He may be small, but you know there's a lot of energy wrapped up in that little package. In fact, many small dogs can be more active than their bigger cousins. While a Great Dane finds contentment watching the world go by from the comfort of a couch, your pint-sized dynamo is ready to explore every nook and cranny at warp speed. Giving your petite pet as many opportunities as possible to exercise helps channel some of that over-exuberance from destructive behavior, such as chewing the sofa or excessive barking, into fun times.
Finding the right type of exercise needn't involve reinventing the wheel. Small dogs can participate in many big-dog activities with just a little tweaking for their diminutive size. As with all pets, small dogs have individual personalities, not to mention a variety of body shapes. Read on to be inspired by big-dog exercises that can easily be adapted for your small dog.
It's what beautiful spring days, winding paths and no-appointment afternoons were made for -- taking a run with your dog. Short legs and little strides shouldn't dissuade you from this unique bonding experience. Veterinarian and former director of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., Dr. Lucy Spelman, agrees that running with your dog is a great activity as long as you remember it's your dog's outing. "You should be willing to stop when the dog wants to stop -- to sniff and greet other dogs and people -- even if that slows you down," she says.
Dr. Spelman cautions that overheating can be a problem, as dogs will often keep going to please their owners despite nearing heat exhaustion. Bring plenty of water for you and your running companion, especially when temperatures reach over 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius).
Many small breeds are also predisposed to joint problems in their knees, hips, and carpi (wrists) -- which means they can sustain injuries after pounding the pavements for extended periods. So don't plan to break a mileage record.
To find the best distance for your small running companion, keep an eye on your dog after a run as well as the next day for signs of soreness or unusual lethargy. If you notice your dog isn't quite himself, scale back the distance.
Agility is a competitive sport where you and your dog team up to run an obstacle course dotted with hurdles, above-ground tunnels and elevated dog walks (think dog balance beams). Your dog responds to your hand commands and body movements to know what to do.
Although many of the dogs participating in agility tend to be medium to large dogs, your pint-sized friend can join in the fun with just a few adjustments.
"Most agility venues use the exact same courses for small dogs as for big dogs," says Trisha Stall of AgileDogs Agility Training. "The only real differences are the amount of time allowed to complete the course and rate of speed expected from the dog."
Small dogs may also need special training for some of the obstacles. For instance, the dog must weave in and out of a series of vertically positioned poles. Stall explains that most poles are 24 inches (61 centimeters) apart. While larger dogs can take one stride between poles, smaller dogs must take at least one extra step. So they need to be taught how to get through the course as fast as possible given their size.
To create a more even playing field, a separate agility league called Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA) was created in 1996. The equipment is scaled down, the distance between obstacles is shorter, and it's open to small dogs of all breeds. Check out the TDDA Web site for a league near you.
3: Group Exercise
Finding a playgroup for some unstructured exercise is great for you and your dog -- he learns to socialize with other dogs, and you get to socialize with dog owners while he exercises. Talk about multitasking!
You'll probably find dogs of all sizes and shapes in your neighborhood dog playgroup, which can be a challenge for diminutive dogs. They run the risk of being accidentally stepped on by a very large paw. Or the roughhousing may get too rough, making a playgroup more of a frightening experience than a good time. Small dogs can also become aggressive when faced with a scary situation and what could be scarier than a dog 10 times its size getting up close?
If you aren't sure if the playgroup dogs have been socialized, or your pet shows signs of discomfort or aggression, try to find a small dog playgroup. To connect with other small dog owners in your area, check out the Small Breed Dogs Meetup Groups Web site. If there isn't one in your neck of the woods, why not start one?
When it comes to fetch, some dogs love it while others just don't see what all the fuss is about. Take your cue from your pet. If your little bombshell can't get enough of fetching, this is a great aerobic exercise, which doesn't require a lot of equipment -- a tennis ball or a favorite toy will do.
Just as with running, too much overzealous fetching can put undue stress on little joints. For this reason it's best to play on soft surfaces such as grass or carpet as opposed to cement sidewalks or wood floors. And don't try to set a record for long-distance throwing. Dogs will keep fetching as much as you throw, even when exhausted -- their desire to please is that great. Be alert to signs that enough is enough, such as heavy panting and returning the fetch item less joyously than usual.
Fetch may be an activity for any size dog, but your small dog can get a whole lot of exercise without your having to leave the comfort of your living room chair. Try that with a Great Dane!
After running, jumping and fetching you and your dog will be ready for some downtime. Dog yoga or Doga, as it's sometimes called, is a great activity to reconnect and bond while still getting a workout.
Yoga instructor Brenda Bryan, of Barking Buddha Doga, says any breed of dog can benefit from the poses. "Besides promoting relaxation and muscle health, doga can deepen the already strong bond we have with our dogs as well as teach trust and focus."
She notes that some poses can offer the yogi more of a workout with a small dog because she is able to lift him, which could be a problem with a larger animal. For example, in some of the Woofing Warrior poses, the small dog is balanced on the front thigh; in the Canine Crunch on the shins and in Floating Dog poses, the small dog is placed on the belly. These positions help your dog work on balance. Other poses like the Downward-facing Dog give him a great stretch.