At the start of the new year, most pet parents resolve to do one thing or another, whether it’s taking longer walks with their dogs, reading up on the benefits of grain-free dog food or finally checking out that dog beach that everyone’s talking about. While these resolutions may or may not happen, one thing’s for certain—dogs need exercise to promote pet health, especially more active dogs.
Regular exercise benefits a dog’s mind and body in so many ways. “There’s no doubt that play and activity increase mental acuity and reduce boredom in dogs,” says Christie Long, DVM, CVA and Chief Veterinarian at PetCoach. She notes that sustained boredom in high-energy breeds like Border Collies and Jack Russell Terriers “frequently results in destructive dog behaviors that are extremely difficult to reprogram.”
And as for physical benefits, Dr. Long points out that active dogs are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, while overweight or obese pets are more likely to encounter multiple pet health problems. “The connection between staying active and staying healthy is just undeniable,” shares Dr. Long. As a pet parent, there are tons of ways you can help support your active dog’s lifestyle—from playing sports to feeding a high-quality dog food.
#1: Switch up your daily walk. Daily dog walks can become pretty lackluster, especially if you take the same route every time. Jen deHaan, who runs the DOGthusiast training blog, takes advantage of ordinary objects in the neighborhood by turning them into “urban agility” challenges for her active dogs. “You might teach your dog to balance, jump over things and trick-training that involves an element of the environment.” Jen’s Australian Kelpie mix, Mort, likes to balance on fire hydrants, and he can even do a 360-degree spin on top of them! Keeping your dog’s mind and body stimulated, even on daily walks, “is very important to keeping your dog’s brain firing and keeping him alert and interested,” remarks Dr. Long.
#2: Get social and make friends. You might not be a social butterfly, but that doesn’t mean your dog isn’t. Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, AVP of Veterinary Relations, ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, reminds pet parents not to “forget to include other dogs when you can.” Try to set up a play date with a neighbor or friend who has a dog, but make sure they are compatible first with a meet-and-greet or walk together. Dr. Leininger says that “local dog parks are a great option if you don’t have ‘dog friends’ readily available.” Before you go, Dr. Long advises to “make sure you keep them up-to-date on their vaccinations and deworming, since many diseases can be transmitted between dogs in these types of close environments.”
#3: Include them in your hobbies. Whether your passion is kayaking, running, biking, swimming, hiking, skateboarding or even skiing, your active dog can become your best hobby buddy. “I think that involving your pets in sports that you love is a great way to bond with your pet and keep both of you active,” says Dr. Long. A dog-sized KONG Jumbler Football Dog Toy or Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Sport Soccer Ball can lead to a fun game with your pup, if you’re into traditional team sports. Some pet owners are “fanatical about taking their dogs backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and running in the winter and like to bring them along on hiking trips in the summer,” says Dr. Long. For biking enthusiasts, Petego makes a Cycleash Universal Bicycle Dog Leash that keeps your sidekick at a safe distance. Dr. Long warns that a proper bike dog leash must be used because a dog’s “leg can become entrapped in the spokes, and serious damage can ensue.”
#4: Make it a dog day. When you live in an urban environment, it can be hard to find yard space or dog-friendly areas to play with active dogs. Jen deHaan’s solution is to dedicate a whole day or weekend to visiting places that allow dogs off-leash. She says it gives her herding dogs “a great chance for some intense and physically and mentally exhaustive recreation,” and lets them work on recall, “in addition to bonding and overall dog happiness.” Search for a dog beach near you—even if your pooch doesn’t take to the water, it’s a chance to run off-leash and mingle with all sorts of dogs. Be sure to pack a life vest for your pup, like Outward Hound’s high-visibility PupSaver with easy-grab handles. And you can finish the day by taking your dog to a restaurant that allows dogs or to visit their favorite playdate pals. Get creative!
#5: Keep them fueled. Your dog’s going to need energy for all these fun outings, and the best way to get it is through a high-quality dog food. Dr. Long recommends choosing one “that is formulated for your dog’s specific stage of life… and that is backed by a company that does scientific research and testing to prove that their foods help animals thrive.” American Journey has some excellent grain-free dog food options that are made for puppies and adults, including large breeds. They have real, deboned lamb, chicken, salmon or beef with amino acids for lean muscles and sweet potatoes and chickpeas for lasting energy. As a grain-free dog food, it’s also good for dogs with food sensitivities.
Try out these suggestions—whether you’ve got nap-loving pups or seriously active dogs—and once the end of this year rolls around, you can feel like you’ve both made the most of every minute!
Nikki Naser, Pet Central Senior Editor
Instead of owning 30 cats, Nikki has an impressive collection of 30 cat-themed T-shirts, and just 4 pets—a ginger-haired senior cat, a senior Maine Coon, a middle-aged Choodle, and a young kitty who showed up one day on the back steps. A former Orlando resident, Nikki worked on several tourism publications before moving to South Beach. When she’s not stopping to take pics of community cats to post on Instagram, Nikki spends her time with the office pets at Chewy, writing for their Pet Central blog.