— As the semester rolls on and tests pile up, many students change their daily routine to one that is more study-friendly and, unfortunately, more desk-bound. What most students do not realize is that while their dog lies next to them on the couch day after day, it is being robbed of physical activity that is vital to its health.
Multiple studies show improved bone health, organ function and lung function in dogs that exercise. Dogs look and feel better with exercise, and they are less nervous when left alone.
“Exercise is good for maintaining general health, and it helps keep your heart, muscles and joints strong. It also helps with maintaining weight and coordination,” said Dr. Jacqueline Davidson, clinical-track professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Studies also show dogs that lack exercise usually have poor muscle tone and are more prone to injury, brain ailments and bone disorders. They are more susceptible to developing emotional problems and behavioral quirks, as well.
“Dogs that don’t exercise are usually overweight and have less dexterity. And their heart and joints aren’t as vigorous,” said Davidson.
“A lack of exercise can affect you and your pet in similar ways, like becoming chubby,” she said. “Obesity is a big concern for most animals.”
Getting you and your dog off the couch does not mean tedious and dreary daily exercise. There are many fun ways to stay active with your pet.
“For dogs, the choices are easy," said Davidson. "They enjoy almost anything you enjoy doing."
Options include walking, running, playing with a ball or a Frisbee, agility training, or even sports such as cani-cross and bikejoring, i.e. running or biking with your dog attached by an elastic line. (Davidson warns: “If you’re doing anything like attaching yourself to your dog, make sure the dog has decent obedience training and responds well to voice commands.”)
The best way to exercise with your dog is to set a “date” between the two of you. While playing with your pet in any way is good, dogs benefit most from a prearranged occasion.
“Running around the yard is okay, but it’s better to have a structured activity where your pet is constantly moving,” said Davidson. “This structure can also help with your dog’s behavioral problems, such as chewing and barking, because you are giving them an outlet to expend surplus energy and spend time with you.”
It is also important to be patient with your pet. When starting a new activity or sport, gradually build the time spent doing these activities.
“If the dog is sedentary and you expect it to run for several miles, or play vigorously for 30 minutes, injury may result if the dog is not physically conditioned for the sport or activity,” Davidson said.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.