Big Dog – Small Dog Fitness
Today we are doing another shared topic with our friend Carol Bryant over at Fidose of Reality. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Carol and her dog Dexter, a very cool Cocker Spaniel. We’ve shared posts in the past on the dog IQ test from Dognition where we tested our dogs and then compared our results and we wrote about Emergency Preparedness for our different locales – east coast and west coast.
The topic for today: the difference between big dog and small dog exercise choices. Since SlimDoggy Jack is ‘big’ and Carol’s dog Dex is, well not little, but smaller than Jack, we thought it would be interesting to look at different exercise options available to dogs of varying sizes. Do they need to be different for different size dogs? For the most part, the answer is no, although there are some exceptions. You can read Carol’s take on the Big Dog – Little Dog Exercises here.
Jack stands about 28 inches tall – that’s from the top of his head to his paws and he weighs about 83lbs. Dexter stands 20 inches tall and weighs in at 35lbs, which would be considered a medium sized dog. (Most definitions that we have seen for a small dog is one that weighs less than 22lbs and is shorter than 16 inches tall). By weight, Jack is more than twice the size of Dex and almost twice as tall. Yet, these dogs could both thrive on similar exercise routines.
Key differences in Large and Small Dogs
When building an exercise program for a dog, one of the key questions is how does size factor into the types of exercise and the durations and intensities of the exercises that become part of the fitness program. Here are some key points to consider:
Smaller dogs with smaller legs would normally require shorter distances on walks and jogs, just based on their stride length. Very large dogs, such as the Great Dane or Newfoundland, would be less suited for endurance drills and would normally not fare well on longer runs or walks.
Other than that, there should be no reason why a big dog’s exercise would have to differ markedly from that of a little dog’s.
More important than the difference in size is the breed and age of the dog as well as its unique health and injury history.
The physical characteristics of a breed can influence the type of activities that a dog is suited for. Some examples include:
Breeds with short or flat noses, like the English Bulldog or Pug, can have trouble breathing when exercised vigorously. For this reason, these breeds are more suited for lower intensity programs.
Greyhounds and whippets are built for short-distance sprinting, not long-distance runs.
Dogs with short legs compared to their spine length, like the Dachshund, are more susceptible to back problems. Avoid jumping activities and keep their weight down to ensure that their spine is safe.
As with humans, as a dog ages, their ability to recover from exercise is reduced. For this reason, most senior dogs, big or small, should exercise less, and less intensely, than when they were younger. Furthermore, senior dogs require more time to warmup properly than when they were younger. This is not to suggest that your senior dog should be a couch potato! Rather, it is smart to cut back on their fitness routines (and also cut back on their food) as they age to make sure that they are able to remain active throughout their entire life.
Every pet owner should check with a veterinarian before starting or changing an exercise program. Hopefully the vet has an accurate history of the dog’s health, injuries, and weight and can provide you with an overall structure for your dog’s fitness routine. Orthopedic issues, like ACL tears for example, will put obvious limitations on the types of exercises your dog can perform, at least until they are healed.
A dog’s overall fitness level, no matter their size, can also be an important factor in choosing a fitness routine. If a dog has been a couch potato, start slowly with small and low intensity session (e.g. slow, short walks) and build up their fitness over time.
The bottom line is that whether your dog is big, small, or in between, they all need adequate amounts of exercise- exercise that raises their heart rate and engages the muscles. Keeping your pet fit with regular exercise and feeding them the proper amount of high quality, healthy food is the key to keeping your dog fit, trim, healthy, and happy. For their entire life.