Excerpt: 'The Well-Adjusted Dog'

Another problem can be finding a suitable place to exercise your dog. Dog parks are great but they aren't available in every town, and sometimes they come with strings attached – like no off-leash exercise. I have written several letters to local authorities explaining – on behalf of pro-dog action committees – that dogs really need an opportunity to run free, but I can't tell how much influence my opinion has had on canine-phobic committee members. Even if they have access to a place where they can exercise their dogs, some owners find it difficult to engage in this activity during the winter months, especially if they live in northern climes. It's true that sled dogs work in extreme weather, but most pet dogs (and many owners) aren't up for frolicking in the park when the temperature is twenty degrees below. In this situation, I sometimes recommend a treadmill, and there are some relatively inexpensive ones, retailing for about $150 and up, that are designed specifically for canines.

It is not difficult to train a dog to use a treadmill – it just involves getting on the treadmill with the dog on leash and starting to walk. Like us, most dogs, when given the opportunity to use a treadmill, seem to regard it as an enjoyable, rewarding experience. The speed of the treadmill can be gradually cranked up to trotting pace and an owner can then take off the dog's lead and slowly move away from the treadmill (so that she doesn't have to stand right next to the treadmill the whole time the dog is "working out").Ultimately it may be possible for an owner to be sitting in a reclining chair reading a book and enjoying all the creature comforts of home while the dog gets twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise on the opposite side of the room. Let's be clear about treadmills, though. For a dog that enjoys the experience, they can be used in the benign way described, but they should never be forced on a dog. No dog should be tied to the treadmill, left unsupervised, or run to the point of collapse. That constitutes abuse.

There are also "dog factors" that must be considered when implementing an aerobic exercise program. You can't take a dog that has been lying around on a rug accumulating weight for years and suddenly expect him to run the equivalent of a marathon. Dogs that are unfit, like people who are unfit, must be slowly acclimated to exercise via a program that increases distance and effort over time, as tolerated by the dog. Vigorous exercise may be contraindicated for some dogs for reasons of existing medical problems or plain old age. For such dogs, exercise may have to be conducted at more modest levels. Short walks around the block may be all that can be tolerated without producing deleterious effects. Here the philosophy must be: some exercise is better than none.

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