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It should surprise no dog lover that dogs, just like people, live longer and healthier lives if they stay in great physical condition.
Getting enough exercise not only helps your dog stay physically fit, but also helps to reduce incidences of destructive behavior. Dogs who are under-exercised or bored are more likely to tear around the house at breakneck speeds and knock over anything in their path, an activity fraught with potential danger for you, your dog, and your home decor. They are also more likely to go into a chewing frenzy and reduce the sofa cushions to confetti.
How will you know if your dog is getting enough exercise? Daily walks and games of fetch are a good start. But what is your dog getting up to while you’re sleeping or at work?
How much exercise a dog needs
Unlike people who are mostly the same shape and size, dogs come in a multitude of different sizes and body types. The amount of exercise needed to keep a Pekingese healthy is very different from the amount needed to keep an English Mastiff feeling and looking their best.
Different breeds of dogs also have different fitness requirements. Dogs like the Irish Setter or the American Foxhound have been bred for their stamina. These breeds generally need a lot of exercise to keep them calm and manageable. Other dogs, like the Yorkie, need a good deal of exercise — but they are so small that they can get most of what they need by running around the house (though this may not satisfy their need for mental stimulation!). Some larger dogs, like Saint Bernards, may need lots of room to lay around in, but do not typically need lots of running or long walks to keep them in prime condition.
Because the exercise requirements of different breeds of dogs vary a great deal, talk to your vet to find out what amount of movement is ideal for your dog. If you have a mixed-breed dog, the challenge is even greater. Your vet may be able to give you an idea of how much exercise your mixed-breed dog needs based on their size and body shape.
In this instance, consider testing your dog’s DNA with Embark. The results will tell you your dog’s genetic ancestry. Armed with this information, you and your vet can make a more accurate assessment of your dog’s activity needs. More than just assessing your dog’s fitness needs, an Embark dog DNA test will screen for 215+ genetic health risks. These results can be sent directly to your vet. In some cases, early detection of these risks can make the difference and help your dog live a long and healthy life.
How to track your dog’s activity level
It’s unlikely that you have the time to count each one of your dog’s steps throughout the day. So how are you supposed to figure out just how much physical activity they’re getting? The answer is a global positioning system (GPS) tracker for your dog. Much like the fitness trackers designed for humans, these dog activity trackers record the amount of movement your dog makes throughout the day.
By using a dog GPS collar, or attaching a tracker to your dog’s existing collar, you can track and record their movement throughout the day. With it, you discover just how active your dog is while you are away from home or while you are sleeping. If your dog sleeps most of the time you are at work, then you will need to set aside time for getting them some exercise during the times that you are home. Most dogs don’t need any sort of rigorous Crossfit-like training. Consistent, low-level cardiovascular activity (like a decently long walk) is usually adequate and less associated with injury.
How a dog GPS tracker works
When you place a GPS device on your dog, it can give you an accurate location on a map in real-time. The GPS device can be accessed through your smartphone — with a downloadable app — or your computer. More than just tracking your dog’s current location, the GPS tracker will record the distance the dog moves throughout the day. While the actual number of steps your dog takes within that movement depends entirely on the size of the dog, having this information still gives you insight into how much activity they are getting.
Just to be clear, a GPS dog tracker is not the same thing as an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip. The microchips that are implanted under your pet’s skin have no power of their own and they cannot be used to track the wearer’s location. They cannot provide any real-time information about your pet’s location (unless scanned) or track their movements. These chips, like the AKC Reunite Service, can register your pet’s chip number along with your contact information. If a chipped animal is found, the chip can be scanned and the owner contacted.
How to use a dog GPS tracker to manage your dog’s health
Dog GPS trackers, like the Fi Dog Collar, offer many benefits to the dogs who wear them and their owners. Some smart collars, like the FitBark Activity Monitor, don’t include GPS tracking but do monitor your dog’s overall activity, sleep quality, and more. These smart collar options provide you with many ways to monitor and manage your dog’s overall fitness and health. Here are nine examples.
1. Ensure your dog is getting all of their steps
The concept of the correct number of “steps” isn’t entirely accurate for pets because smaller dogs may need to take many more steps than larger ones to cover the same area. Although each breed of dog may have different activity requirements, a dog GPS tracker can still provide you with insight into how much activity your dog is getting. Whether it is running in circles at the dog park, taking long leisurely walks with you, or touring the fence line in the backyard, every movement your dog makes will be recorded.
Talk to your vet to find out what fitness goals you should set for your dog based on their breed, age, and health. Once you have determined the best activity level for your dog, you can program this information into your dog’s GPS tracker using your smartphone or computer. Quick daily check-ins will help you figure out if your dog is getting enough exercise. Some GPS tracker programs even send you an alert if the day is nearing its end and your dog hasn’t reached the desired activity level.
2. Calculate calorie consumption
This is particularly helpful for dogs who are overweight and need to slim down to stay healthy, but it can also be helpful for any dog. The more active a dog is, the more calories they need to consume to maintain their weight. For dogs who need to lose a few pounds, the activity tracker will let you know whether you should reduce your dog’s daily food intake based on how many calories they are burning through movement.
The exact number of calories relative to the amount of activity is something that you and your vet can decide based on your dog’s current fitness level, age, and breed.
3. Determine if behavior problems are related to activity levels
Chewing on hazardous materials or darting out the door to run free can certainly put your dog’s health at risk. Both of these are more likely to happen if your dog is not getting enough physical or mental exercise.
By tracking your dog’s activity levels and comparing them to the times when risky behaviors occur, you should be able to see if lack of exercise is part of the problem. If so, you and your dog will be a lot happier and healthier if you ensure they get enough exercise each day.
4. Identify changes in activity
By monitoring your dog’s activity levels regularly, you can take note of trends and averages. Monitoring these trends will alert you to any changes. If your dog’s activity level drops off unexpectedly or begins to trend downward, it may be a sign that something is wrong. At this point, a phone call to your vet is warranted.
Even if you have not seen a change in your dog’s activity level, it is a good idea to show your vet the recorded activity levels at your dog’s annual exam. This will give your vet a clear view of how much activity your dog is getting and give you a starting point for conversations about just how much exercise is the right amount for your dog.
5. Identify signs of pain or discomfort
Most dogs are pretty stoic. They tend not to complain about physical discomfort unless it is extreme and they may ignore any discomfort if it gives them the chance to play and interact with you. The times they may show their pain or discomfort are the times you are away or overnight. Many dogs spend most of these quiet times resting. If you notice that your dog is no longer sleeping through the night, spends time pacing back and forth, or is getting up frequently to reposition themselves, it may be a sign that they are uncomfortable.
If you discover these new patterns of behavior, watch your dog closely for signs of pain, including limping, reduced interest in active games, not eating, and general malaise. If you see these signs or just have a sense that something is not right, schedule an appointment with your vet.
6. Identify signs of cognitive impairment
Older dogs can suffer from senile behaviors just like their human counterparts. The symptoms are more difficult to recognize in dogs as we have no way of knowing if they are suffering from short-term memory loss or confusion about the identity of those around them. One common symptom of cognitive dysfunction in dogs is a perceived confusion between day and night. Dogs suffering from this symptom may become nocturnal, sleeping most of the day and getting up in the night to do daytime activities like eating and going to the bathroom.
If you have a senior dog and you notice that their times of activity have reversed, with them being more active at night than during the day, they may be exhibiting signs of canine cognitive dysfunction. Talk to your vet to be sure and to find out how best to accommodate them.
An additional benefit to having a GPS tracker on a dog is the ease of locating them if they wander off. A dog with cognitive dysfunction may be unable to find their way home on their own. If your dog is fitted with a GPS tracker, you should be able to find them no matter how lost they feel.
7. Incorporate the GPS data into an overall health review
Regardless of whether or not you see any problems with your dog’s activity reports, take them along with you to all of your vet visits. The vet may see patterns or issues that you do not. Even if everything is fine, these records provide the vet with a snapshot of your dog’s daily life that can be invaluable if problems arise in the future.
8. Monitor dog health
Some dog GPS trackers offer more than just location tracking. A few have software and technology designed to monitor your dog’s health. These trackers track activities like licking, scratching, drinking, and sleeping. By monitoring these activities, you can identify changes that may be the result of a health concern.
Other trackers can also be set up to notify you when changes in these behaviors show up. You can rest easy or leave for work secure in the knowledge that if any dog health concerns arise, you will be made aware of them.
9. Locate a lost dog
If your dog gets out of the yard or bolts out an open door, the safest course of action is to find them and get them back home as soon as possible. The problem is that dogs can move very quickly. By the time you get the leash and set out to look for them, they may already be far away.
The movements of a dog off the leash are also very unpredictable. With their newfound freedom, they are likely to take off in whatever direction the best smells are coming from. This may mean crossing streets, following vehicles or trains, or traveling a long way into unfamiliar territory. All of these activities can be dangerous.
A dog activity tracker that is connected to the GPS can help you locate a lost dog. Because you get real-time readings from the GPS tracker, you can get the exact location of your dog if they wander away from home. One caveat to this is that the GPS tracker uses cell phone technology to send its signal. If either you or your dog is outside of the service area of the cell phone carrier you use, you will not be able to track your dog until both of you have returned to the service area.
By logging into your dog’s GPS tracker app, you can get real-time updates about the location of your dog. This means no more fruitless wandering for you and no more guessing where they may end up. Just locate them with the app and go pick them up.
A dog GPS tracker can be a wise investment in your dog’s health
The actual cost for the equipment and service for a dog GPS collar can vary depending on the brand you choose and the features you select. No matter which type of dog GPS tracker you choose, you will have to pay for the equipment and then pay a monthly fee to keep the service active.
If you are like most dog owners, the cost of keeping your beloved pet safe is well worth it. When you consider all the advantages this technology provides to both you and your dog, you will likely agree that a high-quality dog fitness tracker from a reputable company is a wise investment in your dog’s future health and vitality.