Los Angeles Times

Headed outdoors for some fitness fun? Bring your dog!

Many dogs join their human friends for runs, hikes, and extended walks; but be prepared to condition your dog before extreme exercise. Preparing an animal for intense outdoor activity begins with a trip to the veterinarian. Owners should be prepared to ask if there are any health concerns or issues regarding the dog's weight and age, said veterinarian Gregory Hammer, a companion animal practitioner in Dover, Del., and the immediate past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Rabies vaccinations must be current, as well as tick and flea treatments. If a dog is cleared for extreme exercise, begin building the animal's endurance.

"You don't go out and take a 5-mile hike the first time you go. You have to make sure they are in shape," Hammer said.

Start physical training on days with moderate weather. Active dogs can perform a slightly increased exercise routine while sedentary dogs may need to start with a simple walk around the block, Hammer said.

If the dog will be wearing a backpack or any type of weight, make sure the pack fits properly and slowly add weight over time.

"If it's not fitted properly, it can do more damage than good," Hammer said. "It can affect the hips, spine, and cause skin damage."

On warm days, be alert for signs of overheating.

"If you have a dog that is panting very, very hard, that is a time to be concerned," said Marcella Ridgway, clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana.

Allow dogs to break if they try to rest. And keep in mind that some breeds will not take a break, even if needed. Ridgway said Labrador retrievers and border collies are high energy dogs that may appear happy even when at risk for overheating.

Dog owners should also look for signs that a dog needs water. Pack water and a dish to prevent dogs from trying to drink from streams or puddles.

"There are some infectious diseases they can get from wet areas," Ridgway said.

Also be aware if an animal seems sore after an exercise session. Hammer said he commonly treats inflammation of the muscles, a painful condition that requires veterinary care.

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