K9 Corner, March 13

Published 9:02 am Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Reconditioning your couch-potato dog


Brian Kilcommons, author of “Good Owners, Great Dogs” repeats the phrase “a tired dog is a good dog” many times in his book and also in his videotape. How do you tire your dog out? You play with him or you walk, jog or run with him. However, if your dog has been a “couch potato” this winter, you need to make sure he is in condition and then start slowly.

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If it has been several months since your dog has seen the veterinarian, it is advisable to have him checked out. Make sure he is structurally sound, no hip dysplasia or loose joints. Have the doctor check the feet and toes as well as the muscles in the legs and back. You may be surprised to see the doctor perform a range-of-motion exercise, especially if the animal is aging. Normally this does not hurt the dog, but if it does it is best to find out now, learn why there is pain and take steps to correct the condition before starting an exercise program.

Yes, we have had some spring-like days in February and this has put us in the mind of exercising and gardening and preparing for summer. However, we will have several more weeks of cool weather and that is the best time to prepare your dog’s exercise sessions. If we have some more snow (not unheard of in this section of the country), with the doctor’s approval, you could start your dog indoors by tossing a ball or toy down a hallway and encouraging him to retrieve it by rewarding with a small treat. 

Play this game until the dog starts to slow down, then stop before he is really ready to quit. Talk to him in a high-pitched, excited voice to keep his interest on the game. At first it may take only three or four retrieves before the dog is panting and slowing. Build up his endurance slowly. When he seems bored with chasing the toy down the hall, switch to some steps. Stand at the bottom and toss the toy up the steps (balls roll so use a flat toy that stays put). Depending on the size and/or condition of the dog, you may want to start with a few steps and work up to the full flight. Larger animals or those in good condition may bound up the stairs anticipating the toss. Don’t forget the reward for the retrieve.

As the weather moderates and you can go outside, you can use a hillside instead of the indoor stairway, or you can start taking him along with you on walks, jogs or runs. Again, starting slowly and working toward a goal in small increments will be more beneficial than trying to cover miles the first time and injuring the dog. It may take two or three weeks for an injury to heal. 

Take some water with you if the weather is warm and watch for lameness and especially sore feet from trotting on hard surfaces.