Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Great Outdoors with Man's Best Friend

Dog owners are always told about the benefits of walking their four legged friends and from April 28 - May 5, the Forestry Commission has led a Paws Outdoors campaign with Walk Your Dog Week.

The Kennel Club says that every dog owner has a duty to to make sure that your dog gets at least one walk a day. It's also a great way for both of you to keep healthy and if you have a family it's something everyone can get involved in with minimal cost.

You don't have to be outside for hours on end and although it is not high intensity, walking is good for strengthening muscles and bones and lowering blood pressure.

For the last few years, the PDSA have launched a Pet Fit Club in an effort to help get Britain's pets fit and healthy. They found that one in three dogs and one in four cats is overweight and as well a risk of passing away sooner, our pets have a reduced quality of life. The report also discovered that pets are being fed a range of unhealthy treats by owners, including fast food, crisps, chocolate, biscuits and chips.

Their 2013 fit club winner was Ruby, a Jack Russell. A squarely-built terrier, when she started the PDSA's six month challenge she weighed 9.1kg. The normal weight of this breed ranges from 5-6kg, which made her more than 50% overweight.

Due to her sad start in life as a stray, her new owner overcompensated by feeding her too many snacks and titbits. Thankfully at the end of the challenge, Ruby had slimmed down to just over 6kg, had lost 17cm from her waist and 10cm from her chest, which all gave her a new lease of life.

I walk my friend's dog Penny every Saturday because he is unable to walk her much himself because of his ill health. He also employs a dog walker to take Penny out during the week to ensure that she gets a good amount of exercise.

It's a great excuse to get outside and out in the sunshine (sometimes), especially as my commute to work during the week is quite long. Penny is a Lurcher and while she can be laid back in the house, once outside she is very quick on her feet. She has both speed and stamina and could run for miles if asked. I don't tend to let her off her lead because she is not my dog, but sometimes my friend and I will take a trip to Belfairs Woods and let her off. It's lovely to see her have fun in the woods, especially when she legs it across the field!

Traditionally Lurchers were first-generation crosses of a sight hound with a terrier or a herding dog. but the modern day Lurcher are also bred with each other and are usually Greyhound size. Some have a rough coat, while others (like Penny) are smooth coated. They weigh 27-32kg and are 55-71cm tall. 

It's important to get the right mix of exercise dependent on the age and breed of your dog. Young puppies that have been vaccinated can be taken for a 10-15 minute walk to the park or just down the road. Then as they get older, this can be gradually built up to a longer walk. To make it more exciting, why not train them on the walk to 'sit', 'stay' and 'come' while out and about?

Make sure you don't walk them for too long, even if they are enjoying it, and avoid taking them out for long runs until their bones and joints have matured. This can take from 18 months for the larger breeds like Labradors, German Shepherds and Rottweilers to two years for giant breeds such as Great Danes. If puppies are given too much exercise too soon, this can contribute to bone and joint diseases. 

Adult dogs can have more rigorous forms of exercise, as long as they have no joint or limb problems. Walks can become longer and faster and the more agile breeds can be taken running or on endurance walks.

To make this more exciting, why not start taking agility classes or flyball training at a local club. It's a great way to socalise your dog with others and give your dog a variety of exercise. Labradors or Retrievers are good at retrieving, but are slower than the terrier and collie breeds at agility and flyball. Hound types are good running partners, while bulky dogs like mastiffs are better with slower types of exercise.

As your dog gets older, they tend to have more specific requirements when it comes to exercise. Giant breeds will slow down when they are over the age of six, while for smaller breeds this is around the 10 year marker. Their mobility levels tend to deteriorate and quite a few suffer from arthritis in the joints. In addition, other problems such as heart and breathing problems prevent them from taking too much exercise.

However, it is still important to take their exercise levels into account because older dogs have lower calorie requirements. If not monitored, this can lead to them becoming overweight and so it is worth reducing the amount of food you give them and provide them with food aimed at older dogs because these have fewer calories.

So this Bank Holiday weekend, why not aim to take your dog out on a longer or more exciting walk? The Forestry Commission has some activity sheets for everyday of the week to keep you both fit and healthy. Visit:$FILE/Dog_activity_challenge2014.pdf

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