Leading New York and online retailer, Harvey’s Pet, offers advice on how to make the most of Canine Fitness Month and help ensure you and your pet enjoy lifelong health and happiness.
Johnstown, NY – It’s that time of year again: Birds are singing, trees are in bud, the great outdoors is awash in sunlight. Winter is finally over just in time for Canine Fitness Month!
Why is canine fitness so important?
National Canine Fitness Month’s goal is to promote an active and healthy lifestyle for our furry friends. Like us, our doggies are susceptible to many health conditions caused by obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Too much sitting and too many calories in the form of treats or poor nutrition choices often contribute to weight gain. Besides causing our furry friends to have sore joints, difficulty breathing, a higher risk for cancer, canine diabetes and other diseases, obesity and inactivity also shortens their lives.
Unfortunately, particularly with the pandemic, a less active lifestyle has become a way of life for many of us. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, 42% of us have gained a stunning 29 pounds on average since the lockdown began. We’re hardly alone in that: According to a new survey conducted by Wakefield Research for Banfield Pet Hospital, 1 out of 3 pets gained weight over the last year; and it’s not just a little weight either; the survey says a whopping 85% of pet parents said their dogs gained “a lot” of weight.
“With owners spending increased time with their cats and dogs during quarantine, they may be showing affection with food more often,” Banfield veterinarian Dr. Heidi Cooley told The New York Post. “Overfeeding, not providing enough exercise, and giving too many treats are all things that can lead to weight gain in pets.”
Cooley said that people “might be finding it more difficult to help their pets reach their daily activity goals due to stay-at-home directives, with many pet owners likely avoiding dog parks, going on long walks or utilizing services like dog walkers.”
In order to keep from being too kind to our pets, Cooley is advising owners to make “small changes like measuring their pet’s food, limiting treats to no more than 10% of their pet’s daily calories and upping their pet’s daily activity.”
Even if we may not quite be feeling it yet, what better excuse is there to launch a better fitness regiment with Fido than to increase the years (and the quality of those years!) you may share together? Extra bonding time, too? Woo hoo!
Before you get started.
Before engaging in any new exercise routine, be sure to ask your doctor and your pet’s veterinarian to make sure everyone is healthy enough for exercise. If you or your pet is older (or you have a puppy), isn’t used to any physical activity, or has physical challenges, start out slow and make accommodations so that you and your pet can most enjoy an activity. A “weekend warrior” mindset may very well contribute to injuries, burnout, and distract you from a rich bonding experience.
Having said that, here’s a few ideas to get started:
Try some “Doga.”
So what’s “doga”, you ask? “Doga” was created by Suzi Teitelman, a yoga instructor from Jacksonville, Florida. She says there’s nothing wacky about doga. It’s simply regular yoga that incorporates dogs. Don’t have any yoga experience? Check out “How to Start Yoga” on For Care Education and Research’s website (https://fcer.org). FECR makes beginning yoga easy-peasy!
A fantastic thing about doga is the fact that it can be done anywhere, no special equipment or fitness expertise required, and any pooch – no matter how large or small, young or old – can participate.
Here are 3 ways to incorporate your pet into a routine:
- In the Downward Dog position, your dog can lie beneath you.
- In the Plank position, your dog can be positioned directly before you – or on your back, if you happen to have abs of steel.
- In the Easy Pose, sit cross-legged as you normally would. Instead of placing your palms on your thighs, reach forward a bit and place them on your dog and then engage in some gentle stretching with Fido.
The important thing is to practice gentle yoga poses on the floor next to your pup. Practice mindfulness by slowing down and really connecting in the moment with your best furry friend. You may even want to include some soft muscle massage. A good scratch behind the ears – for both of you – is often nice also.
Go for a walk, jog, run or hike.
The first easy exercise that you can train your dog for is a walk or hike. Keep the walks short for approximately 20 minutes and then increase the time gradually. Once your dog is comfortable with walking, try changing the routine by jogging or running with them. Make sure that they walk for a good 45 to 60 minutes a day if they are not doing any other physical activity.
To mix things up a little, you can also allow your dog to take the lead and follow him or her. Make sure that you stop when your dog wants to stop to keep them motivated. All that sniffing and stopping to smell the roses, literally, is good for everyone’s mental health as well.
Climb some stairs.
If you are searching for some indoor exercise, then there is no better sport than climbing stairs. We can’t all be Olympic athletes, can we? You can ask your fur baby to follow you while you are climbing the stairs or you can also throw a ball or soft toy upstairs for them to fetch and bring back. Keep Fido motivated with some tasty low-calorie all-natural treats and lots of affection. Maybe someone will be kind enough to offer you a hug and tasty all-natural treat, too.
Many dogs love swimming and its a great activity option for arthritic pets. Please note that not all dogs like swimming, so if Fido dog doesn’t like it, then it is better to opt for some other form of exercise. Never force your pet into doing something that frightens them or that they don’t want to do.
Depending on your dog’s breed, they may be natural swimmers who enjoy the water. Other breeds like Chihuahuas and bulldogs do not have the natural predisposition for swimming and should wear a life vest at all times.
The American Kennel Club recommends that all dogs wear a life vest for their first time learning to swim. It’s easiest to have a life vest with a handle to guide your dog in different directions. It’s also helpful to have a D-ring on the vest to attach to their leash.
If your dog enjoys games, throw a ball or toy for them to retrieve and progressively throw it farther in each time. Be sure to not overwhelm your dog, it typically takes multiple lessons for them to get comfortable with swimming and water.
Hide-and-Seek for fun.
Another fun way to exercise your dog is to play the game of hide-and-seek. For this game, find a spot in your house and then hide in place after giving the command of “come.” Our pets quickly learn and can identify our smell which is why most fur babies can be comforted by being given a piece of clothing worn by a loved one. Dogs generally like to find their pet parents by following the trail of their natural scent. Hide-and-seek will not only give Fido a great physical workout, it will also give their brains some great exercise too!
There are countless other ways to get creative in pursuing you and your pet’s fitness goals: Try dancing with your dog, playing tug of war, making them chase bubbles, teach or practice tricks, and much more.
Dogs are lovable and, trust us, it is effortless and convenient to make them burn those calories. As they are playful by nature, you’ll find that increasing your pooch’s activity level is pretty easy. Just find new ways to keep them motivated as they can also get bored with similar exercises just like us humans do. And don’t forget to tell your friends and family about Canine Fitness Month – it’s a wonderful way to enrich the relationship we have with our pets while making sure we’re doing everything we can to keep them healthy, safe and happy.
Accompanying print-ready images, artwork, and limited product samples available upon request.