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Exercising With Your Pet - Good For Both of You

    It has been said that a walk for a dog is like "reading the newspaper" - they love it! Because they are social pack animals and because of their highly developed sense of smell, dogs truly enjoy getting out in the world. Not only can they pick up information about other dogs (including whether it was a male or female and even its approximate age) but they also relish all the other animal and plant scents out there as well.

    Lack of exercise for dogs can cause a number of problems, both physical and behavioral. Physically, an overweight dog is at greater risk for joint and circulatory problems as well as other conditions. Behaviorally, a young healthy dog needs to go out and burn off excess energy, much like young healthy human children. A tired dog is a relaxed, happy dog.

    Obesity is becoming a huge (pun intended) problem for humans too! So, get out there at least twice a day with your pet and move. You will discover new areas in your neighborhood and meet the people who live there. Your sociable, friendly dog will often become an ice breaker and open doors for meeting new people.

    Walking with your dog is also a wonderful way to improve the bond you have with her. It can also be a time when you can work on obedience, such as heeling, recall ("Come"), sit and stay. Vary your route as much as possible - variety really is the spice of life for you and your canine companion!

    If walking is not possible, try playing an invigorating game of fetch or taking your dog to a dog park or other safe area where he can run and explore off-leash to his heart's content. There is something beautiful and almost magical about watching a dog run - it is poetry in motion and happiness on four legs.

    But let's not forget about our feline friends - they need exercise too. If you are comfortable letting your cat outside, a daily outing is often enough to help them stay at a healthy weight, keep their claws from getting too long and provide them with diversity. I have even known cats who were trained to walk off-leash with their owner.

    If your cat is an indoor cat, get one of those toys that's a long stick with a feather or other interesting object tied to the end (you can make one using a small diameter wooden dowel) and then drag it around and flip the feather in the air so your cat will run, pounce and jump.

    Always tailor your exercise regime for your pet's age and overall physical condition. In other words, don't expect an overweight older dog to go for a 5-mile hike right away! Think training and conditioning - work your way up to a realistic and reasonable goal - for both of you. Make it special -  a time when you can really focus on the time you and your friend spend together.

    With a little attention, you will learn more about your pet than you ever thought possible as you watch them navigate along the sidewalk, as you watch how they greet another dog, as they run across a soccer field. Enjoy!

    Deborah Dobson, FizzNiche Staff Writer