuse to skip a run or walk,” Ward says. “Your dog does not mind a little drizzle. When temperatures are warm, that light drizzle can be really invigorating for your dog. It can be really fun and refreshing for you both.”

Ward also recommends taking a ball or fetch toy on the daily walks. At the halfway point, take a break and play fetch or maybe work on a trick or command. He says dogs will begin to anticipate those times and those extra minutes of play help strengthen your bond with the pet.

Here are a few more activities to consider

 

Swimming

It’s easy on the joints for everyone and a great change of pace during the summer months

 

Mental challenges

Use a laser pointer for a fun chase or hide one of their favorite items and lead them on a hunt

 

Agility course

If there’s no local dog park, try creating one at home. Make sure the obstacles are suited for the dog’s particular size

 Health concerns

Pet obesity not only hurts the cardiovascular system, it also damages the joints, muscular and skeletal systems.

“We do a prevalence study for obesity each year, and we’re seeing younger dogs that are heavier than ever before, putting their joints at risk,” Ward says. “We always thought that arthritis was a condition that affects older dogs and cats, but the reality is it’s affecting them at an earlier age.”

If your dog has put on a few extra pounds over the winter, Ward stresses owners need to pay extra attention when they start exercising. If your dog starts limping, favoring a side or stops walking, sits and starts licking at a specific point, that’s an indication of pain.

“They are hurting, and they’re trying to alleviate the pain the only way they know how,” Ward says.

Ward recommends taking water for your dog if you are planning on walking longer than 30 minutes. Dogs don’t perspire so they exchange heat out of their bodies through their mouth.

“As temperatures and humidity start to rise past the 80s, you want to avoid walking during the hottest parts of the day,” Ward says. “If they are heavy panting, take it seriously. It’s time to stop. Labradors and other herding, sporting breeds, will push to the point of collapse, so it’s up to you to pay attention.”

After a walk or run, Ward warns that too much water too fast can lead to a different complication, bloat. Your thirsty dog will rapidly lap up all the water in his bowl and in doing so also ingest a lot of air. The air and water (along with food) will cause the dog’s belly to bloat. That expansion can end up twisting, cause a serious medical problem for your pet.

“Don’t let them drink the whole bowl of water. Things like bloat, also called gastric dilation-volvulus, can occur if they eat or drink rapidly after exercise. Just give them a few ounces at a time over several minutes,” Ward says.

Warmer weather also means more outdoor pests. Make sure your pets are caught up on their shots, protected against heartworms and have a good flea/tick preventive.