We love our dogs and we want them to live long, healthy lives. While they come in all shapes, sizes and personalities, every dog needs to be fit – mind, body and spirit. In honor of National Canine Fitness Month, we’re taking a look at some ways we can promote a healthy lifestyle for our best friends.
Mental fitness is extremely important for dogs to be happy and well adjusted. Just like the rest of us, dogs do not like being bored, which can result in negative behaviors such as whining, digging and chewing. They need to work their minds regularly and consistently. A simple walk with your dog will exercise more than their body. Getting out of the house will work a dog’s mind through the powerful nose-to-brain connection. Exploring the world with their nose is a terrific mental workout.
A dog’s brain is wired for smell – which is super important when it comes to their ability to detect explosives and firearms. When choosing canines for this important life-saving role, MSA carefully selects based on a variety of characteristics, including intelligence. A rigorous training program includes mental acuity testing. Throughout their careers, MSA canines are continually trained and tested to ensure strong mental fitness. This includes daily training from their handler, as well as sustainment training at any one of MSA’s numerous regional ATF-licensed training centers throughout the country as often as once per month. Regular exposure to live explosive odors is critical to maintaining a working dog’s nose-to-brain connection and sharpness in the field.
Just like humans, dogs need regular exercise to stay fit. A sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition can lead to many health conditions. In addition to a balanced diet rich in nutrients, activity is essential for wellness. How much depends on the dog and factors such as age and breed. In general, most dogs should get one to two hours of exercise daily to stay healthy. Since no two dogs are the same, it is important to understand the right level and type of activity for your dog. The American Kennel Club offers some basic suggestions, including:
Walking the block is a great start, and it might be just enough for breeds with lower exercise requirements. Even dogs who love the couch welcome the sound of the leash.
Hiking is an opportunity to experience a new landscape and terrain. Parks, reservoirs and trails are the perfect adventure for you and your dog but be sure to consult with your vet, choose pet-friendly trails and plan properly with enough food and water for the day.
Many dogs love the water. Swimming is great exercise, especially for dogs with joint problems because it is low impact. Some breeds, like the Labrador, are great swimmers. However, not all dogs can swim. The American Kennel Club recommends several swimming safety tips, including wearing a life jacket which can also help your dog stay in the water longer for an optimum cardio workout.
Most dogs will find a good game of fetch exhilarating. A terrific form of exercise, it allows them to show off their athletic prowess, burn off energy, appease their instincts and bask in undivided attention. Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds are incredibly fond of the game played with a tennis ball, which is why the tennis ball makes for a great training reward!
In MSA’s Detection Dog Spotlight blog series, MSA handlers often share how their canine partners like to stay physically fit. When not working, MSA canines love to stay active by hiking, running, swimming and more!
Emotional health is as important as physical health. Dogs need love, attention and socialization just like the rest of us. They instinctively thrive on routine and consistency. Knowing what to expect promotes positive disposition, boosts confidence and reduces anxiety. Dogs want reliable leadership from their owners and in return deliver incredible loyalty. This is one reason why experts recommend regular training in the home. It reassures their purpose and reinforces the bond. In addition to the interaction they enjoy with their owners, dogs feel good being around other animals. Time with friends makes us feel good. Dogs are no different.
Every one of MSA’s more than 900 explosive detection and firearms detection canines are partnered with a single handler to reinforce a strong and unique working bond and enhance success in the field. They train every day together. The dogs are never kenneled, but rather live at home with the handler as part of the family. In many cases, this includes more than humans. MSA handers, who all come from military or law enforcement backgrounds, are dog lovers. Their families often include other dogs and subscribe to a philosophy of “the more the merrier!”