Excerpt: 'The Well-Adjusted Dog'

Limitations imposed by medical problems can sometimes be circumvented by utilizing a different form of exercise, for example, swimming, or freestyle low-impact aerobics in which the dog and owner engage in coordinated moves to music, and exercise can sometimes be facilitated by appropriate medical treatments. I know a German shepherd owner whose dog suffered from degenerative myelopathy (which causes German shepherds genetically predisposed to the disease to progressively lose control of their hind legs) to an extent that the dog was incapable of running. If this owner had resigned himself to the fact that his dog could not be exercised, its muscles would have atrophied and its physical function would have rapidly deteriorated. Instead, this dedicated owner drove his dog forty-five minutes each way three times a week to a special equine- and canine-only swimming pool where he put a lead on the dog and did laps with him for an hour each time. This enabled the dog to maintain strength and delayed the progression of this miserable disease.

Another dilemma that some owners face in trying to implement an exercise program for their dog is that the dog may be aggressive to other dogs or people and cannot be allowed off lead in public because of safety concerns. In such cases, I recommend that people find an unpopulated area to exercise their dogs. One such place is an empty tennis court, in which a dog can chase tennis balls to the point of exhaustion without risk to others' life and limb. Slightly more daring is an early morning outdoor excursion onto an enclosed running track or ball field. If that is out of the question, a dog can get a fair amount of exercise in an open area while affixed to a long lead, for example, a thirty-foot nylon washing line. With practice, an owner can run the dog on this long lead and "reel it in" rapidly at the first hint of danger. (One caveat is that the owner must be strong enough to reel in the dog when circumstances dictate.) Finally, for the hardcore canine, there is nothing that beats a properly fitted basket-style muzzle, like the ones police K9 handlers employ. Such muzzles allow a dog to pant, drink, take food treats, and do everything he would otherwise do – except bite. This measure gives owners reassurance that their potentially aggressive dog won't be a threat to people and other animals encountered during exercise.

But what happens if you meet up with an aggressive stray or dog whose owner did not take safety precautions like using a muzzle, and you or your dog is threatened? One of my clients fills a long-range, high-power water pistol with a combination of aversive (to a dog) substances like lemon juice, Tabasco, garlic, and pepper; she calls it "vamoose juice." She would level the spray at any marauding dogs in defense of her own dog, apparently with great success. Another client used a hand-operated, radio-controlled citronella collar, activating it whenever her dog looked like it was heading for a fray. To her amazement, she discovered that when she activated the device, both would-be combatants took off in different directions. Such collars, as well as handheld citronella sprays to deter unwelcome canines, can be purchased at pet-supply stores. (For more on citronella and other types of collars, see chapter 4.)

Exercise and Aging

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