Dr. Gillette developed this webpage to provide information for the pet owner who wants to better their pet’s life through exercise and other various activities.

For Information about developing a program to include your dog as a workout companion visit “The Canine Workout Companion” 

An Active Dog is a Healthy Dog – Robert L. Gillette, DVM, MSE

Dogs enjoy participating in activities.  This exercise benefits them both physically and mentally. It helps to maintain a healthy conditioned state as well as helping to maintain a healthy level of weight.  Obesity is a common problem in the pet world.  Many times this is associated with nutritional factors.  It is important to understand that body condition is a balance of nutritional input and energy utilization.  There is a lot of animal nutritional information available but there is minimal animal exercise information.  In normal dogs, inactivity has detrimental affects of the body.  Physical activity has structural, metabolic and psychological benefits to the overall health of the dogs.  This results in healthier and happier dog.

Exercising with your dog is beneficial for both you and your dog.

Having your dog as a workout companion has been shown to have mutually beneficial effects to both the dog and the owner.  The human-dog bond is strong to both participants.  The domestication of the dog has created a dependency by the dog for human interaction.  Tuber, et al. (1996) showed that dogs, when faced with a novel or new environment, had significantly lower glucocorticoid values in the presence of a familiar human than when alone or in the presence of a littermate.  Bennet and Rohlf (2007) showed that strategies designed to increase participation in dog training activities and promote canine sociability may have significant benefits for both companion dog owners and their dogs.  From the human aspect, Brown (1991) states that physical fitness is an important general component of well-being.  This also seems to be true for the dog.  This information indicates that having a canine workout companion benefits the human, the dog and the human-dog relationship.

Exercise benefits your Dog

Dogs were bred for herding, chasing, smelling, and protection to name a few of the functions. Outside of the toy breeds, most dogs were not selectively bred for a sedentary lifestyle.  Inactivity or lack of activity has a negative affect on the body condition which commonly results in obesity or the dog being overweight.  As a result, obesity has a negative affect on the health of the dog.  In the human health field it is recognized that obesity is associated with a 36% increase in inpatient and outpatient spending and a 77% increase in medication costs.  Obesity has been recognized as a growing problem in dogs and cats. Problems associated with obesity in the dog and cat include orthopedic diseases, diabetes mellitus, abnormal lipid profiles, cardiorespiratory disease and anesthesia complications.  Obesity is defined as an accumulation of an excessive amount of adipose tissue in the body.  In the normal dog, it is a result of more energy being taken in and stored in the body than being utilized by the body.  There are two ways to address body weight, diet restriction or by increasing energy utilization. Diet restriction has shown to have a positive affect on the life span of the dog.  Nutrition plays a very important role in body condition.  Physical activity has shown to have a beneficial affect on health in people.

Activity and Body Condition

The body is in an ever-changing state.  It continually monitors it status and maintains or corrects itself depending on the factors that influence its homeostasis.  There are external factors and internal factors that affect the metabolism.  Some examples of external factors include temperature, humidity, sunshine, altitude and the external forces of nature.  Internal factors include sleep, hormonal fluctuations, feeding, presence of metabolic waste and nervous stimulation.  The dog is continually exposed to these factors.  Wolfe’s law states that every change in the form or function of a bone is followed by adaptive changes in its internal architecture and its external shape.  This means that as varying forces are applied to the boney structure the structure will adapt according to these forces.  Wolfe’s law is generally applied to bone structure, but the theory also has application to the body’s metabolism. As metabolic stresses are continually applied to the body, over time the body will adapt its metabolism to the point that they are no longer stressful.  The body now recognizes this state as normal and the external influences are not stressful to the body.  In other words the body has adapted itself to the handle the external influences.   This application is the basis for most training and conditioning programs.

Inactivity has the same influence as exercise but in the reverse fashion. If the body is not presented with any stressors, the systems will balance out their activity to maintain the metabolism at this low activity level.  If the body is introduced to any of the previously described factoral extremes the body is not prepared to handle it.  The body will react to handle this stimulus and will either handle it or succumb to it.  An example of this is the immune system. If the immune system is not exposed to any infectious stimulus or in a physically reduced state, its ability to respond to acute exposure is deficient.  The immune system is enhanced by sleep and rest and is impaired by stress.  A body that is conditioned and healthy is less likely to be stressed, so it is better able to respond to infectious stimuli.

A more active dog is a healthier dog and less affected by the normal stressors of life.  It is then important to know what amount and type of activity is beneficial to the dog.  There are many factors that influence how activity affects the dog.  First we must address the genetic composition of the dog.  The wild dogs of Africa were naturally bred over time to run long distances and work as a team.  Large dogs similar to the Rottweiler were bred for their size and strength and were utilized by Roman soldiers on the front lines to attack their enemy.  Foxhounds were selectively bred to run long distances to handle their hunting activity.  Greyhounds were bred for the strength to produce a supramaximal effort over a shorter distance and period of time.  Sled dogs were bred to have the strength and endurance to run long distances.  Dogs have a phenomenal aerobic capacity when compared to the other species.  Their bodies are designed to handle activities and work much better than the human body.  Therefore we cannot transfer our concepts of human conditioning limits to the dog.

The dog’s genetic design helps us to select types of competitive activities for the dog.  Greyhounds are best suited to compete in sprint races less than a mile in length.  The hound breeds are best suited to compete in long distance activities.  This is also true for the sled dogs.  German Shepards, Belgian Malinois, and Rottweilers are better suited for detection and/or protection competitions and work.

This is not necessarily true for pleasure activities.  Most all dogs can participate with their owner or handler in basic pleasure activities.  These activities include walking, jogging, skiing and other activities in which people participate. The key to safely including the dog in the owner’s activity, is in proper conditioning.  The dog should be introduced to the activity in a manner that does not force too much activity too soon. Proceeding in this manner the activity is beneficial to the dog and not detrimental.

There is also psychological benefits to activity participation.  Dogs are very excited to perform the activity for which they were bred.  Recent studies have shown that the dog benefits psychologically from activity participation.  Sled dogs, Labrador Retrievers and Greyhounds were evaluated to determine the metabolic affects related to activity anticipation and exercise.  These three population groups were analyzed using an established performance analysis protocol.   Three typical highly bred groups trained to perform specific tasks were represented. Physiological parameters were taken at rest, away from the activity site to represent resting parameters.  The dogs were taken to the activity site and introduced to the activity 24 hours after the resting values were taken.  Pre-activity values were taken.  The dogs then performed their activity and post-activity values were taken.  Variances between the resting and pre-activity values were associated with activity anticipation. Variances between pre-activity values and post-activity values were associated with activity.

There are many types of dog sporting and working activities.  Although there are many activities, there are three basic physiological definitions in which these activities can be grouped.  The three basic groups are Sprint, Endurance and Strength.

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Gillette, R. The canine workout companion. The Athletic and Working Dog Newsletter, 7:1, pp 1-4, 2008.

Gillette RL, Angle TC, Wakshlag J.  Research Design of Nutritional Studies on the Athletic Dog Needs to Take into Account the Effects of Anticipation and Conditioning.  Supplement to Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian