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  By: Lisa Robinson

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Exercising with Your Pooch

Now that the dog days of summer are on their way out, more owners are starting to consider an exercise program of biking or running with their dogs. There are a number of advantages to incorporating your dog into your exercise program. A few of these include companionship and safety for the owner. A mugger or rapist is less likely to hit if there is dog present because they donít wish to be hurt themselves, nor do they want attention drawn to them.
The companionship your pooch offers will not only make the exercise time more fun and pleasant, but it will increase the chances of your continuing the program itself. Your dog serves as a workout buddy and gives you incentive to keep at the exercise. Your pup will also reduce your stress by making you more relaxed about life in general as well as less fearful and worried about the dangers of the environment.
As with humans, dogs need to start out slowly in an exercise program. A runner would never dream of going on a five mile jog after months (or years) of inactivity and your dog should be given the same consideration. Most dogs are eager to please their owners and would continue well past the point a human would stop.
Before starting to run, jog or bike with your dog, make sure he is leash trained and wonít cause injury to you. Many vet clinics, pet shops and community colleges offer basic obedience classes and it is highly recommended that you enroll your dog in one even if he will walk willingly on a leash. The class atmosphere will allow your dog to get used to obeying you and walking or running on the leash regardless of what is going on around you. Backyard training doesnít offer this exposure and more than one owner has found himself laid out on the ground from a seemingly docile dog taking exception to a cat, a squirrel or another dog a short distance away. As the dog darts in front or between your legs, there is no time to react and stop before tripping, falling and hitting the pavement below.
The same can be a problem with owners who take their dogs with them while riding their bikes. Most communities have leash laws and serious injury to owner and dog can occur if the dog pulls the bike over in a frantic rush to reach a distant spot.
After proper training, you will want to start your dog out slowly and build up to the desired distance. For those who bike, jog or run, start out walking several blocks a day and then move up to a jog or slow bike ride. Gradually increase the distance and speed so your dog will be able build the muscles and stamina and endurance necessary.
It is important to remember to keep a close eye on the toenails and pads on your dogís feet. The nails should be kept short and the pads should be checked regularly for signs of excessive wear or even tearing.
Like a person who walks barefoot, your poch needs to build up a toughened area over the pads to prevent cracking and bleeding. If either of these symptoms does occur, gently wash the feet with warm water, apply antibiotic ointments, wrap the foot and allow several days for your dog to recuperate. The pads of the feet can heal slowly and with a certain amount of difficulty due to your pooch walking on the injured area. The pads will flatten and stretch with each step causing the injured areas to reopen bleed again.
Pads are susceptible to excessive cold and heat. If you live in areas where snow and ice are common in the winter or high temperatures in the summer, take extra care of your dogís pads. The heat off the concrete can burn them during the summer and cause frost bite during the winter.
Another thing to remember is to not feed or allow your dog large quantities of water before exercising. Gastric torsion (bloat) has often been linked to dogs that were overly active or did or great amounts of jumping immediately after a large meal. Bloat causes the stomach and part of the intestines to actually turn or flip in the abdomen. If this happens, blood supply is cut off to the area and death is the most common result.
Itís important that you also make sure your dog is current on all vaccinations. This is especially important in younger dogs that are susceptible to such contagious diseases as Parvo Virus, Canine Distemper and kennel cough. Many of these can be transmitted by air or by coming into contact with a contaminated area that an infected dog has been in.
It is often a good idea to carry a can of the better quality pepper spray with you when you are running or biking with your dog. Regardless of how well trained and controlled your dog is, there will almost always be other dogs running loose. Many of these stray dogs will ignore you and yours but some may actually charge and attempt to engage in a fight. The natural reaction of your dog is to treat this as a threat not only to him but also to you.
The pepper spray may not stop the stray dog but it may slow him down enough for you to get out of the immediate vicinity. If a dog fight does begin, do NOT try to get into the middle of it and break it up. Reaching into a fight and attempting to grab one of the opponents has seriously injured many dog owners.
Exercising with your dog can be a rewarding experience for both of you. It increases your safety and the chances of sticking with an exercise routine. It also provides quality time to improve the bond between you and your pooch in a way that is healthier for both of you.

Photographs by Cami Johnson,