Q. I have a three-year-old male chocolate Labrador. Over Christmas I over-indulged myself and him. I would like to start a new exercise regime to include him and I thought about running. Can I just start straight away or – as with humans – do I need to break him in gradually? Mark, via e-mail
A. I love taking my dogs for a walk and I do a lot of walking with them. I would never run with them because I'm not that sort of person. You have to be very careful with "forced" exercise – ie. getting your dog to chase after your bike, run after you, or follow you while you Rollerblade, skateboard, etc. The reason I say "forced" is because most people who do this type of exercise – and I have been a witness to it – don't stop. The dogs follow them and will keep doing so because they feel part of a pack and will follow the pack leader no matter what. Even if a dog is in pain or needs a drink, they will just not stop. And don't get me started on the way these people leave dog mess behind!
When you take your dog out, it should be about the dog, not you. They need time to smell, potter and interact with other dogs and humans. You should go running in your own time – and, if you must take your dog along, have lots of breaks and make sure they get lots of water. And please remember: some dogs really are NOT made for "forced" exercise, especially smaller dogs and dogs with restricted muzzles (pugs, boxers, Pekingeses). All owners with puppies under 18 months need to be cautious, especially if they have large breeds because too much effort can cause irreversible damage to joints and bones.
Remember that if an animal shows signs of distress or discomfort an early visit to the vet is always recommended