Beyond weight and diet, if your Chihuahua is sedentary, elderly, or has developed back or joint problems or any condition, such as hip dysplasia, get him checked before you embark on a fitness program. Most dogs can increase their activity levels without any problem, but particular activities sometimes need to be approached with caution or left out altogether.
If you know that your Chihuahua’s health is generally fine, if his veterinary visits are usually limited to an annual checkup, and if he’s got that desirable combination of bright eyes, wet nose, and shiny coat plus a general enthusiasm for any physical activity offered, he’s probably in good enough shape for some agility work. Because you’re extending your Chihuahua’s activities, use the opportunity to check his weight and review his diet so you can get him in the best physical condition possible.
Is My Chihuahua at the Right Weight?
In the United States, canine as well as human obesity is on the rise. Does your Chihuahua need to lose weight? Veterinarians use a basic rule of thumb when they’re looking at dogs. If you run your hand down his ribs, you should be able to feel them distinctly, but if you run your hand down his back, you shouldn’t be able to feel the knobs of his spine (if you can, it’s probable that he’s actually underweight).
If there’s a discernible layer of fat blurring the shape of his ribs, he should probably lose a pound or two; if you can’t feel them at all, he is definitely too fat. Look at him from above, too—there should be a distinct waist between the end of his ribcage and his hindquarters. If his waist definition is negligible and he tends more toward a box shape, he needs to lose weight. Of course, natural build, and body shape will also affect what your dog should weigh. A healthy Greyhound will be much bonier in both look and feel than an equally healthy Chihuahua.
Is Your Chihuahua Eating Well?
You know that if you eat junk food, you won’t have the body you want. The same goes for your dog – but he’s not the one who puts the food in his bowl. There are direct advantages for you as well as for him in feeding him high-quality food.
Dogs on a good diet usually have better breath and don’t experience gas. They also eliminate in smaller, drier quantities – poor quality food contains a lot of fillers, which tend to pass straight through, so there’s less picking up to do. Feed your Chihuahua the best you can afford. It will pay in terms of his health and well-being.
When you’re shopping for dog food, try to ignore attractive packaging or upbeat words such as “natural” or “healthy” (which have no legal meaning). Instead, look for specific ingredients rather than generic labels, such as “oats” or “lamb” rather than “cereals” or “meat derivatives”.
Games That Concentrate on Fitness
Games that concentrate on fitness are just that: they make sure that your dog gets and stays in good shape. Dog agility is something a little different. The professional version, taught in classes and seen in shows and competitions, takes you and your Chihuahua around a carefully orchestrated obstacle course, with the aim of improving your dog’s fitness and flexibility and showing it off, together with his ability to work alongside you as a team.
You can take agility as seriously as you want to picking a few exercises you know your Chihuahua will enjoy and putting them together in a short sequence or, if your pet turns out to have a natural talent for agility courses, building up to agility classes and competitions.
There’s a middle way, too, in which you can compete with a few friends and their dogs by setting up a short backyard obstacle course. Be aware that professional agility has plenty of rules about how a dog approaches the obstacles on a course, so if you think you have a potential agility star, check the way the professional courses are run so that you can teach him the correct way from the start.
Your Own Fitness
To give your dog a good workout, it helps to be fit yourself. Running an agility course has to be done at speed—you must keep up with your pet and encourage him when necessary—and even individual activities, such as hurdles or flying disk games, are much easier and more enjoyable if you are fit and active.
You’ve assessed your dog’s fitness; now make an honest judgment of yourself. Do you sometimes cut a walk
at short because you’re feeling tired? Do you tend to focus on games and exercises that develop your dog’s brainpower instead of on ones that demand more physical activity? If that’s the case, let your dog be the inspiration for you to improve your own fitness.
Instead of making drastic resolutions, add five or ten minutes to your regular walks, and aim to include at least two active exercises in your daily training session with your dog. Small steps like these, provided that you commit to incorporating them daily, improve your stamina surprisingly quickly. By the time your Chihuahua has learned enough to try a homemade agility course you should be fit enough to run it alongside him.
Agility isn’t the only choice when it comes to activity classes you can take with your Chihuahua. Flyball is an option for true canine athletes. It’s a knockout competition played in teams, in which dogs race down a course, taking in hurdles on the way, then press a pedal to release a tennis ball from a box before racing back up the course carrying the ball.
At professional level, it’s extraordinarily fast, and at a more achievable amateur level, many dogs adore it. Local clubs run classes, so take your dog for a tryout if he’s one of those that always seems to be slightly ahead of the game when it comes to agility; you may find it’s his natural forte.