By Dr. Becker
There is a persistent myth among dog owners that I feel compelled to debunk every so often. The myth is that any dog with access to a fenced-in backyard is getting plenty of exercise.
I’m continually surprised by owners of clearly obese dogs who, when I suggest their pet needs to get physically active, tell me Buddy or Bella gets TONS of exercise because they have a big backyard.
This is, of course, a myth – but a stubborn one. Many dog parents persist in the belief that no further effort is required to exercise their pet as long as the dog has a backyard to run around in. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the condition of many of these poor dogs tells the real story.
Myth Debunked: A Big Backyard Does Not Equal a Well-Exercised Dog
Your dog may appear to be very active when he first enters your backyard. After all, he does have canine chores to perform, like patrolling the perimeter and sniffing his turf for signs of intruders. He may also need to do a thorough inspection of the barbeque and, of course, he must very carefully select just the right spot to relieve himself. Heck, he might even stalk a bird or run back and forth along the fence for a bit.
But once he’s checked off all the items on his To Do list, you’ll find him standing at the door waiting to be let back in. If you don’t immediately comply, chances are his next move – especially if the weather is nice – will be to lie down for a nap.
Like Their Owners, Dogs Need a Reason to Exercise
Wild dogs spend most of their time resting to conserve energy for hunting, and because they don’t know how long it will be until they eat again. Domesticated dogs evolved in a similar fashion. Research1 has shown that when a pet dog has no other dogs around and no humans encouraging her to be active, she will spend 80 percent of her time resting. A pet dog who has other dogs around for company spends a little less time resting -- about 60 percent.
So the bottom line is that like their owners, dogs need reasons to get physically active. Even the biggest, greenest backyard isn’t by itself enough to motivate your pet to get the exercise she requires to stay in good physical condition.
The very best way -- really the only way -- to make sure your dog gets enough exercise is to provide her with the companionship and incentive she needs to stay active.
Ideas for Keeping Your Dog Active and Fit
Canines are designed by nature for movement. If your dog doesn’t get opportunities to run, play and get regular aerobic exercise, even if he’s not an overweight dog, he can end up with arthritis and other debilitating conditions that affect the bones, joints, muscles and internal organs. In addition, many canine behavior problems are the result a lack of physical and mental activity.
Your dog should be getting an absolute minimum of 20 minutes of sustained heart-thumping exercise three times a week. Of course, 30 minutes is better than 20… and 6 or 7 days a week is better than three. And keep in mind that simply strolling with your dog isn’t an adequate workout. He needs sessions of power walking – moving at a pace of 4 to 4.5 miles an hour (about a 15-minute mile) -- to achieve good cardiovascular intensity and caloric burn. If you aren’t able to move at this pace, you’ll need to involve your dog in other types of cardiovascular exercise like swimming, fetch, Frisbee, agility competition, flyball or dock jumping. You could also take a bike ride alongside your dog using a special dog bike leash.
Some dog owners believe if they do lots of weekend activities with their pet they can make up for lack of exercise on weekdays. But the problem with this approach is that you can actually create injury to your dog by encouraging him to be a weekend warrior. When a dog’s body isn’t well conditioned, sudden bursts of activity can create injuries that lead to long-term joint damage. Consistent daily exercise is a much safer approach.
The bottom line: Even if you have a huge fenced-in backyard, your dog won’t get the exercise she needs unless you get out in the yard with her and engage her in activities that will give her a consistent cardiovascular workout.