Canines Keeping Fit – A Guide for Working and Gundog Breeds
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘working dog’? Perhaps you picture a Siberian Husky pulling a sled as part of a team through a frigid winter’s night. Or maybe you think of a Great Pyrenees, constantly on the prowl to protect his owner’s livestock. A golden retriever’s roots are easily noted when a ball is dropped into your lap for the fourth (or the fortieth) time in a row.
The origins of a dog’s breed can be a leading factor in how you keep your pooch fit. Many of the dogs in the Working and Gundog groups are active and powerful, with significant strength, stamina and intelligence – so in other words, natural athletes! They need workouts that will challenge them both mentally and physically. Even the smaller types in the group, such as cocker spaniels, need stimulating and regular exercise. Here are a few tips for keeping fit with your furry friend, whether they actually ‘work’ or not!
• How much exercise is enough? Many dogs in these groups ideally should have 1 to 2 hours of physical activity daily, and likely won’t be content with just a walk around the block or a sniff around the backyard. Giant breeds like Great Danes or Saint Bernards may be exceptions. Consider your dog’s age and physical status when planning how to exercise them – lower intensity and shorter sessions are ideal for very young or senior dogs. An appropriate amount of exercise is the key to maintaining a healthy body weight and muscle mass – dogs in these groups have been bred for rigorous work.
• Match the breed to the bustle! Though many breeds enjoy and excel at multiple activities, your dog will naturally prefer some over others. Dogs in these groups often have a high drive to run or retrieve. A Labrador Retriever may happily spend an afternoon swimming or playing ball, while a sleek Vizla’s choice might be a morning jogging routine or a long hike with you. Get creative! There’s no reason that you can’t use your dog’s natural instincts to tweak their exercise routine. Many dogs love running, hiking, and swimming. You might consider skijoring (an activity where your dog pulls you on skis) with your Siberian Husky, carting with your Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, or informal games of hide and seek, and retrieve in an open field with your Pointer. Most breed clubs also host organized dog sports like canine agility, flyball, and field retrieving and gundog trials.
• Play it safe. Many working breed dogs need some special care or consideration. Dogs with thick coats like the Pyrenees may overheat more easily during play, and most large and giant breed dogs should be allowed to reach their full growth before starting high impact dog sports. Joint issues like hereditary hip dysplasia are common. Talk to your veterinarian to discuss appropriate feeding routines and health care as part of your furry friend’s fitness plan.
• Think like a coach. Make sure to take the time to warm your pet up before exercise and cool them down afterwards (usually a short walk on leash works well). Range of motion exercises are good to help warm muscles up as well. Never force your canine companion to keep moving if they’re scared or injured, and most of all, remember than the main goal is staying fit and having fun!