The Olympics are over, but I can’t stop thinking about the elite athletes, and how inspired and moved I always am by their dedication. They train every single day, not just practicing their specific sports, but also strength building, stretching, and all manner of conditioning exercises to achieve optimum fitness. This is why they are the best in the world, but it also reduces their likelihood of injuries.
We’ve all heard of the “Weekend Warriors”. Most of us have at least one or two friends who are such athletes, competing in their chosen sports once per week as their only regular exercise. Of course, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to exercise more, but many of them are so busy during the week that they just don’t have the time. Unfortunately, the term “weekend warrior” is also commonly heard along with the word “injury.” According to some authorities, Weekend Warriors are more likely to incur injuries than athletes who train more consistently.
So why should dogs be any different? I have colleagues and friends for whose dogs the weekend training sessions are most of the exercise that they get for the week. These dogs might go for a walk or two during the week, but otherwise spend most of their time inside their homes or apartments with little physical exercise. Now I’m not remotely suggesting that they have bad lives – they get to sleep on beds, hang out on the couch with their owners, and play nice games of tug or fetch down hallways – but they are not getting the exercise needed to maintain the fitness levels to safely compete in some of the high-octane sports that they do.
They are Weekend Warriors. And like their human counterparts, I see them injured more often than their fitter friends. Injuries appear to occur suddenly, and often surface at practice or in class, when the dog is running drills or otherwise exerting itself.
If one is going to compete in a high-exertion sport, particularly one that involves jumping or turning, such as agility, then fitness really should be a priority. In addition to training sessions within the given sport, athletes should get several days per week of solid cardiovascular exercise. I recognize that not everyone is a runner, or can afford a training treadmill for their dogs, but there are other options, such as a solid retrieving session, or a good romp with a playmate. If your dog is not well-suited to a dog park, then a play date might be in order with a dog whose company he does enjoy. Other options for exercising dogs include cycling with them (I recommend the use of a rear-axle fitted device) or hiring a dog walker who may be able to take your dog out for longer jaunts. And some dogs, given a bit of playful encouragement, may even go into “zoomies” on their own.
Regardless of the type of fitness exercise that you choose for your dog, be sure to check with your veterinarian to confirm that he or she is healthy enough to embark on a conditioning program. For further information about canine fitness, check out the work of Christine Zink, DVM, who specializes in canine fitness and sports.
Now, get off the couch and get some exercise!