Keeping in good shape mentally and physically makes sense for all of us and sharing a healthy life with your dog means that you can live life well together.
Obesity is not only a human problem. In fact, according to the Kennel Club, between 30 and 60% of all dogs are over-weight. The RSPCA have also expressed their concerns and cite it as being a real health and welfare issue.
Mental fitness is another important element of health and well-being. Dogs share many of the same environmental factors that contribute to anxiety in humans and boosting serotonin (the feel-good neurochemical) through exercise has been shown to be beneficial.
In a study conducted by Tiira and Lohi, it was found that dogs with limited opportunities to exercise were more likely to suffer from separation issues and other anxieties. Therefore, in a similar way to human serotonin boosting treatments, it makes perfect sense to incorporate play and exercise in to a dog's daily routine.
Here are just a few ideas of some mind and body activities that you can share together:
1. Walking: It has been shown that walking briskly improves cardio-vascular fitness, strengthens muscles and decreases stress. Dogs benefit too but make sure you give them chance to enjoy the different sights and smells so that they have a good mental workout too.
2.Sit ups: This exercise can be done whilst incorporating some training - another great bonding activity:
• Get your dog to sit by your feet, facing you as you lay down on your back
• Train them to sit and wait until you perform the sit up
• As you rise up to face them, you can reward them by throwing a ball or playing with a tug toy after each repetition. You can slowly build up the number of reps to boost your own fitness as well as your dog's impulse control.
3. Agility classes: Find a local agility class or set up a course in the garden. Running alongside your dog to encourage them to go over, around and through the obstacles will give you a keep fit work out too! For ideas on how to make your own take a look here
4. Swimming: Canine Hydrotherapy Pools can be found throughout the UK. Make sure it is run by suitably qualified staff and ask about doggy swimming sessions. Watching your dog splashing around will be great fun for you both!
5. Listen to music together: This might not be as strange as it sounds. As part of a recent study a composer called Iain Jackson was commissioned to create a piece of classical music especially for dogs. The score, entitled A Dog’s Tale, lowered the dogs’ pulse rates as well as their levels of stress.
6. Playing: Get interactive. Whether it's just throwing a ball, playing tig or tug, you can have some real fun playing with your dog.
7. Massage: Studies in man have shown that massage can boost serotonin levels by 30% so it’s likely to have a similar effect on our pets. Furthermore, stoking dogs has been shown to help reduce blood pressure so there are mutual benefits. An example of a technique adapted specifically for animals is called Tellington Touch. This involves a range of massage like touches to influence mental and emotional balance.
Hopefully you will find an activity there that appeals to you and your dog. So….what are you waiting for?
NB Before embarking on any keep fit campaign you and your dog must be in good health. If you have any doubts seek medical advice from your Veterinarian and Doctor.
I am a qualified Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) and Association of Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviour Counsellor. I am also a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC). I have a special interest in education and hold a recognised professional teaching qualification. I am available for one to one behaviour consultations, covering problems with dogs, cats, rabbits and parrots. I also offer CPD courses to the veterinary profession, pet professionals, local RSPCA centres and pet owners. Courses include: Animal First Aid, Animal Behaviour and other animal care related topics.