WALK ON! Exercise keeps your pet healthy and out of trouble, too
By Marty Becker
Does your dog have the basics — food, water, shelter and veterinary care — but never does anything but sit around? Pretend your house is an exhibit at the zoo. You wouldn’t want visitors to come by, look at your dog inactive and bored, and think, “Oh, that poor thing!” would you?
A dog’s body is made for motion — as a hunter and a scavenger — and thanks to centuries of selective breeding, also for countless physical tasks in the service of humankind. If you want to see it for yourself, just watch for your dog’s prey drive. They all have it, though it’s buried deeper in some dogs than others. Everything about a dog is designed to see and go after potential prey: the way his eyes focus, the way his nerves are routed, the way he’s on his feet and after that squirrel, tennis ball or the opening of the treat drawer, or the movement toward the door for a walk before even the dog himself seems to fully process what’s going on.
An animal with that strong an instinct to take off running wants and needs exercise to be happy and healthy — no matter how cushy his spot is on the couch.
Get your dog back to his roots: He needs to move, to work, to play and to prey to be healthy and happy. Movement helps a dog shed excess pounds as well as behavior problems. And keeping him active is good for you: Studies show you’ll be more likely to be more fit as well, and you and your dog will be more tightly bonded.
Long before the canine family tree was split by human intervention into such diverse branches as the Irish setter, the bulldog, the Alaskan malamute and the Yorkshire terrier (and all combinations thereof), feral dogs spent their waking hours using their wits and their bodies to search for food. Sometimes they hunted and sometimes they scavenged, but they were on the move, working for the next meal to keep them alive. When humans came into the picture, many kinds of dogs became even more active. The majority of breeds worldwide were developed through selective breeding to help hunters and farmers get and protect their own food supplies. All the retrievers, hounds, terriers, setters, shepherds and collies of the world are a testament to these work-dogs, who are born with a drive to earn their keep by working alongside their owners.
Exercising your dog is a responsibility, right up there with providing him with food, water, shelter and veterinary care. Without an adequate outlet for their energy, even sweet, easygoing dogs can quickly develop a trifecta of serious issues: bad behavior brought on by boredom, excess weight and potentially significant health problems.
The best exercise for any dog is something that engages both body and mind. These activities can help your dog prove to you the tenet all veterinarians hold dear: A tired dog is a happy dog.
You can start with something simple, or dedicate your life to training and competing with your dog — it doesn’t matter, as long as you start. As the saying goes, “Every journey starts with a single step,” which is why there’s a natural place to begin. Walking! What are you waiting for? Grab a leash and hit the road with your dog!