Feb. 27—Dog owners should help their pet control their weight, get daily physical exercise and receive mental stimulation, according to experts. Owners should also recognize that there’s a hidden benefit of helping a dog stay healthy, said Dr. Steve Osborne, veterinarian at Osborne Animal Clinic in Decatur.
“People who have dogs and walk their dogs, … the exercise that the human gets, that’s one of the greatest benefits of dog ownership for that human,” he said.
The type and amount of exercise needed by a dog varies with size and breed. Osborne said owners should also take into account how much smaller a dog’s legs are than a human’s.
“If your dog has a little bitty, short leg, and that leg is one-sixth the length of your leg, he has to take six steps for every one step you take,” he said. “If you walk a half a mile, that little dog has walked the equivalent of 3 miles because he’s had to take six times as many steps you have.”
That factor, he said, makes it easier to overdo exercise with a small dog.
Osborne said that a universal problem for dogs involves being overweight. For a human, a doctor would recommend watching calorie intake and increasing exercise. However, for a dog, decreasing weight is almost entirely about lowering calorie intake, Osborne said.
“If you can keep your dog in a good weight, then he is more able to exercise well.”
Dogs cannot sweat, Osborne said, so this needs to be remembered when you allow your dog to exercise, especially on hot days. With overweight dogs, the extra layer of fat, Osborne said, acts as insulation and holds heat inside.
He said if you are starting to sweat while exercising with your dog, it means your pet is getting hot, too. In those situations, you need to be sure not to overdo the exercising.
Walking is good for all dogs, Osborne said, but there are other forms of physical exercise. He said the sporting breeds enjoy running. Agility courses, obedience-related games and playing fetch are also good forms of exercise, but usually for the larger sporting breeds.
Lindsey Hill, a dog trainer at Off Leash K-9 Training of Huntsville, said, “A lot of people think just physically exercising them, taking them on a walk, will get them tired. But truthfully, they need a mental drain as well .”
“Just like us, if we walked 10 miles today and there was nothing mentally draining us, mentally working us, our brain is not tired. Dogs are kind of the same way; they’ve got to have that mental and physical,” Hill said.
Hill said the best way to mentally exercise your dog is with obedience training.
“By teaching your dog ‘sit’ or ‘down’ or even ‘shake’… you’re still building a bond with your dog,” Hill said. “Ultimately, that’s what makes a better dog.
“When you apply that mental drain, especially if they’ve never had it, it’ll drain them within just a few minutes. That’s why we always start out with ‘sit.’ It’s the easiest command.”
Just playing with your dog or playing ball with your dog, Hill said, will physically and mentally exercise them. However, Hill said if you play the same game repeatedly, it is no longer a mental game.
If your dog will get the ball, but not bring it back, Hill said, “you’ve got to show them encouragement that it’s fun to bring this ball back to me.”
Hill said if the owner stands there bored, the dog will become bored as well.
“You can get the games that are designed for dogs … where you put the treats in them and then they’ll find the treats, hunt for them. But the majority of the time that’s not enough. … You’re not actually interacting with your dog; you’re not building that bond,” Hill said.
If you have more than one dog and they play together it is a form of exercise, she said, but your dogs still need human interaction.
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