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Get fit with your dog

Man’s best friend could be your perfect exercise partner as well.

It’s important to keep your dog fit and healthy for his or her own sake – but there are health benefits for humans too when you exercise alongside your four-legged family members.

Going walkies
The Ramblers’ Association says that regular walking can have a great number of possible health benefits, including: lowering your blood pressure, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular problems, lowering your cholesterol levels, guarding against osteoporosis, reducing the risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes, helping you control your weight and body fat, helping your flexibility and co-ordination, and enhancing your mental well-being. You don’t necessarily have to take on the Three Peaks Challenge or trek the entire South Downs Way, but whether you’re strolling in your local park or heading for the hills, it can be well worth doing more than standing still and throwing a few tennis balls for your dog to fetch. Invest in a good pair of walking boots, comfy waterproof shoes or wellies – and stride out with a will.

A faster pace
More active breeds of dog will happily run along with you while you jog or cycle. You can attach your dog to your bike safely using a ‘springer’ device, which should guard against them pulling you over, but whether you’re running or cycling, it’s safer for your dog to wear a chest harness than a collar – either of you may make sudden changes in speed. You can buy special bungee-style leashes which clip onto your own chest harness, allowing you to run or cycle hands-free.

It will take a while for both you and your dog to get fitter and build up to maintaining a faster pace or exercising for longer. Be alert to any pain, stiffness or discomfort your dog may experience in its joints and muscles; dogs from breeds prone to hip problems or spinal difficulties should be inspected by a vet before embarking upon an enhanced exercise regime.

Some basic training may be necessary to encourage your dog to run alongside you on a loose leash –and to discourage him or her from racing off to meet other dogs, stopping to investigate interesting scents, or following other distractions which will affect your progress. Don’t expect your dog to stay at heel, at a constant speed, straight away.

Getting competitive
Once you’ve established a good basic level of fitness, you could enrol in group activities – or even get competitive. Dog agility classes are a popular way to test your dog’s training, jumping and flexibility, and you’ll be running around the obstacle course with them. Competitions are organised by The Kennel Club, and all types of dog are welcome; if you have a winning streak, you could even show off your skills at Crufts or Olympia.

CaniX or Cani-Cross is a growing sport in the UK, with dog owners running with their pooches in cross-country events from one-kilometre ‘have a go’ fun runs to more hard-core mountain-climbing competitions. There are classes for disabled participants, whether wheelchair- or mobility-scooter users, and also for the visually-impaired with guide dogs. They also cater for different age-groups of children, and even have night runs on courses marked with glow sticks, If you're feeling even more adventurous, you can even take part in the ‘bikejors’ events with mountain-bikes.

However you choose to get fit, you need to check your dog carefully for any signs of injury and general strains. Excessive running can cause permanent damage to young dogs who have not yet finished growing, and rough surfaces can be hard on their paws. Dogs are also sensitive to heat exhaustion and dehydration, so make sure you have access to sufficient water. And it's also a good idea to make sure that you have an adequate pet insurance policy, which could cover your costs and needs if expensive veterinary treatment is required.

Issued by Sainsbury’s Finance

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