There are many science-backed health benefits of dog ownership. They can lower our blood pressure, decrease our stress levels, and even help with depression and anxiety. However, perhaps the biggest benefit they offer us is a chance to get moving outside to enjoy some fun fitness and a breath of fresh air.
Looking for a little inspiration to make the most of the longer spring days? Here are five great dog-friendly fitness ideas.
Pick Up a New Hobby: Organized Dog Sports
If your furry companion is full of bounce, organized dog sports are a great way to build a fun activity into your schedule to get you both more active this summer. Don’t worry if you are new to dog training; dog sport clubs are always full of eager “dog people” who are more than willing to teach you the basics while you learn the ins and outs of friendly competition.
Does your pooch love a good game of fetch? Dog trainers call this “ball drive” and it is the only aptitude your dog needs to be a great Flyball dog. Competition includes a two-team race with four-dog relay teams bounding over four jumps to retrieve a ball from a spring loaded box. The height of the jumps is set to the smallest dog on each team.
This dog sport is one of the easiest to learn and local clubs are always accepting new members. Mutts are very welcome, and even short breeds such as dachshunds and Jack Russel terriers are in demand.
This dog sport is one of the most popular, although the learning curve is a bit higher. With more than a dozen different obstacles to master before competing, you can expect to spend at least six months in agility training before your canine companion is ready for the ring.
On the other hand, agility also offers the most exercise for the human in the competing pair, since the handler has to run alongside the dog during competition. Agility is now open to mixed breeds, although border collies and Australian shepherds still make up the bulk of the participants in the most competitive classes.
There are dozens of other dog sports to choose from. The best thing to do is shop around to see what your dog’s natural aptitudes will fit best with. Does your dog love swimming? Try dock diving. Have a sight hound on your hands? Lure coursing is the ticket. Superior sniffer? Consider scent trials.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors: Hiking & Camping
Dogs have a natural curiosity about the outdoors that can remind us of the wonders of nature. Bringing your dog along to enjoy nature boosts the pleasure and offers plenty of opportunity for healthy, active fun.
Making the most of outdoor adventure with Fido, like most hiking and camping trips, means putting some thought into packing the right gear. Here are a few tips to make sure you have what you need.
Dog hiking harnesses allow your pooch to carry some of the load on a long hike. Pack the generous saddlebag style pouches with bulky lightweight items such as dog kibble, treats, sunscreen, and other small items, freeing up room in your pack. Keep the load balanced and take the pack off during rest periods to allow your dog to cool off.
Dog First Aid
In addition to your human first aid kit, there are a few additional items to have in case of a canine emergency:
- Hydrogen peroxide can be used to induce vomiting if your dog gets into something dangerous such as wild mushrooms.
- A muzzle can be used if your dog gets injured to prevent her from biting during transport if she is in pain.
- Benadryl can be used to ease swelling from bee or wasp stings. Talk to your vet in advance to get proper dosing for your dog.
- Styptic powder will stop bleeding fast. If your dog pops a nail or gets a cut on the trail, this is a must have emergency item.
Night Time Visibility
Another piece of gear to consider is an illuminated collar or harness. This gear helps you keep track of your dog back at camp in the evenings. They are lighted with long lasting LED lights that charge on a USB charger and usually get 12 or more hours of light per charge.
Take a Dip: Swimming With Your Dog
Swimming is a great way for both you and your dog to burn off some extra calories while enjoying warmer weather. Check with your local public pool — many offer a few “dog days” each year so that you can bring your companion for some extra fun social time. Another option are dog-friendly beaches for those living near the ocean. Ponds and lakes are another way to go.
Be sure to follow any guidelines when it comes to swimming restrictions. Some waters harbor dangerous bacteria or toxic algae. Others have current warnings to prevent accidental drownings. Even if you can’t see any danger, never violate posted warnings about water safety.
Over & Under: Backyard Obstacle Course
If you have a fenced backyard, then a dog-friendly obstacle course is an excellent chance to have some regular outdoor fun with your pet. By using some simple items you have lying around in the garage, you can build jumps, weave poles, tunnels, balance beam, and even a seesaw obstacle for your pooch.
Remember to praise and reward often when teaching your dog to run each obstacle. Give each obstacle its own command. Once he has mastered each obstacle in isolation, you are ready to string them together and start running the course together.
Hide-&-Seek: A Kid-Friendly Dog Game
Within a few minutes, you can get the kids moving outside with a fun game of hide-and-seek with the dog. Give each child a small bag of kibble or pea-sized dog treats. Then, let them choose a great hiding spot in your fenced back yard, taking turns calling the dog from their spots. When they are found, your pooch should get lots of praise and a small food reward, and the kids get to run to a new hiding spot.
This fun game also teaches your dog to respond and come when called, a vital skill that could be a lifesaver in an emergency situation!
About the Author
Sharon Elber is the lead writer at WileyPup and has worked as a professional dog trainer for over 10 years. She holds a M.S. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech.