Just like humans, dogs (and cats, too!) need stimulation and exercise to live long and happy lives. Not only does consistent stimulation and exercise help promote good behavior it also helps deter destructive behaviors. When you allot a set amount of time to work with your animal, you are aiding in their health by preventing obesity, strengthening of their cardiovascular health & muscles, reducing digestive problems, keeping joints mobile & supple, and keeping their brain active. In other avenues, when you provide outdoor stimulation for your puppy you are also promoting housetraining. When you go on frequent scheduled walks, it can promote your pet’s ability to cope with your absences, build confidence and trust for your pet, and increase socialization with people and other dogs.
So we know why exercise and stimulation is important, but what are the best ways to provide this for your pet, especially in the coldest months of the year? Many ideas and suggestions are listed all over the internet but how can you find what is best for your pet that fits your lifestyle? Before you can begin to provide the right activities for your furry friend you’ll want to sit down and think about four topics.
The first topic: What is your dog’s breed? Most breeds were bred for
a specific job (such as herding, retrieval, searching) and satisfying their natural inclinations will provide them with the most satisfaction.
The second topic: Age. Accounting for how old your pet is will help you determine how much exercise they should be receiving each day. Younger dogs & puppies may benefit more from frequent short bursts of exercise rather than long, sustained activities. Most dogs should have at least 20 minutes of active stimulation each day along with 1-2 walks. Higher energy breeds/dogs will require more activity, but this should be determined individually.
The third topic: Health. If your pet has a specific health issue, it may prevent them from doing certain activities without injuring themselves, causing pain, or more. Be mindful of their body structure as well: avoid stairs/jumping with long-backed dogs (e.g. Dachshunds, Corgis, Basset Hounds), avoid extended strenuous activities for brachycephalic dogs (e.g. Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, Pekingeses, Shih Tzus), and any other specific health issues of your particular dog.
The fourth topic:
Personality. You know your pet better than anyone and what they may enjoy doing. Some dogs find walks boring and would rather sniff out their food in a game, while others like exploring the great outdoors more than fetching a ball.
Once you have taken these four items into consideration you can start to put a plan together for your pet. Catering all activities and durations to your dog will help keep things safe and fun. If you ever have questions or concerns, remember to always consult your veterinarian.
So now you know about how to determine the type and duration of exercise your pet should be receiving but what are some proactive ways for them to receive it? Some ideas for these colder months that we are currently engulfed in, are the following:
Obedience classes – Mental and physical stimulation can be accomplished together if you decide to invest in obedience classes. Something fun for you and your furry friend to work on together helps you form a bond together getting you both out of the house for a bit too!
Walking/Running – Those short potty breaks during the winter can be turned into a quick walk around the block with the right equipment. Make sure your pet has booties to protect those paws and a coat if necessary to keep them warm and protected while walking during the colder months. (And make sure you’re bundled up properly, too!)
Stairs – Do you live in a home with accessible stairs? This can be a great way to have a little fun and exercise too, all within the comfort of your warm home! Throw a toy up the stairs for them to retrieve or maybe try putting some lean treats or pieces of kibble scattered for them to find, either way those stairs can make great exercise for pets.
Tug o’ war/Fetch – Best part about this, it’s an indoor and outdoor kind of play!
Doggie daycares – Most daycare facilities offer hours that fit almost every schedule whether you work early mornings or late afternoons. Depending on your dog’s personality will determine what kind of exercise they get during the day at the facility! (i.e. group play or individual play)
Exercise is important for your pet’s physical health but what about their mental health as well? This is where stimulation comes into what your pet’s daily routine should be like. Here are some fun ways to provide your dog with ways to keep their mind occupied:
Kong toys – Fill it with frozen peanut butter, or small treats; either way they’ll have to work a little for them!
Puzzle toys – Hide a treat or two and leave it for them. They’ll eventually figure it out and enjoy it too.
Slow feeders – Makes them work for their food and helps promote slow eating patterns!
Learn a new trick/command – This can be as simple as introducing a word for a new toy, the perfect time to teach them to grab their own leash, shake with each paw, or maybe even roll over for a belly rub or two!
Overall, exercise and mental stimulation are different, but both are important to your pet’s daily routine. A balanced routine should have an increase in good behaviors you love to see and a decrease in destructive behaviors like barking, chewing, or inappropriate eliminating due to stress and anxiety. Don’t push your pets too far as it’s not about duration. Try breaking up their activities into segments extending throughout the day. A good example would be twenty minutes play time in the morning, mental stimulation throughout the day, short walk when you get home, and then a little brush up on some command training before bed. You can find things that fit within your schedule and your pet’s personality/lifestyle to provide enrichment.
Written by: Alexis