Does your dog prefer a nap on their blankie to a walk around the block? Are they more at home on the couch than on a hiking trail? For some dogs, exercise is not at the top of their to-do list (or anywhere on it). But exercise is important to keep dogs healthy, both physically and mentally.
So how do you get your dog who doesn’t like to exercise to do just that? We’ve got some tips for getting your couch potato pooch up and moving, and they just might have fun doing it, too!
But First, a Checkup
Before starting any new exercise or activity, ask your veterinarian if your dog is healthy enough to participate. This is especially important if your dog has a medical condition, like arthritis, that could make it difficult or painful for them to exercise.
Obesity can also make exercise uncomfortable, so if your dog is overweight or obese, ask your veterinarian whether it’s OK for your dog to start exercising. They can help you ease your dog into an exercise program which may include your dog attending a “doggy fat camp” — a rehabilitation center typically associated with veterinary teaching hospitals. These programs help dogs get started on an exercise program, either as an inpatient or as an outpatient that visits the facility for regular workouts.
Ideas to Get Your Dog Moving
If your dog has your veterinarian’s blessing to start getting their muscles moving and their heart pumping, it’s time to find an activity that your dog likes doing. Going for a walk is one of the most common ways to get your dog to exercise and it gets you moving, too. But not every dog has access to a good walking path or likes to do it, so what else could you do? Here are some other ideas to get your dog moving.
1. Play Hide-and-Seek with Their Meals
Change their meals from delivery to pickup! Instead of pouring all of your dog’s meal into one food bowl, divide the meal and hide it in different areas of the house. They’ll have to use their nose (and their brain) to track down the food and they’ll be exercising while they do it. Encouraging them to go up or down stairs to find their food raises this exercise to a new level.
2. Make Them Think for Their Food
Another way to exercise your dog’s muscles and their brain is to put their kibble in puzzle toys. They’ll have to work out how to get the kibble out while pushing the puzzle around the room. It’s a good idea to measure out their kibble portion for the day and then use some of this for the puzzle. That way they aren’t eating extra calories while they’re exercising — because that defeats the purpose if weight loss is the goal!
3. Bring Out the Toy Box
Toys are a fun way to exercise without it seeming like exercise. Give your dog a variety of toys to play with, and to keep their interest, rotate the toys every week or so. Toys that roll or move so your dog has to chase them are great for getting your dog moving and not just sitting on the floor chewing. Your dog can play by themselves, but it’s also beneficial for your dog (and you) if you can play with them for 10 to 15 minutes twice a day.
4. Set Up an Obstacle Course
Navigating an obstacle course, either indoors or outdoors, can be a fun way to get your dog moving. You can use materials around the house to build your course, like cardboard boxes, broom sticks, laundry baskets, hoops, furniture or plastic cups. Use a favorite toy or a healthy treat to lead your dog through homemade tunnels, up and down ramps, over obstacles and through a plastic cup slalom course. If you discover your dog has a natural talent for obstacle courses, you could try enrolling them in an agility class.
5. Help Them to Become a Stair Master
Stairs are a great cardiovascular workout. If you have access to stairs, you can play stair fetch by standing at the bottom or top of the stairs and asking your dog to fetch their favorite toy. You can race your dog up and down the stairs if you want a cardio workout, too!
6. Invite a Pal Over for a Playdate
Dogs naturally like to wrestle, chase and bounce when they’re playing with a friend. Inviting a canine companion over can help your dog exercise while socializing. You could also take your dog to a doggie day care a few days a week so they can run around with a bunch of new friends.
Why Is Exercise Important?
If your dog isn’t always scratching at the door to go for a walk or constantly bringing you a ball to play fetch, it can become easy to “let sleeping dogs lie” (literally) and not encourage your dog to exercise. But exercise has many benefits for your dog, including:
- Reducing the risk of obesity
- Improving muscle tone
- Increasing metabolism
- Supporting healthy aging
- Easing symptoms of some chronic health issues
- Providing mental stimulation
All good reasons to get your dog up and moving! Doing exercise-related activities with your dog can help strengthen the bond between you and your dog, too.
Exercising your dog doesn’t have to mean 6 a.m. walks with a reluctant canine companion. There are many other ways to improve your dog’s physical and mental health that will hopefully be enjoyable for both of you!
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