Tips for safely exercising your dog

To run or not to run

Sustained jogging or running is not recommended for young dogs whose bones haven't finished growing. It can also be hard on large dogs' joints and bones.

If you have a short-nosed (the technical term is "brachycephalic") dog, such as a pug, boxer, mastiff or bulldog, running may too risky. These dogs have abnormalities in their airways, especially the nose and throat, that make it harder for them to breathe when exerting themselves, and can increase their risk of heatstroke during warm weather.

Off-leash walking or running in a large, safe fenced property or park or on a beach or in a forest are ideal activities. Your dog can set her own pace, sniff and investigate to her heart's content, stop when she's tired and burst into running whenever she likes. Be sure to have your dog well-trained to reliably come when called before you give her off-leash privileges.

Make sure your dog has access to shade. Too much sun can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Bring fresh water for your dog to drink.

Swimming

Some breeds are natural water dogs and require no training or acclimation to the water or swimming, but even dogs who aren't bred for water activities can learn to enjoy a swim now and then.

Here are some tips for fun, safe swimming with your dog:

Introduce your dog to water as early as possible, preferably when she's still a puppy. If you do, she'll probably be more confident about swimming as an adult.

Regardless of your dog's age, make sure her first experiences with water are pleasant ones. Look for a quiet place with shallow water. With your dog on a long leash (about 15 to 20 feet long), start your dog at the water's edge. Wade in with her and encourage her with play and praise.

Don't let your dog swim into currents.

Don't allow your dog to jump into deep water in a pool or lake. A dog can panic and possibly drown. Without an easily accessible ramp, she may not be able to get out of a swimming pool or climb back onto a dock.

Never force your dog into the water and don't let her get in deep water over her head until you're confident about her swimming abilities. Belly-deep is deep enough at first. As she becomes more comfortable, you can toss a ball a couple of feet to encourage her to venture in a little deeper.

If you swim with your dog, be careful that the two of you don't get over your heads. Many dogs will try to climb on their guardian's head or shoulders when they tire.

Other tips

Giving your dog enough exercise doesn't mean you have to be athletic yourself. If you'd rather not run around or take long, brisk walks, consider two other approaches to exercising your dog:

For boating or swimming in lakes, get your dog a well-fitted canine life vest. You can use a long nylon lead to prevent your dog from swimming too far away or running off when she gets out of the water. Keep a close watch to make sure your dog doesn't get tangled in the lead.

Dog guardians who fish should take steps to make sure their dogs can't access fishing lines, lures, hooks or bait.

Sources: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Summer officially arrived Saturday and it's the time of year that some people get inspired to exercise, either because of extra time and daylight or the desire to shed a little weight.

Over the years, I've noticed that some also want to bring their dog or dogs with them. Why not, right? They need exercise, too. Like us, many of our canine companions are overweight and out of shape.

As a lifelong dog owner, I also know that an exercised dog is a more calm, well-behaved and happier animal. You know, just like kids - and you.

Despite the fact that I'm a runner, I prefer walking my dogs or taking them to the beach or a dog park for some off-leash exercise. About the only time I run my dogs in a sustained manner is in cold weather and for a mile or less.

The heat is on

Unfortunately, when the owners overlook the heat and its impact on their dogs, it can end in a tragedy. I've seen it first hand, more than once. Dogs who literally drop, heavily panting, in a desperate attempt to cool off. To me, it's scary and heart-breaking.

Local veterinarians often end up seeing these dogs in late-stage heat stroke.

Dr. Steven Epstein of Animal Medical Center in Mount Pleasant says he tends to see a few cases from now until September.

Last summer, Epstein says a dog, which he described as "overweight golden retriever," that played for an hour or two the middle of day in July came in with a temperature of about 108 degrees and didn't make it.

Dr. Kelsey Harris, emergency clinician at Veterinary Emergency Care in North Charleston, says the clinic sees dogs suffering from heat stroke regularly and that people quickly recognize the problem after seeing their dogs experience it the first time.

"There's definitely a problem (with heat illness) in the Lowcountry," says Harris. "It's hard to quantify the number of cases, but it seems to happen more on holiday weekends. ... Exercising dogs is definitely a common denominator (in cases) as is leaving pets inside cars."

While it's best to protect your dog from heat stroke in the first place, if it does happen, Harris recommends cooling the dog externally with cold towels and fans. Ice packs wrapped in towels are good, but should not be used directly on their skin. She adds the dogs should be cooled slowly.

Common sense?

It should be common sense that dogs don't fare well to being exposed to, or exercised in, heat. They are covered in fur, after all, and dissipate heat through panting and their paws. They simply don't have the magnificent cooling system of sweat glands, specifically eccrine sweat glands, from head-to-toe that humans have.

Yet every summer I see bozos, which tend to be young adults (perhaps first-time) pet owners, running their dogs. Worst yet are the lazier ones who ride their bikes while running their dogs at top speed. And the laziest of all, those who run their dogs while they speed along in golf carts.

As a die-hard runner and cyclist and the owner of three dogs, please, I implore you, don't do this. And if you see people who do, say something.

Think I'm off my rocker on this one? The web site for the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, aka ASPCA, says this:

"People are actually better suited for jogging or long-distance running than dogs are. Even when hunting or herding, dogs tend to move in short, intense bursts of speed with intermittent stops. Playing dogs do this as well, stopping to sniff around, eliminate and enjoy the scenery. If you jog with your dog on leash, be careful not to overestimate her abilities and go too far."

The ASPCA adds that sustained running is not recommended for young dogs whose bones haven't finished growing or dogs that have short snouts. Those wanting to run dogs that are large, overweight or older should consult a veterinarian.

The ASPCA also stresses to avoid running dogs on pavement, especially sun-baked hot pavement, because it will harm the paws of dogs.

Summer is a fun time of year, but it can be fraught with a range risks for humans and our canine companions.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.