posted: 05/15/12
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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so the saying goes. Fido, too, becomes dull without the mental and physical stimulation provided by play and exercise. These activities give the inquisitive dog a natural outlet for energy, alleviate boredom and reduce destructive behavior. Properly handled, play and exercise not only meet physical needs, strengthening canine bodies, but they also cement the human-dog bond. Make play a reinforcement of obedience training by periodically stopping the action and giving a command such as sit-stay; once the dog has successfully complied, release him and play again. In this way, the continuation of play is the reward. If you're using a ball or toy, enforce the "out" command, and then give back the object as his reward for giving it up.

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How Much and What Kind
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Just letting your dog out into the backyard does not provide the kind of interactive exercise he needs. Most dogs will not start running around on their own. For some dogs, even a daily walk is insufficient. What factors into the equation? Age, weight, health and breed. Do some research into the exercise needs of the various breeds, and take your lifestyle into account before taking on a very active dog. Once you choose your ideal breed, make a commitment to provide your pet with the proper daily workout.

- Use tennis balls or other soft objects to avoid harming the dog's teeth. Vary the game by throwing some bouncing ground balls, and some higher pop-ups. Most dogs enjoy games of catch and, by training your dog to return the ball and drop it on command, you reinforce obedience training.

- Use a rope toy. The soft material appeals to the teething youngsters' need to chew (and saves your socks from destruction). This could also turn into a puppy tug-of-war, strengthening muscles and improving reflexes.

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Dogs Unleashed

Dog parks allow pooches the chance to play off-lead with fellow canines. But, before you let the games begin, keep the following in mind, then get ready for some wild and crazy dog antics!

- Does your dog need an obedience refresher? Don't wait to find out at the park that his off-lead skills aren't up to snuff.

- Is he too aggressive or shy for this experience?

- Know park rules. Even if not required, make sure that your dog's vaccinations are up-to-date.

- Check the fencing. Unfenced or inadequately fenced parks expose dogs to traffic and roaming animals.

- Clean up after your dog. And, refill your digger's holes.

- Have him wear a flat collar with clear identification.

- Bring water and a bowl, a leash, toys you're prepared to lose, towels -- and a camera.

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