Exercising with your pooch can be fun — if you play it safe

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 8, 2015

 Pete Vistakos, of Livonia, takes his black Lab, Layla, for a trot along Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores June 7 during the annual Michigan Humane Society Mutt March.

Pete Vistakos, of Livonia, takes his black Lab, Layla, for a trot along Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores June 7 during the annual Michigan Humane Society Mutt March.

Photo by Deb Jacques


METRO DETROIT — You know that itch you’ve had to get outside and burn off some of that extra energy? Well, guess what? Your pooch feels the same way.

Plenty of people have gotten into the habit of not just walking their dogs around the block, but including them in their own exercise regimen. Just like people, pets can definitely benefit from a good workout.

“Many dogs do wonderfully going for a walk or (a jog),” said veterinarian Tim Guild of Animal Hospital Maple Orchard of West Bloomfield. “They would get the same benefits from exercise that you would, including cardiovascular, strength, neurologic; all these things that help you with being healthy. And I think it builds on the human-animal bond.”

Giving your pet some one-on-one time doing something that decreases stress levels for both of you is a great way to keep both dogs and owners happy, he said, and you don’t have to limit yourself to a run. Swimming, ball games and other activities could be fun ways to change things up.

Guild said border collies are particularly fond of playing flyball, while Labs and similar dogs seem to enjoy dock diving. A little research could reveal what your breed’s hidden interests might be.

But before you lace up your sneakers, it’s important to remember that your endurance and that of your dog might not be at the same level. Overexerting an animal could be seriously harmful, Guild explained.

For starters, just like people, animals would likely be more comfortable working out in the mornings or evenings, when the summer sun isn’t at its peak. That’s especially true for brachycephalic breeds — or dogs with short snouts — like bulldogs and pugs.

“They shouldn’t exercise at all if it’s even remotely hot,” he explained. “Some breeds have an inability to dissipate heat appropriately. A dog came to me one time that was overheated and it eventually went into heat stroke and passed away. His temperature was unreadably high, like 107 degrees. At that point, all the protein cells in the body start to break down.”

You’ll also want to pay close attention to your pup along the way. If they seem uncomfortable, start moving slower or stop completely. Guild said you shouldn’t force them to continue. Overworking an animal can result in a range of problems, from collapse to muscle breakdown to dehydration, which could potentially be fatal.

And while dehydration can be avoided by making sure Fido gets plenty of fluids, Guild said water moderation should be considered, too.

“I had a dog come in once who was a larger, older dog, and he drank like two or three bowls of water.  His stomach bloated (gastric dilatation-volvulus) and turned. When that happens, the stomach will expand and expand, and that stretch can be fatal within hours,” he said.

How do you avoid bloat? Let your dog have water when they want, but not too fast or too much at a time. If they’ve gone through one bowl, don’t let them move on too quickly to the next. The same goes for food — don’t work out dogs right after they eat or let them eat too much too quickly at one time.

With all the risks aside, Guild said that you’re safe to hit the road and have a good time, as long as your dog is comfortable. When it comes to leashes, he said owners can feel free to use whatever works well for them, but they should be mindful of how they’re attaching the leash to their pet.

“Every dog is an individual, so a collar or harness — it depends,” he said. “For some bigger dogs, a harness is just going to make them pull harder.”

Jack Robbins, head supervisor at Val’s Pet Supply in Troy and Clawson, said that harnesses are a hot item right now for pet owners because they’re widely considered more comfortable for dogs than traditional collar attachments.

For dogs that pull and wouldn’t benefit from a harness, which adds power to the animal’s shoulders, there’s the Halti lead, which goes around the animal’s snout.

“If they try to pull farther ahead, it turns their head and they can’t see where they’re going, so they stop,” said Robbins.

Val’s offers extended leashes for those heading to a park, but for day-to-day walks, Robbins said the 6-foot leashes are a better idea. But that doesn’t mean you can’t upgrade a bit with comfort grips, hands-free lines or leashes made from marine rope to prevent fraying and fading with wear.

The store also offers portable water bottles, water bowls and treat bags to keep pets comfortable along the way.

“Those are kind of neat because if they’re walking with you and doing what they’re supposed to be doing, you can have treats with you to praise them and encourage them to continue doing that,” he said.

In Warren, Claude Bolar, owner of K-9 Specialties, said he has lots of customers interested in glucosamine supplements for pets with aging joints.

“It won’t cure them, but it will make them more comfortable on the walk,” said Bolar.

Pet owners are also pretty interested in weight-loss foods for pets that are having a hard time building up endurance for walks, as well as pad protectors — yep, dog shoes — for rough terrain or hot, sunbaked pavement.

“We have two or three different kinds," he said. “You’ve got to just put them on and start walking — don’t just stand there, or he’ll pull them off. He’ll walk real funny at first, but people like them.”