The Good Dog and Apartment Life - Exercise
The exercise requirements of a dog will vary by individual dog and breed, but there are very few dogs that will get the exercise they need just staying inside an apartment all day. Since apartments don't have fenced in yards to let their dogs out and roam free we must take them out ourselves. Now to me this is a hidden benefit of living in an apartment. How many people who own houses just let their dogs run in the yard and then sit down on the tv or in front of the computer and never exercise themselves? People need exercise too so while your trying to keep your pet healthy you get some exercise yourself!!
Now why is exercise important? Well there are several reasons and some of them will actually help solve some of the other problems of living in an apartment with a dog. First of all there is the health benefit. A healthy, fit dog is not only going to live longer but they are going to go to the vet less and thus be less expensive. Secondly, once all that energy is expended the dog will be much easier to train. They are more attentive and less distracted. Thirdly, a tired dog is a lot less hyper and destructive. They will bark less, chew less, and just be more calm and pleasurable to live with.
There are some things to keep in mind since everywhere you go is not your property. Even the grass outside your apartment (if you have grass) belongs to someone else. This means you must pick up your pet's mess after they do their business. Even if your apartment doesn't require it (most will), every park and place I've taken Zoe has required it. Picking up after your pet is just something you have to get used to doing. I buy little plastic bags from Petsmart and have a holder that attaches right to my leash. That way they are always with me when I've got Zoe. You can find them just about anywhere. I've seen them at Wal-Mart, Meier, Petsmart, Tractor Supply, anywhere that sells pet supplies typically has them. They aren't expensive and well worth the price for the convenience of having something small and available at all times. If you don't want to buy anything, then hoard up those plastic grocery bags, small lunch bags, or maybe save your paper bags from fast food places. I wouldn't recommend paper though except in a pinch. Just pay 3 bucks for the small plastic bags :)
Now another important aspect of exercise is the leash and collar or harness. Just about all places near a city require them. Even if you aren't going to use one often you need to have one with you at all times. There are legal reasons why, not to mention, they will keep your dog and the people around it safe in some very unpredictable, potentially dangerous situations. There are several options available. There are standard 4-8 foot leashes made of either leather, nylon, or chain typically. All materials have advantages and disadvantages. Some believe leather tends to get chewed more readily than nylon if left somewhere within reach of the dog. It is heavier and can cost more than a nylon leash. However, with use it gets softer and is much easier on the hands when gripping it. Leather will flex well with age. Nylon is lighter, flexes well, and generally is pretty cheap. However, it can seriously burn you if your holding the nylon directly and there is a lot of slack in the line when your pet pulls. The nylon will run through your hand and seriously cut/burn you. I've had it happen twice when I wasn't paying attention and it's quite painful. Chain is also used. It is very strong, but it is also heavy. It is probably the least likely to be chewed though! I am going to cover different collar and harness choices in my camping hub. I'd be happy to talk about them in the comments if you can't wait. I will say I use a harness just about every time we go for a walk. I use a collar for potty breaks at home, and for a tether while lounging at the camp site.
I personally use a retractable leash of 16 feet. I like the options it provides in allowing me to let her roam and explore if I want her too. The handle is heavier for me than a standard leash but the nylon leash is very light for Zoe. I don't mind the weight at all because of the strength of the grip, handle durability, and comfort. I can keep her close just as easily as a regular leash and the handle on it allows me to keep the potty bags and a set of car and apartment keys on it for convenience (the keys were my wife's idea, genious!). I rollerblade with her, which I will talk about a bit later, and the leash's instant retractable nature greatly reduces my chances of getting tangled in it and thus prevents some painful crashes.
Now for the fun part! There are so so many ways to exercise your pet! First of all you can just put a leash and collar on your pet and walk out the front door and just keep going. You are able to meet and see your neighbors, you are getting a new perspective on the neighborhood you live in, and your dog is getting socialized to the people around you. They are a lot less likely to bark at people they know than strangers! Not only that but neighbors are a lot less likely to complain to the apartment complex about a friend or neighbor, as opposed to the stranger with the annoying dog next door.
The next option is hopping in the car and driving to a park. I live in Cincinnati and here there are at least 4 parks within 25 minutes of our place. There are even more a little further out. I will be doing another hub on camping with your dog. You and your dog can get some much needed exercise and fresh air while enjoying the beauty of nature and hopefully nice weather. I love that having a dog has encouraged me to go and explore all these parks I never had visited before. This is great for your dog also because they are getting some very important experience in how to socialize with strangers and dogs properly. You will encounter all sorts of people here at the parks. There will be scared people, very friendly people, children, bikes, all sorts of new experiences. Zoe attracts a lot of attention being an Alaskan Malamute. She has really been great for me because I tend to be rather shy and so many people want to talk to me about her I'm always forced out of my shell and into good conversations.
Every park is different and has different pet policies. Remember to check the policy on each park and respect those policies. The last thing we need as apartment dwellers is less places to take our furry friends. The more we show dogs are a welcome, fun, and respectful addition to the park atmosphere the more parks and places will allow them. The opposite is also true, if we demonstrate that dogs are a nuisance and create more problems than good will, more places will not allow them or restrict their freedoms.
It is important to remember your dog can overheat just like you. They actually can overheat much easier than a person can. A dog doesn't sweat like we do. When we sweat the air on our wet skin cools our body. We have this all over our body. The only place a dog sweats is through their foot pads and its very minimal heat loss. Their only effective way to cool themselves is through panting. The tongue swells with hot blood and the air moving over the moist tongue rejects the heat into the atmosphere. The cool blood then cycles back to the body cooling it down a bit. Water can greatly help this process of cooling the tongue and blood This is why it's even more important that you have water for your dog when exercising in the heat. Do not give them ice cold water when hot! The drastic change in temperature can actually hurt the dog by shocking their system causing bloat in the stomach, the second largest killer of dogs. The water should simply be cool. Another great way to cool them is letting them stand in cool water. Again just make sure its cool, not ice cold. AliciaC has written a great hub specifically on preventing heat illnesses and what symptoms to look for. I highly recommend it for a more thorough discussion of the topic!
Now remember, a dog's need for exercise doesn't stop when bad weather and winter come. Dogs need walked every single day rain or shine. It is important that you prepare yourself and your dog for getting the exercise needed regardless of the weather. Every person's budget and time restraints are different so I'll try to give you several options and let you decide what fits you best.
It is possible to train a dog to run on a treadmill! There are also indoor pet facilities throughout many cities that offer recreational activities for your dog. There are indoor swimming pools, indoor social pens and gyms, as well as treadmills and other exercise equipment and agility courses to let out that energy. Unfortunately, those places usually cost a good deal of money. Especially if your going to be going there every day during the winter. Keep that in mind when making your monthly budget for the winter. I personally don't have the extra cash for that and as such will be bundling up to walk Zoe in the cold, rain, and snow. She is a winter dog after all!! Now Zoe is going to be laughing at me as I'm shivering and she's romping through the snow in her winter fur. Not all dogs have as much protection so what can you do?
You can do a couple of things. First of all you can buy a coat, booties, and other types of protection for short furred dogs. Fur length is not always a simple indicator of your dogs ability to withstand cold. Make sure you talk to your vet to figure out what are acceptable and unacceptable temperatures for them. If you can't afford the clothing, then another option is to take them on shorter but more frequent walks or vary the intensity that you walk/run with them. Instead of walking for 45 minutes, run for 15 minutes. You can also get a pack for them and put weight in it to increase their energy usage. If they are carrying weight you can get the same exercise in a shorter amount of time. If you want some help choosing a pack check out my hub on it! By doing any of these things you are lessening their time in the cold and protecting them from the elements while still keeping them healthy and happy!
Another great way to exercise your dog if your not feeling up for a lot of exercise yourself is to take her to a dog park. Dog parks are just great experiences for your dog. They get tons of exercise and socialization all at once. Not only that but me and Jenna get to have great conversations and meet people while laughing and watching Zoe play with the other dogs. There will be fights, snipping, and some nasty moments but if handled correctly even those can be valuable learning experiences for both pet and owner. I'm not an expert on dog behavior so I won't touch on how to handle the various situations. What I will say is just study your dog, learn their triggers, learn their behavior patterns so that your not unprepared for what might happen and how to prevent unnecessary conflict. The dog park can be intimidating for both dog and owner with so many pets and people all in one space. I encourage you to keep trying it though because it gets easier and the results speak for themselves when your dog walks into the apartment, plops on the floor, and sleeps for the rest of the evening!
One final method that I will touch on is rollerblading with your dog. There are several other fun alternative methods of exercise such as biking, scooters, carts, and other fun tools but I've not done those. I have rollerbladed so I'll offer my advice on that. First of all, do not try it if your not comfortable and experienced with roller blades. You will go fast!! I've been rollerblading for years, and even roller bladed to work in downtown Cincinnati. That can be a tricky thing by itself when your needing to dodge cars flying out of underground parking garages and stop quickly when a person opens a door in your face without looking, but I digress! Even with my experience, there have been situations where Zoe has tested my balance when rollerblading. Don't just strap on a pair of blades and grab the leash. I must say though it is a beautiful, exciting thing to do with your dog if it's done correctly!