The craze of dog fitness is often accompanied by images of tremendous feats of dogs on bizarre workout equipment or working in the living room on Fitpaws equipment. And, while yes, strength training is important (especially so for the aging dog and the performance athletes), you can not meet a dog’s cardio needs inside the house.
Ok, there are the few exceptions, like the people with a dogtread (don’t think you can put a medium (or bigger) sized dog on a human treadmill…it’s too short) or who live in some indoor field. But, for the normal people out there, you are going to have to get your dog out somewhere where they can run AND get yourself a set of wheels.
True cardio involves getting that heart-rate up and keeping it up. What my dogs do on the hike is intense intervals. Run around and play then mellow out with some trotting and sniffing. Sprint then lay down and stare at the toy, sprint then sniff. Another might track and chase and track and chase…with check ins and engagement time. I had a hiking business and took my dogs (along with client dogs) out religiously so when I was training for my CCAS I was resistant to the idea that this was not cardio. What caused me to appreciate the difference between high intensity intermittent exercise and a cardio workout? Seeing how demanding cardio was for them. Trotting non-stop could workout these dogs that normally ran many miles with high intensity intervals and what seemed to me to be “non-stop running” while hiking. There’s a difference big difference when you eliminate the recovery period (where the dogs sniff and catch their breath). There’s also a notable difference in mechanics when a dog is trotting vs bounding at higher speed gaits. A dog’s pelvis swings in a different way and the whole movement is symmetrical.
I’m not saying that you should cancel your hikes or other interval training…but you most certainly should add regular cardio to your routine. This means you, too, are going to have to get moving (and, for that matter, your conditioning coach should be in reasonable shape, too). For most dogs in their prime (not the dogs that can’t keep up on a walk and not the dogs that are too young (which for some big breed dogs might mean well over 2 years!)), you’re going to need a set of wheels to keep up with your dog. There are those few athletic humans who like to run (not jog, but RUN) who may provide a smaller dog adequate exercise without wheels. But, for us regular folk, we are going to need wheels. A bike, something electric like a golf cart, whatever you can operate that works.
Aside from starting very slow (like 1mi and increasing only 10% at a time) and making this a consistent thing (which we humans are miserable at) and getting out there rain or shine, you’re going to need an amount of training on your dog to be able to pull this off. I see so many people who struggle trying to get their dogs passed other dogs or to heed a recall or otherwise pay attention to them who would be in trouble if they were no longer standing on the ground and instead were trying to steer a bicycle while handling their dog.
Playing fetch is a sprinting game that is haunted by sudden accelerations, decels, and changes of direction that will damage important parts of your dog’s anatomy (even if you never see signs of an injury…there are dogs competing at the top levels of performance sports and winning that, when examined (usually only brought in because something was “off”), sometimes have unbelievable (and often bilateral) ligament damage). Trust me, it is our responsibility to get out there and get the dogs some cardio. Cardio is low impact (read: good exercise without the risk of the dog pulling something), has most of the great health benefits that come to mind when you think about how good exercise is, and offers BIOLOGICAL FULFILLMENT…a key component to a rich and functional life with and for your dog.
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