Exercise is a crucial part of the physical and mental health of your dog. When exercising with your dog, safety is key to preventing injury or long-term physical issues. At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we’ve put together some tips for safely exercising your dog, providing them with physical and mental enrichment.
Why is Exercise Important for a Service Dog?
Exercise is important for all dogs – especially service dogs. Since these dogs are working every day, they need mental and physical down time just like people. It keeps them in shape and allows them to release any excess energy they may have. We all need a way to have fun, be physically and mentally fit, so some well thought out, safe exercises are the answer. When receiving a service dog, it’s important to prepare your home including scheduling time for exercise.
Most of our dogs and lots of pet dogs love for their human to throw a ball. This is a great way to exercise your dog, and you too! Everyone loves seeing how athletic their dog can be by jumping up in the air to catch a ball, but when throwing their ball or other toy, only throw it low and straight away from you. Jumping up isn’t so bad, but the landing puts tremendous impact on their muscles and joints. They can tear ligaments or have long term joint inflammation that leads to early, crippling arthritis. If you truly love your dog, then respect him by practicing this exercise correctly so your dog won’t injure themselves by jumping up.
Depending on the disability of our recipients, there are also automatic ball launchers that can be used in place of throwing the ball for their service dog. You can teach the dog to drop the ball right into it and it will launch back out providing entertainment for your dog. Regardless of your ability to interact with your dog physically, you should always be with him while playing to further your bond.
Build a Confidence Course
For a more imaginative activity, Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs builds confidence courses for our service dogs. These are both a physical and mental release for the dog while also serving as a team building exercise between the dog and handler or recipient.
To put these courses together, we build different platforms, steps, sway bridges, tunnels, wobble tables, tunnels and tires. It’s best to build them just a foot or two off the ground to be sure they stay safe if they jump off. These courses are only limited by your imagination. You can switch it up, go at it forward and backwards, etc. Just have fun while building your bond.
With a confidence course, you will need to go slowly at first, allowing the dog to ease into it. We do everything with positive reinforcement, helping them to find their comfort zone. These courses are great exercise for both the dog and the recipient.
Practice Obedience Drills
In addition to throwing a ball or using a confidence course, you can also go through the dog’s obedience such as sit, down, heal, recalls, etc. Practicing their obedience training with positive reinforcement is a great way to keep their skills sharp, exercise them physically and mentally, while also helping you and your dog learn to work well together. Bonding with your service dog is a crucial part of your relationship with them. If you are making it fun, they will always enjoy working for you. It is also a crucial part of being a pet owner in general.
Play Time Activities to Avoid
You never want to encourage your dog to jump or lunge for a treat or a toy. When you do this, you are teaching them to jump on the person holding the toy or treat. If the dog is big, then they could knock the person over or scratch them. They could also accidentally catch your hand or fingers with a tooth which never feels good. This type of activity is not proper communication with your pet because you are telling him/her that it’s okay to jump on people sometimes, but then in other cases, jumping won’t be allowed – very confusing messaging to the dog.
If the dog just came in with muddy feet and jumps on you right before you’re all dressed up about to go out, then you’re going to be mad at the dog for jumping when you are the one who taught them to jump on you in the first place. For many reasons, we strongly advise against teaching them to jump or lunge like this when playing.
As explained above, you don’t want to launch toys up in the air for them to catch. While dogs are fabulous athletes and we enjoy seeing them demonstrate their abilities, dogs do not realize that they can become injured from jumping into the air and hitting the ground. When they jump up like this, they can tear their equivalent to their ACL. It can also put tremendous impact on their joints, which can shorten their working life.
Always be aware of the temperature when you are playing outside. If it is too hot, only throw the ball 4-5 times. Many dogs are so ball driven that they would continue to catch the ball until they fall over with a heat stroke. If it is snowy and freezing weather, be sure to bring them in after a few minutes of playing so they can warm up their feet and toes again.
Want to Learn More About Service Dog Exercises? Contact us Today!
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we are proud to serve as a service dog non-profit where we have helped hundreds of recipients regain their lives. We are dedicated to providing our service dogs with the best training and care. Contact us today to learn more or see if you are eligible for a service dog!