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How your dog’s conformation can dictate the type of exercise they should perform
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How your dog’s conformation can dictate the type of exercise they should perform

Dogs
Health & Safety

All dogs need to be walked and exercised daily in order to keep them lean, fit and healthy, and also to provide entertainment, mental stimulation, and the opportunity to play and socialise with others.

Additionally, most dogs in the UK could really stand to get more exercise than they do and for some dog breeds and types, overweight dogs are so ubiquitous that many dog lovers view those of a lean, healthy weight as being too thin!

However, the amount of exercise that any dog needs or wants across the course of the average day can be hugely variable, based on things like breed-specific traits, age, current fitness, and personal preferences.

Domestic dogs come in a huge range of different types of shapes, sizes and builds, and there is no universal norm or average when it comes to the right level or type of exercise for any given dog.

Your dog’s temperament, energy levels, fitness and build all help to dictate the amount of exercise they need – but the type of exercise that is right for your dog may in some cases be determined by their conformation too, and there are certain conformation traits that can be found within some dog breeds that make certain types of exercise inappropriate, or even harmful.

Read on to learn how certain conformation traits can affect or dictate the type of exercise that your dog should perform.

Dogs with brachycephalic faces

Dogs with brachycephalic faces like the French bulldog, pug and English bulldog are some of the most popular dog breeds in the UK – and in fact just those three brachy breeds alone make it onto the top 10 list of dog breeds ranked by popularity.

However, brachycephalic or flatter than normal faces aren’t normal in dogs, and this trait is something that has been progressively bred into such breeds and exaggerated over time, as buyer demand for dogs with this sort of appearance has risen.

Brachycephalic dogs might look cute to many people, but their appearance has direct consequences for how fit for life they are too, and we as humans have caused this to happen – and now have to deal with the results of it, which can include exercise intolerance, a propensity to breathing difficulties, and a tendency to overheat quickly in dogs with very flat faces.

This means that brachy dog breeds and exercise needs to be handled very carefully. Whilst moderately brachycephalic dogs may well be able to hare around in the dog park with other dogs under supervision to ensure they take a break when needed, even just walking at a moderate pace can leave some such dogs with serious facial exaggerations struggling to breathe.

Brachycephalic dogs need to be exercised gently and at their own pace, and not during hotter times of the day. Slow, sedate walks that don’t cause the dog to have to pant or trot to keep up are best for most brachycephalic dogs, and high energy or high impact activity is likely to be unsuitable or even dangerous for many such dogs, other than those with very moderate faces.

Dogs with long backs and short legs

Dog breeds with long backs and abnormally short legs like the Dachshund, Corgi and Basset hound possess this trait because they inherit a form of canine achondroplasia, or dwarfism. This is a genetic mutation that can occur in dogs naturally but that ultimately exists as part of the breed standard for such dogs because we’ve selected it as a trait that is desirable to reproduce.

The long back-to-leg ratio found in such breeds means that the length of the back is not supported as well as it is in breeds with longer legs, and this can lead to an increased risk of health issues developing in such dogs, including Dachshund paralysis (in the Dachshund) and intervertebral disc disease.

This means that in order to protect such dogs and enable them to exercise safely, special care needs to be taken to avoid placing further strain on the dog’s back, or causing minor injuries that might go on to have long-term implications.

Avoid high impact activities that involve jumping (such as to catch a ball) or anything that might twist or pull the back and spine. Take care too when the dog walks up and down stairs, and avoid this if the gap between steps is large.

Large and heavy dog breeds that are slow to grow and develop

Some dog breeds take longer to grow and fully mature than others, and this includes many giant dog breeds like the Great Dane and the Newfoundland.

When a dog’s bones and joints are still developing, they are more prone to injuries that can have lifelong consequences, and so care should be taken to avoid high-impact exercise for such breeds, like leaping and jumping and running hard over firm surfaces.

Some giant breeds are well over the age of two before they are fully mature, which means that special care needs to be taken to provide the right type of exercise and prevent strains and injuries.

Dogs with an acute slope to the back legs

The German shepherd dog’s conformation today is very different to that of the breed historically, and today’s modern German shepherds (particularly those that do well in the show ring) have an extremely acute angle to the slope of their back where it meets the hind legs.

This increases the chances of hip damage within a breed that already has a strong correlation with the development of hip dysplasia, and special care needs to be taken over exercising such dogs when they are young in particular.

Again, anything high-impact or that involves stretching to jump or climb can increase the chances of hip dysplasia developing or worsening in dogs prone to it, and so keeping such dogs safe from harm may mean limiting the type of activities they can do, particularly when they are young.

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