By: Robert Cabral, dog trainer and member of the Wag! Advisory Board
Only about 40 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions according to a Marist College poll. Perhaps we’d be more likely to make changes in the new year if it involved a best friend — particularly a furry one.
January’s a great time to also evaluate your dog’s health and create a plan that will keep you both healthy and happy through 2019 and beyond.
Diet: Think of your dog’s body and diet just like your own. You’ll both want to eat nutritious meals that fuel your bodies properly. What you put in is what you’ll get out, so make sure to:
Choose high-quality proteins. When it comes to protein, less is more. Both you and your dog should always think quality over quantity. For humans and dogs, try a balanced diet of pasture-raised meats, wild caught fish, organic veggies, and healthy fats.
Eat small meals throughout the day. You wouldn’t eat one huge meal a day and the same goes for your dog. A body’s metabolism functions better with smaller meals consumed throughout the day. For dogs with weight issues, I often recommend 2-3 smaller meals throughout the day instead of one large meal.
Exercise: Not all dogs are created equal when it comes to exercise routines. For example, short-nosed breeds, such as Boston Terriers, English Bull Dogs, pugs, and SharPeis, are at higher risk for respiratory distress induced by exhaustion. Exercise will vary across different breeds and different ages, but methods can include:
Walking: Walking is overall the single best exercise for dogs; it not only provides exercise but mental stimulation as well.
Running: I don’t recommend long distance running or long distance biking for dogs, because it’s not in their natural DNA. Dogs will run for short distances and then either rest or walk. For those who want to take their dogs out for longer distances, you’ll have to build their endurance. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon your first time running, dogs need to build their strength, especially if they’re running while you bike. And always check the pavement to see if it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
Swimming: Swimming is one of my favorite exercises because it’s low impact. Dogs of all ages can swim, but be especially mindful of puppies and older dogs that can become tired. Remember, in a normal swimming pool, dogs can’t stand up in the shallow end like we can, so teach them where the stairs are so they can easily get out.
Age: Age is another important factor to keep in mind when talking about your pet’s fitness levels and health. Though dogs (like people) of all ages can benefit from exercise, we shouldn’t expect a 90-year-old person to do the same level of exercise as a 20-year-old. Remember, your dog ages approximately seven times faster than we do. That means a 7-year-old dog is about 49 in human years. While dogs and dog parent’s fitness levels will vary, with age keep in mind:
Older dogs: These dogs can still benefit from walking and swimming, but be careful not to overexert them as this can cause stress on their hearts, muscles, and bones. For senior dogs over ten years old, I opt for low impact exercises.
Middle age: Dogs between two- and six-years old are at an optimal time to receive the gift of exercise. I recommend brisk walks for at least 20 minutes at a minimum of twice per day. Wag! is a great service for busy pet parents who still want to ensure their pets are getting these walks regularly because they can easily book a walk on demand with a trusted and vetted walker in their neighborhood. Middle-aged dogs also love swimming, running and core training when possible. Exercising these dogs now mean they benefit for the rest of their lives.
Puppies: These dogs should always do mild exercises like short walks or a little play in the yard. One of the biggest dangers people make is overexerting puppies. Intense exercise can be dangerous on their joints and bones, especially before their growth plates close. Smaller breed dogs generally stop growing around six to nine months, while larger breed dogs grow until they are 12-18 months old.
So, what do you think? Is it time to make a resolution to benefit both you and your dog in the new year? It doesn’t have to be overly ambitious. And if you have any doubts about what your dog can handle, check with your veterinarian.
Start small and build — and this time next year, you and your furry best friend could be healthier, happier, and even closer than you are now.
As a particular sporting goods brand says, Just Do It!