By Stacey Brecher
From Exceptional Canine
Just like you, your small dog needs exercise to stay healthy and happy. Small dogs are defined as those that weigh less than 22 pounds and who are shorter than 16 inches. "Exercise helps to keep your pet physically fit, mentally secure, socially engaged and emotionally happy," says Lori Morton-Feazell, Director of Animal Care and Education for Petco. "It also reduces stress and deters negative behaviors such as chewing, digging and barking."
If you are considering an exercise plan because you believe your pooch is overweight, your veterinarian can examine your dog and let you know if he needs to lose a few pounds. If your dog has difficulty walking or playing, he could be overweight, and it will be important to start any exercise regime slowly to build up endurance and lung capacity.
Even if your small dog is the proper weight and is healthy, it is still important to check with your veterinarian to learn about any specific precautions you may need to be aware about for your dog's breed, like breathing problems. Additionally, if it has been a while since your dog has exercised, start slow with short walks and play sessions. Always take your dog's age, breed and health into account when starting any exercise routine. "Begin with a 15-minute walk each day, and after the first week increase it by 5 minutes," Morton-Feazell recommends. "Watch your dog for signs of [exhaustion] like heavy panting or their tongue hanging out, and remember if it is a long walk, take water to give to your dog. If your dog is used to exercise, a 30-60 minute walk daily is enough to keep him physically fit and emotionally happy."
Keep in mind that the amount of exercise your dog needs is not equivalent to his size, but rather to his breed. For example, a small Jack Russell Terrier requires more exercise than the much larger Great Dane. Oppositely, a Labrador Retriever is a very active dog and would need more exercise than a tea cup Poodle. Ask your vet about how much exercise your particular breed of dog should be getting.
Of course going on walks isn't the only way to exercise your pup. Other options for include obedience training and agility training. "Try teaching him a new trick," says Morton-Feazell. "Some simple ideas are give paw, high five, sit and stay. This can help keep your dog emotionally happy and social."
As far as agility training goes, many small breeds are very agile, and doing agility training through simple obstacles is a great way to experience the human/animal bond with your dog, in addition to providing exercise.
The key to getting the most out of an exercise program is getting your dog's heart rate up, which will cause her to have a good pant. "Be careful not to over-exercise your dog and cause heavy panting or heavy breathing," explains Morton-Feazell. "Give your dog breaks to catch his or her breath and get a drink of water."
The best way to encourage your small dog to exercise is by incorporating toys into the workout. Puppies, particularly, love to chase toys and put them in their mouths. Some options for older small dogs are balls, frisbees, Kongs or other toys that can be thrown for your dog to retrieve. Morton-Feazell advises that you pick the right size toy for your dog. Don't give your small dog a large toy as they may not want to play with it. You also want to make sure that the toy is large enough to not get stuck in the dog's throat and cause an injury.
Keep in mind that all small dogs are different and will receive the most benefit from different types of exercises. There are no exercises that are off limits for your small dog, although some modifications can be made to accommodate their size. While playing, walking or training your dog, notice if he is tired, panting excessively or thirsty. These are signs that you may be pushing him too hard and that he needs a break and/or water.
Stacey Brecher is an editor at Woman's World magazine, and a contributor to Animal Fair magazine. Stacey's blogs have previously appeared on Exceptional Canine.
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