April is National Canine Fitness Month! Canine health and fitness are important year round, but this month gives us a great opportunity to refresh and refocus the fitness goals we have for our canine companions.
Helping our pets maintain an appropriate weight is critical to their health, as obesity is linked to many life-shortening conditions including diabetes and a higher risk of cancer. If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, your first conversation should be with your veterinarian. They can help you assess what appropriate weight loss goals should be and offer you guidance on decreasing your pet’s overall calories in a safe and appropriate way.
Even pets of an appropriate weight benefit from an intentional fitness plan! If your pup is not currently receiving regular exercise, you will want to build up their regimen slowly to avoid excessive muscle soreness or injury. A great first step is creating a regular walking plan for your dog! Start slow and be sure to provide your dog with regular water breaks and watch them for signs of soreness, which may even occur the following day. If your dog is doing well, you can steadily increase the length and frequency of your walks. As their comfort with neighborhood walks increases, you can increase the challenge level by exploring your local hiking trails. Between regular walks and play sessions at home with your dog, before you know it you and your pup will be wonderful hikers!
Puppies will not be able to exercise in strenuous ways, as adult dogs often can, so be sure to talk to your vet about when you can increase your puppies daily physical exercise. Low impact exercise like swimming and low to the ground balance exercises on equipment like FitPAWS can be a great way to build muscle and strength without risking damage to their still developing joints.
Once your adult dog has achieved a baseline level of fitness, there is a whole world of dog fitness related endeavors that you can pursue with them! Trick training can be a great way to build up your dog’s muscle tone and coordination. Tricks like “spin”, “bow”, “back up” and others are adorable but also give you the opportunity to target and strengthen specific muscle groups. See tutorials for “spin” and “bow” here!
Even practicing basic obedience skills can promote fitness and increased muscle tone. If your dog knows how to sit, lay down and stand, you can try puppy pushups with them. Transition from one behavior to the next, giving them a tasty treat for each behavior as you do so, and reap the benefits of a tired, enriched pup!
You can also create at-home obstacle courses, encouraging your pup to jump over low jumps, navigate homemade tunnels and balance across wobbly couch cushions. Be sure that your challenges are low to the ground and appropriate for the ability of your dog. If you find that they enjoy these challenges, fun One-on-One Enrichment sessions at Central Bark are a great way to add in even more Fitness and Agility fun! For more competitive agility and sports, like disc dogging, dock diving, and more, enrolling in classes at a local dog training facility may be a great option.
Finally, consider pursuing opportunities for your dog to swim! Did you know that four minutes of swimming provides the same caloric benefits of one mile of running? If your community has a dog specific pool, you may be able to have a professional support your dog with acclimating to a pool, safely navigating it, and learning to love this beneficial form of exercise!
The most important factor when setting fitness goals for your pup is that everyone remains safe, healthy, and gets their bodies moving in a way they enjoy!