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How to Exercise with Your Dog

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    Walking

    Don't underestimate the power of a pup walk. It's good exercise for any dog, though the amount and distance should vary based on dog and breed, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. It pays off for the owner too—in a study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, dog walkers had lower BMIs and were less likely to suffer from chronic conditions and depression symptoms than those who didn't walk their pets. Just remember that dogs can overheat easily, so beware of hot asphalt, which can increase body heat and burn paw pads, and look out for lethargy and panting.

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    Running

    "Dogs really enjoy going for a run because they spend so much of their life in your backyard," says Sundance. The first time you go jogging together, start slowly. Medium-size dogs with a lean build, deep chest, and long muzzle—like Border Collies and Weimaraners—are best-suited for running. Gauge how well your dog handles a half-mile run, then build up by quarter-mile increments. Dogs typically enjoy being in front of you—if yours starts to slow or fall to your side or behind you it's time for a break. Look out for heavy panting, pale gums, or foaming at the mouth, which are signs he's tired or overheated. And after every outing, check his pads for scratches.

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    Doga

    Some of the newest yogis are of the barking variety. Doga (dog + yoga) is a chance to spend more time with your pup by sharing the yoga mat. Contact your local kennel club or pet store to find out if doga classes are offered in your area. The cost varies, usually from about $12 to $16 for a one-hour class.

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    Swimming

    If you have access to a dog beach, pup-friendly public lake, or private pool, take advantage! No matter if you're human or canine, water-based exercise benefits those who are older or have joint problems, such as arthritis. Not all dogs are natural H2O hounds, though, so be sure that yours enjoys and can handle the water before you take him swimming, says Dr. Beaver. Buy him a doggy life jacket, like the Ruff Wear Portage Float Coat (RuffWear.com, $49.95), as an extra precaution.

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    Agility

    "Teamwork" is the magic word in dog agility. A dog runs through an obstacle course complete with teeter-totters, tunnels, tire jumps, and more, and the owner remains by her pooch's side the entire time, providing directions and support. It's a race against the clock that gets both parties' hearts pumping. While competitions are popular, you can participate just for the fun of it by taking an agility class in your area (about $10 to $15 per one-hour group class; ask your local kennel club or pet store). You can even create an agility course in your backyard. Purchase a kids' tunnel at a toy store; make a teeter-totter by placing a plank on top of a small two-by-four; and create your own bar jump out of PVC pipes or a broomstick laid across two buckets. To prep your pup for the bar jump, begin with the bar on the ground and your dog on a leash. Trot with her over the bar, and then praise her for her success. Raise the bar slightly, and then do it again—like a reverse game of limbo. After she can successfully jump over the bar with you, let her attempt it on her own by jogging toward the bar with her but then continuing alongside it while she jumps.

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    Frisbee

    This classic backyard game is the ultimate canine- and family-friendly activity. "When you play together and the dog catches your disc, it's such a feeling of mutual success," says Sundance. Get your dog acquainted with the Frisbee by placing it upside down and using it as a food bowl. Then ease her into the game by spinning and rolling it on the floor. You and your kids will be yelling "Catch!" in no time.

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    Up to Snuff

    Your pet needs an annual physical, just like you. "If you think about it, a dog ages seven years for every one year that we age," says veterinarian Dr. Bonnie Beaver. Make sure your vet checks for:

    —Musculoskeletal health

    —Heart disease

    —Dental health

    —Skin disease

    —Tumors

    Originally published in the March 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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