Determining the appropriate exercise levels for dogs is a complex topic that requires careful consideration. With a plethora of information available from various perspectives and experiences (such as training and behavior), it is essential to assess a dog's physical and mobility capabilities without compromising their well-being. This article aims to provide insights into different aspects of this subject, highlighting the significance of avoiding repetitive stress and understanding the specific exercise needs of dogs.
Repetitive Stress and Potential Problems: One of the primary concerns regarding exercise is repetitive stress, as any repetitive movement can lead to significant issues. While most exercises are generally safe when performed in moderation and with proper warm-up, engaging in certain activities repeatedly or excessively can result in repetitive strain injuries. Let's explore a couple of examples:
Ball chasing: Continuous chasing, running, jumping, and twisting involved in playing fetch or Frisbee can cause severe problems for dogs. Dogs often find it difficult to stop themselves as they perceive it as a fun activity. However, excessive repetition of such movements can lead to stress on their bodies. It's not uncommon to witness dogs panting on the way back home after a walk or a park visit, with their owners holding a ball launcher and ball—a clear sign of overexertion.
Running alongside a bicycle: While it may seem like an enjoyable activity for both the human and the dog, there are hidden impacts that need consideration. Firstly, since cycling is effortless for humans, it's easy to overlook the fatigue aspect, potentially overexerting the dog. Dogs tend to adjust their pace to match the bike's speed, resulting in consistent running (or worse, trotting) at a fixed pace. This limited range of motion may lead to muscle hypertrophy, creating a bulky appearance but restricting functional muscle movement similar to bodybuilders. Additionally, the inherent avoidance behavior exhibited by dogs to maintain distance from the bicycle can subject their bodies to centrifugal forces, which can cause significant problems due to excessive and inappropriate movement.
Other Factors to Consider: Running or cycling with a dog also introduces other concerns, such as continuous exercise on hard or uneven surfaces, which can affect their muscle function and overall health. Dogs should experience different terrain textures rather than constant exposure to a single type of surface.
The "Weekend Warrior" Phenomenon: "Weekend Warriors" perfectly encapsulates a common practice that often leads to numerous issues for dogs. This refers to dogs that receive shorter walks of around 20 minutes twice a day during the weekdays but are suddenly expected to engage in prolonged physical activities, such as an hour-long walk, during the weekends. Such a drastic change in exercise patterns can be overwhelming for dogs who were relatively sedentary during the weekdays and are suddenly expected to become active athletes.
It's not uncommon to hear saying like: "I want to give my dog a good walk." "He's a dog; he should be able to..." "He needs a two-hour walk."
However, expecting dogs to endure such demands is unrealistic. Dogs are not "walking machines" and require proper management and care to prevent physical harm. If we consider a similar scenario for humans, walking for 20 minutes twice a day and suddenly engaging in a one-hour run over the weekend would be considered a challenging task. Yet, we expect our dogs to effortlessly adapt to such a routine.
This exercise pattern often leaves many dogs feeling sore and fatigued on Mondays and Tuesdays, causing them to exhibit signs of "happy tiredness." People might misinterpret this as a sign of a well-exercised dog who has fully recovered by Friday, ready for the next round of excessive physical activity during the two-day weekend. Dogs may not complain explicitly, but they express their discomfort through stiffness and quiet movements.
The Long-Term Implications: The long-term effects of this exercise pattern differ from those caused by repetitive stress. Dogs who continually endure such a routine without careful management may develop muscle structures that repair themselves as tight constructs, similar to humans. However, these structures impose significant pressure on the joints, potentially becoming a precursor to the development of osteoarthritis.
The Challenge with Good Intentions: Most cases of excessive exercise in dogs stem from well-intentioned owners who believe they are providing the necessary activity their dogs require. While their intentions are generally admirable, the principle of "less is more" holds true in many exercise scenarios, emphasizing the importance of incorporating diverse forms of physical activity.
For instance, incorporating walks as the primary exercise and occasionally introducing ball throwing can be a beneficial approach. Start with a good walk for ten minutes, throw the ball a couple of times, and let the dog carry the ball during the walk. When playing fetch, ensure the ball is thrown at a height closer to the ground to avoid jumping and twisting movements. Alternatively, hiding the ball and allowing the dog to search using their sense of smell stimulates their physiological response, engaging their brain and other muscle groups, providing a more holistic exercise experience.
Regarding frisbee, it is advisable to prohibit dogs from playing with it entirely due to the significant injuries that can occur from jumping, twisting, and landing actions.
If weekends are the only opportunity for dog walks, it is still excellent to take the dog out. However, provide multiple rest breaks, limit the distance covered, or divide the walk into two shorter sessions. These small adjustments ensure the dog's overall well-being, potentially reducing the need for medical intervention as they age.
Conclusion: Determining the appropriate exercise levels for dogs is a complex task that requires considering their individual needs and avoiding repetitive stress. While owners often have the best intentions, it is crucial to adopt a "less is more" approach and incorporate diverse exercise forms. By understanding the potential problems associated with repetitive movements and implementing varied activities, dog owners can enhance their pets' overall health and well-being, providing them with a balanced and enjoyable exercise routine.