Exercise is great for keeping both us and our canine friends healthy and happy. Daily walks are obviously a necessity, but what else can you introduce to help boost not only your pets’ health but their interest in play, as well as strengthening your bond?

The majority of dogs enjoy walks and play, but it does tend to depend on what kind of activities are best suited to your chosen breed. Most dogs enjoy playing with other dogs, so if you are lucky enough to have close doggy friends then fantastic. There are also some dog playgrounds dotted around, so making use of these is a great way for your pet to exercise and socialise too; but if your dog shows any signs of apprehension, then it’s best not to venture any further into such an area. Of course, you can always try to construct your own assault course in your garden! This is great for agility, so grab any old tyres, tubes, planks, crates and anything else that you feel suitable.

Most dogs love to play fetch or frisbee, but let’s not forget that these can sometimes become a bit boring, even for the most enthusiastic of dogs. So why not introduce the occasional tug of war; there are some great toys on the market for this, including ropes, stretchy plastic tugs and the like. For dogs with lots of energy such as Vizslas, German Shorthaired Pointers and Australian Shepherds, a tug of war followed by a sprint to the park is ideal. These breeds love to jump about – agility exercises are great for them as they adore going under, over, and through obstacles and over jumps. They will also enjoy flyball so that they can jump hurdles and retrieve toys. These dogs are also the type to follow you on a bike or skates/blades, but do be careful of other path and road users! Football and dancing are also favourites to try with these energetic breeds, so freestyle boogie and just try to get that football out of your dogs mouth!

If you have a Retriever, Labrador, Border Collie, or English Springer Spaniel, then you will have so much fun with chew-toys and balls. Fetch will rarely be boring, and the same goes for games of frisbee and flyball too. They will also love to rummage around in their own toy box so they can pick and choose what they want to play with and proudly parade to show you. These breeds are usually also fond of water, so swimming will be such a treat. Agility tasks are a huge stimulant for them too: try long cross-country walks with plenty of hiding places and obstacles, preferably next to a shallow river or lake so they can run in and out to cool down!

The above mentioned breeds, along with working dogs such as German Shepherds and Bull mastiffs, for instance, are also quite smart. So you can also introduce games that are associated with obedience and training. Teaching them to fetch things such as papers or toys, then to put them away, can be as rewarding and fun for them as it is for you. If these dogs are doing something useful they will feel important and valued. You can also hide their toys, letting them hunt for them only when commanded, remembering to praise them lots afterwards for their cleverness. Tricks are also a great way of stimulating the more intelligent breeds of dog. Always ensure that you reward them, as it is as important to them for them to feel loved and appreciated as it is for them to show off their clever antics.

If at the other extreme you own a Bulldog, Bassett or Greyhound you may be familiar with ‘the look’ which pleads you not to disturb them, then it can often be best just to do the walk thing – either lots of little ones or one big leisurely long one. Don’t expect too much more from him!

If a hound dog is more your style such as a Beagle or Bloodhound then you will notice that they follow their nose – everywhere! They love to track a scent so tracking games are great as they will stimulate their minds as well as exercising your dog and providing excitement too. Try asking your dog to sit and stay whilst you trail around the garden or park, leaving a smell and a treat at the end. They will enjoy hunting for their treats so leave them wrapped up in their toys or play area so they can get the scent before the game begins.

Breeds such as Terriers will also enjoy these hunting games, and they love to dig to get at the prize. Try burying some of their toys – especially little furry ones, and watch how they sniff them out and parade their booty. These breeds love to dig for their treats and you can stimulate them even more by hiding them when they don’t know you’ve done it. As long as you don’t play this game on a finely manicured lawn or prized flower bed then you can have loads of fun seeing how they just go wild for the scent of a surprise treat. They also like to chase other animals, so be cautious if playing hunt and chase simultaneously, or playing in busier dog-walking areas, as there could be some protective growling or nipping if your dog thinks his treasure could be up for grabs!

If you feel that some of these activities are out of your comfort zone, then just stick to the easiest and most basic ones. Walking and hiking with your dog over different types of terrain and in different areas can produce new smells and experiences for your dog. This will always stimulate them as it will hold their interest and inquisitiveness. If you want to up the tempo then simply jog or run with your dog, but not for too long as some breeds are not built for stamina. Swimming is suited to so many dogs and is now widely used for dogs that are overweight, or those that suffer from arthritis. Special sessions are held at specific hydrotherapy centres, but if your dog is confident in the water, then let them swim in safe areas such as shallow rivers, or dog-friendly beaches at low tide. Even just splashing in the puddles can be as much fun for your dog as it is for children, so don those willies and get jumping!

No matter what type of games you play with your dog, you must always be the one in control. This is essential not only for your safety but that of your dog: remember that animal instinct will mostly take over if a dog feels threatened or scared, and that any animal can be dangerous if not treated with the respect it deserves. It is always a good idea to ensure that you have a comprehensive pet insurance policy in place, especially if experimenting with new activities. Ensure that you choose a policy which has third party liabilty – important if your dog is in unfamiliar territory and something unexpected happens. Even the most responsible pet owner can find that accidents do unfortunately occur, which could leave you seriously out of pocket should your pet dog need emergency treatment after a fall or other mishap, for instance.

If you feel that you need help or advice you should do some research before trying anything drastically different to what your dog is used to. There is a multitude of pet advice forums out there on the world wide web, often specialised, with expert advice about a specific breed of dog, or just queries of a more general nature. Take your time, and try different things to find those which will suit both of you. Above all, learn how to maximise the fun potential in keeping a pet dog with the added bonus of keeping you both fit whilst doing so! Be as inventive as you can, for as they say, variety is the spice of life!

Please call us at Animal Friends Insurance on 0844 55 70 300 for a quick quote to cover your household pet against the high cost of veterinary treatment. AFI donate all net profits to helping animals in crisis around the globe.

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