exercising with your dog

By Allison Ubriaco, GPG Blogger/Volunteer

A few months ago, I was sitting on my deck, lost in thought about my exercise rut, when I realized my frenchie, Ruby, had been outside for 20 minutes and hadn’t done a single lap around the backyard in her usual crazy way. After a few days of careful observation and realizing she wasn’t running nearly as much as she had in previous months, it hit me – my frenchie was in an exercise rut of her own.

My fiance and I bought our house with Ruby in mind – a big fenced-in backyard was at the top of our list of priorities. We didn’t realize that might not be enough, and as the months went on, we took Ruby on less walks. It’s just easier to open up the back door and let her run around until she gets tired.

[blockquote] It hadn’t occurred to us that Ruby didn’t need just physical exercise, she needed mental stimulation through a changing environment, new challenges and of course, new smells.[/blockquote]

I immediately sat down and made a list of activities that Ruby and I could do together. Because she’s a french bulldog, she has serious limitations. She can’t go on long excursions unless I plan on carrying her a bit. She can’t swim – it’s physically impossible for frenchies. Her paw pads are very soft and heat up quickly on pavement. She has a tendency to lose it and pull me in a completely different direction when she sees wildlife. Finding activities for us to do together has been a learning process for both of us, but it’s been a rewarding one as well. We hike, walk and go on short, slow runs. Sometimes my fiance is brave enough to take her out when he rollerblades.

Even if you only have an hour a week to take your dog out of the backyard, it’s worth it. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few tips for exercising with your dog:

1. Do your research.

Learn as much as you can about your dog’s breed. Find out his or her physical limitations, and keep them in mind when planning an activity. For example, my dog’s legs are about six inches long, and she weighs 17 pounds. I can’t take her on my six mile runs.  She’d literally pass out.

2. Take frequent breaks.

As a frenchie, Ruby has an adorable smooshed-in nose that makes deep breathing difficult. Because she can’t get as much oxygen, her body tires easily from just trying to breathe. When she starts slowing down and wandering into cooler areas of grass, I know she needs a break. Watch your dog for similar signs, and take breaks when needed.

3. Always have fresh water and healthy treats.

I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a little backpack with me on these trips with Ruby. In it, I keep water for both of us, her collapsible bowl and some healthy treats for her to munch on during our breaks. It keeps her energy level up, and of course, water is crucial to ensuring she won’t get dehydrated. I’ve also found that keeping a washcloth to dump water on and put on her body on especially warm days is a huge help.

4. Use a harness.

Ruby goes nuts for squirrels, rabbits and other animals. (I’d say small animals, but I once desperately held onto the leash while she went after a buck. Talk about terrifying.) Needless to say, having the harness has kept us both safe. I don’t have to worry about her collar breaking as she digs in and tugs on the leash, and she doesn’t get choked every time she does so. Even if your dog is well-trained, you don’t always know how he or she is going to react to new sights and smells. Therefore, I always recommend a good leash and harness.

exercising with your dog

5. When exercising in water, invest in a life jacket for your dog. 

Missouri and metro east residents have access to many local lakes, rivers, ponds and other bodies of water. Swimming with your dog can be a lot of fun. I’ve always been envious of dog owners who toss tennis balls into the water and watch their dogs bound in after them. French bulldogs can’t swim. Their legs are just too short to keep their oversized heads above water. Ruby innately knows this and won’t go within three feet of a body of water. My fiance and I have discussed taking Ruby on kayaking trips, but first, we would definitely buy a dog life jacket. Even if you think your dog can swim fine, keep in mind that strong currents have taken the lives of avid human swimmers. Better safe than sorry, and let’s be honest – dogs in life jackets are adorable.

6. Always have a backup plan.

On one short run with Ruby, we had reached our halfway point when she suddenly stopped, crawled into the grass and started hyperventilating. I immediately made her drink water and poured water all over her to help her cool down. However, after a few minutes, it was obvious that I just needed to get her home and into air-conditioning right away. I pulled out my cell, called my fiance, and he picked us up. If I hadn’t had that option, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten Ruby home that quickly. When we hike, I never take her too far into the woods in case I need to get her medical care. It’s impossible to plan for every emergency, but having a backup plan is ideal.

While hiking has turned out to be the best activity for Ruby and I, you might find another that is more fun and stimulating for you and your dog. I hope these tips helped you both!

How do you exercise with your dog? Let us know in the comments below.

Gateway Pet Guardians is always looking for volunteers who can come to the emergency shelter to walk and/or exercise our rescued dogs. If you’re interested, please contact GPG at volunteer@gatewaypets.com.

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