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Your dog's mental and physical fitness

Wednesday March 11th, 2009

In order to be well-adjusted pets, dogs need both mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis. The desire to "keep busy" is deeply ingrained in the majority of dogs.

Working, hunting, herding and guarding breeds are not the only ones with this need. Even small breeds of dogs retain a certain amount of work ethic--for example, a Yorkie with bows in its hair is still a terrier, and their owners know that these tiny guys still enjoy terrier-type behaviors, such as chasing and digging.

If not given an outlet for their energy, dogs of any size can become destructive, anxious or frustrated, causing numerous behavior problems.

Getting your dog the exercise he needs

So how much does exercise does your dog truly need? There's no concrete answer, but he needs enough exercise to feel genuinely tired. Most healthy dogs will benefit from exercise sessions both morning and evening. A safe, fenced area for off-leash exercise is ideal, but if you do not have access to this, snap a 20-30 foot long line on your dog to keep him safe and make sure he will come to you when exercising outdoors.

Unless your dog has a medical condition requiring limited exercise, then make at least one of your dog's outings an aerobic activity. Playing with other dogs off-leash in a fenced area, swimming, playing fetch or running beside a jogger or biker are all excellent aerobic exercises.

If you do not have a suitable outdoor area, train your dog to run on a treadmill, starting with just a few minutes, gradually working up to a 30 minute exercise session. Exercise of this nature will release endorphins which will have an overall calming effect on your dog's behavior, as well as many other health benefits.

Puppy-safe activities

Activities suited for adult dogs may not be safe for growing puppies. Playing is the best choice for a pup, whether it's off-leash with other dogs, or playing fetch or other games with their owner.

Jogging or biking on pavement are not safe exercises for young dogs whose bones are not fully formed. If you have any questions about whether or not a particular type of exercise is safe for your dog, check with your veterinarian.

Keeping Fido sharp

Don't forget mental stimulation! Training sessions keep a dog's brain sharp, as well as help develop the proper relationship between dog and owner. You should take steps to avoid boring or repetitive methods--training can include such activities as tricks or simple agility exercises, even playing games. Short training sessions are best, intermingled with play or rest sessions.

You can also use dinner time to expend mental and physical energy. Put your dog's regular kibble in a toy designed to provide mental stimulation, such as a Buster Cube or a Kong toy.

If you don't mind a small amount of clean-up, another way to add more fun for the dog is to cap a Kong that has been stuffed with kibble and treats with some cream cheese and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, place it in a paper (not plastic) bag with a chew stick and a treat or two. Dogs really love this fun way of working for their food and in the process more energy is spent, thereby helping insure a better behaved dog!

Source: Adapted from the ASPCA

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