Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is Your Dog Getting Enough Exercise? (Part 2)

Part 2: Fitting Exercise into Your Schedule
As I mentioned in Part 1, it is easy to forget to include your dog in your daily routine.  Life gets busy trying to balance work, school, sports practice, P.T.A., church activities, quality family time, and a social life.   It is easy to let the dog fall down the list of priorities, but just because they are not constantly barking at you for attention doesn’t mean you should take them for granted.  Dogs were born and bred to work, but most of us are no longer living rural lives.  Herding and hunting and is now defined as chasing birds and hunting lizards, which they rarely ever catch.  They need daily exercise and mental stimulation to live a happy and well-balanced life. 
I know it is hard to get in the habit of exercising your dog every day.  I have tried to get creative by incorporating my dog’s exercise into my daily routine, but there is only so much you can do without actually setting the time aside to walk your dog.  
Here is a list of some activities you can do with your dog:
Walking- Adding a doggy backpack for the dog to carry weights while walking puts a small spin on the traditional walk and gives the dog a more intense workout.
Agility- Provides great mental stimulus as well as physical exercise.
Running or Jogging- If you like to run, your pup would love to come with you.
Bike Rides- Great exercise for larger, high energy dogs but should be done with safety in mind first.  It is dangerous to bike with shy and unpredictable dogs or to bike in areas with heavy traffic.  
Fetching- Any object that your dog loves to chase will work.  Even if your dog isn’t a natural retriever you can train them.  
Swimming- If your dog loves water, take advantage.  Swimming is a great exercise and good way for overweight or injured dogs to get exercise without putting all the stress on their joints.
Hide and Seek- Hiding toys around the house is a great way to engage your dog mentally but it also encourages them to use their natural tracking and hunting skills.
Racing- I like to race my dogs myself but you may consider entering your pup in an organized race.  There are regular Dachshund races every year for Oktoberfest.
Weight Pulling- This may take a little bit of training but weight pulling, like mushing, will give your dog purpose and tire them out more quickly.
Running on a Treadmill- The treadmill at home is a great way to get your pup the recommended amount of exercise, and Cesar Millan recommends it if you can’t fit regular activity with your dog into your day.
Puzzle Dog Toys- A great way to keep the dog busy while you are at work is a toy that will stimulate their mind.  There are a lot of dog toys on the market that make dogs work to figure out how to release a treat.
Training- Teaching your dog a trick is beneficial in two ways because it stimulates their mind and teaches them good behavior.  Training should only be done in short segments, 10-15 minutes at a time, otherwise your dog will probably lose interest and you will become frustrated.
 And while these are not the only exercise options out there, they are a start.  The hardest part is usually finding the motivation and the time to exercise your dog.  It takes 21 consecutive days to form a habit.  If you need help in this find a support group.  Enlist family and friends or find other dog lovers in your city to help keep you motivated.  Ask friends to walk with you and your dog daily so you have an accountability buddy to make sure you go regularly.  Get the kids involved by scheduling a little one-on-one time with them and the dog.  Schedule regular play dates with another dog in town or at the dog park.  If you are going on a hike, camping, or on road trip take your dog with you.   Your dog will thank you for their new life by being better behaved and making your life easier in return.
 Remember, exercise isn’t just beneficial for your dog, it’s beneficial for you too.  I know several people who have been told by their doctor that they need to start doing 30 minutes of steady cardio each day (and walking around the office doesn’t count).  So for your health and your dogs I encourage you to get out and exercise! 
Get creative with your dogs exercise regiments while keeping in mind that dogs thrive on teamwork and activities with purpose.  If you have a great idea on incorporating exercise for your dog in your busy day please share!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is Your Dog Getting Enough Exercise?

Part 1: How much exercise is enough?
Have you ever looked at your dog and suddenly realized that she is plumper than she use to be?  That very instance happened to me when I looked at my Terrier/Dachshund mix, Maui, and noticed she was not the slender, muscular dog I was use to seeing.  It happens to humans and pets alike.  We put on a couple of pounds here and there, and before we even realize it we are suddenly 15 pounds heavier than we use to be.  But unlike humans, dogs cannot substitute the benefits they get from being active with other hobbies (like reading or painting) which results in more mental and health harm than just weight issues.  Dogs were born and bred to work, so without regular exercise and mental stimulus they are known to be more destructive and ill-behaved due to boredom.  
Today’s society is so fast-paced that we end up filling our day with ‘Need to Do’s’, forgetting to add ‘Walk the dog’ to the list.  I too forget to make time for my dogs on days when I feel overwhelmed with work and personal obligations.  When I was a full-time student and I worked full-time I hardly had any free time that wasn’t used for homework or studying.  When I did get free time I just wanted to veg in front of the TV, not walk my dog, Romeo.  I adopted Romeo from the pound when he was 2 years old and I was a teenager.  He came to me with a lot of co-dependency issues and anxiety.  At the time I thought being a good pet owner meant food, water, shelter, and love kept them alive and happy, and that was enough.  That was my first problem; walking the dog was more of a special treat rather than a daily ritual so it was easy for me to put Romeo on the back burner.  I didn’t learn the benefits of exercise until much later, when you might say it was too late.  As he got older, his issues only got worse and he became very stubborn.   I know that if I had given him regular exercise it would’ve helped relieve his stress and anxiety and I would not be dealing with the challenges I face today as I try to correct his bad behavior in his senior years. 
What are the benefits of regular exercise?, ASPCA, The American Kennel Club, Cesar Millan, and your family Veterinarian all agree that exercise is essential to your dog’s mental and physical health.  But just how essential is exercise and what are the specific benefits?
Regular Exercise:
·         Strengthens the immune system
·         Increases blood circulation
·         Reduces the risk of heart disease and other illnesses
·         Reduces or eliminates digestive problems
·         Reduces susceptibility to urinary infections
·         Reduces stress and the likelihood of depression
·         Keeps dog from becoming obese which could result in depression and/or diabetes
·         Reduces the chance of arthritis in senior years
·         Reduces boredom and therefore bad behavior such as chewing, digging, and excessive barking
·         Helps to build confidence
·         Reduces anxiety which may cause a dog to become aggressive or territorial
·         Calms hyperactive dogs

How much exercise should my dog be getting?
It is recommended that smaller breeds get a daily workout of about 20 – 30 minutes and 2 -3 walks per day.  Larger Breeds are recommended to get 40 minutes of an intense cardio workout per day.  
Ultimately, every dog has different needs and different levels of adequate exercise.  I know most people try to walk their dog once a day, usually at night after work.  For older dogs this may be enough, depending on the length of the walk, but for puppies and high energy breeds this is not nearly enough.  So the next challenge is to work a regular exercise routine for your dog into your busy schedule.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are you a Pet Parent or a Pet Owner?

Most people have heard the term ‘Pet Parent’.   Changes in social norms and trends in Hollywood are causing people to change the way they think about owning a pet.  Dogs are no longer just the animal that must work to earn its keep.  They worked their way into our hearts and became a four-legged member of the family.  I grew up around animals, and looking back at the younger years when my sister and I married our two shelties I now realize that I have always seen my pets as more than just an animal.  And while some people, like me, grew up treating their family pet like a child, others have come to appreciate the companionship of an animal later in life.  Not only do we enjoy their companionship but the simple fact that pets are easier to care for is just another reason why celebrities and normal people alike are replacing the idea of human children with four-legged children instead.  Between the therapeutic joy and unconditional love that animals offer (and humans sometimes lack) it comes as no surprise that we end up adopting an animal that becomes more to us than just another thing we own.
I am a self-proclaimed pet parent of three adorable pound puppies.  My fiancĂ©, on the other hand, is a self-proclaimed pet owner.  It’s not that he doesn’t love our dogs or consider them part of our family.  In fact, when we go on vacation he is the first to say he misses our 4 yr. old Dachshund/Terrier mix, Maui (Daddy’s little girl).  Regardless of this fact, he hates when I refer to him as their “dad”.  So what is the difference between a pet owner and a pet parent?  And how do you know which category you fall under?

5 Tell Tale Signs That You are a Pet Parent (and advice to keep you from going off the deep end)
     1. You refer to your pet as your child-  “That’s my baby boy, Spencer.  He’s 6 months and we just finished potty training!”  Does that sound a little familiar?  Calling your dog your ‘baby’ is the first sign of a pet parent.  Your dog is no longer just your garbage disposal or your running partner but more of an adopted child.  This frame of mind changes the way you treat your dog in every aspect.  From sleeping arrangements to meal plans to daycare, pet children get treated more like human children but with less discipline.  Just remember that our pet children need boundaries just as much as human children.  So, even though they give you those big puppy dog eyes while they eat your socks or they look adorable when they jump all over visitors, you must be the pack leader and give them boundaries or you may end up with some major behavioral issues.   

2.   You dress your dog in the latest fashion-  “Isn’t Mini so cute in her new Juicy top and Tiffany necklace?”  Most, if not all, pet parents have put some form of clothing on their dog at some point in their life.  After all, the dog is no longer just a dog; she’s your baby, and like a baby, she should wear cute things.  Now I am guilty of dressing my dogs up on occasion (especially Halloween) but I am the first to admit that most dogs, including my own, absolutely hate wearing clothes.  Every Halloween I dress up my dogs and the springy, energetic Maui is either hiding or lying on the floor, like she is wearing kryptonite.  But, like most pet parents who can’t help themselves, I can’t resist how adorable they look in little outfits.  Despite this, I do my best to keep the cute shirts minimal because we all need to keep in mind that working to improve our dog’s life doesn’t mean keeping clothes on their back (no matter how cute they look).  

3.   You take your dog with you everywhere you go-  “Whether its grocery shopping or hitting the gym, Sparky goes with me everywhere.”  We all hate the thought of having to leave our dogs home alone.  Many pet parents work long hours during the week so they want all their free time to be spent with their ‘baby’; but that isn’t always practical.  Some days I’m too busy to make sure my dogs get some sort of exercise so I think, ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could just take the dogs with me to run errands’.  And sometimes I do, but there aren’t many pet friendly stores and, although my dogs love the car ride, waiting for me in the car isn’t a workout.  Nevertheless, let us not forget that being able to leave your dog at home (without a babysitter) while you work, or run errands, is one of the perks to being a pet parent.  While no one should abuse this option by neglecting their dog, sometimes it’s ok to take a break and give ourselves a little alone time.  But if you do insist on taking your pooch with you around town, keep in mind that even though you like the idea of your dog going with you everywhere, you don’t really want to see everyone else’s dog in a place like the grocery store.  

4.   Your pet has a Facebook page-  “This is Muffin’s page.  She has 97 friends and counting.”  Having a Facebook page for your pet is not unusual, but it’s not exactly something everyone in the pet industry would do.  I know several pet parents who have created a page for their dog or cat or a page for all of their animals to share, and they love it.  Overall, it’s a great way to show off your adorable pup, meet other animal lovers, socialize your dog (if you schedule a play date), and get involved in the animal community.  Just keep in mind that it is actually human pet parents posting messages for their pets, not a group of super intelligent animals.  As long as you remember that, you should be fine.

5.   You personify your pet as human-  “Buddy is spending a day at the spa.  He just loves a good milk bath and pedicure.”  When you live as a pet parent it is easy to forget that your furry family member isn’t human.  Your dog goes to daycare, he has birthday parties and play dates, his own room and clothes, so you figure he should have a Bark Mitzvah as well.  You love getting dressed up, going out to a club, or relaxing at the spa, so you figure your dog would too.  Personally I love the idea of all of these things.  I’ve thrown my dogs birthday parties and weddings.  I’ve painted their nails, dressed them up, and arranged play dates.  I know what it’s like to want to enhance the quality of my dog’s life through activities that enhance human lives.  But when it comes down to my dogs enjoying a happy and well-balanced life, I have to remind myself that those human activities don’t matter to animals.  At the end of the day, a dog is still a dog (no matter what they are wearing) and they could really care less about a day at the spa. 
So what is the difference between a pet owner and a pet parent?  Well, by definition, there really isn’t a difference, only the negative connotation of the word owner, implying that pets are merely property.  But the word owner does not have to be negative.  Just because a person does not treat their dog like a child does not mean they love their dog any less.  And while these 5 habits flag a typical pet parent, it is ultimately up to you on which category you fall under.  Pet parents and pet owners alike have been paving the way for a brighter future for our pets and the care available to them.  We have a common goal to give our pets more than just shelter and food but quality of life as well.  We are all striving in one way or another to change the way animals are treated and to speak for them when they cannot speak for themselves.  As for me, I will do what I can to ensure my dogs are living happy, healthy lives whether I refer to them as my babies or just my dogs.