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Exercise With Your Dog to Prevent Obesity

By Jennifer Viegas
According to the National Pet Obesity Awareness Day
Study conducted by 95 veterinary clinics nationwide,
more than 44 percent of all dogs are overweight or
downright obese. The fat stats for people in America
are even higher, with the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention reporting that around 67 percent of
adults are heavier than they should be. In addition to
eating a healthy, balanced diet, both you and your
dog need exercise to stay as fit and trim as possible
If you share your digs with one or more dogs, you have already made a health-
boosting decision, reports the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine
Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI). Their members determined
that:

•Dogs lower their owner’s blood pressure.
•Dogs improve our psychological health.
•Dogs encourage us to exercise.
That last finding helps to explain the other two, but why is a dog-human team such a
winner in terms of exercise?

Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound
A recent ReCHAI program paired senior citizens with either a human or a canine
walking buddy. At the end of the project, researchers measured how much the seniors’
activity levels improved.

“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28
percent,” says Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of ReCHAI. “They had more confidence
walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked
with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities. The human
walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the
weather being too hot.”

Guidelines for Exercising With Your Dog
Before heading out on the trail with your dog, schedule a checkup for you and your
furry friend. Dr. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian at Kansas State University also advises
that you keep the following dozen guidelines in mind:

1.    In general, large, working dogs have higher energy needs than smaller/toy
breeds, which require less exercise.

2.    Your dog should exercise anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes twice daily, depending
on its size, breed, age and condition.

3.    Medium and large dogs typically make better long-distance running partners.
Smaller dogs are better-suited for short-distance running or walking.

4.    Keep plastic disc throws low to avoid injuring your dog’s joints.

5.    Swimming is a fantastic non-joint-stressing exercise for both dogs and humans.
Retrievers tend to be at the top of the swimming pack.

6.    Add mental stimulation, such as a hide-and-seek element, into your dog playtime.
Border collies and other working breeds need such stimulation to stay happy.

7.    Avoid walking and running on sand and hot, hard surfaces. Soft lawn grass or
smooth dirt paths are better.

8.    Dogs with short noses, such as bulldogs and Boston terriers, succumb to heat
exhaustion more readily, since they cannot cool themselves down like other dogs can.
If your dog starts acting woozy, gets a dark red-colored tongue or thick, ropy saliva,
stop, move to a shaded area and offer water.

9.    Take frequent breaks.

10. Don’t go on long runs or walks with puppies, since their bones are still developing.
Dogs can handle longer periods out at the age of 15 months or older.

11. Don’t feed your dog right before or after intense exercise, as this could cause
stomach upset or dangerous bloating and/or stomach twisting.

12. Many dogs suffer foot damage after being exposed to cold surfaces during the
winter months. Limit time outdoors and also take special care that your dog does not
drink from puddles, as they could be contaminated with antifreeze. Small-breed dogs
may require a jacket for outdoor activities.  

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Dog Daily. She is a reporter for Discovery
Channel’s news service Discovery News, and she has written more than 20 books on
animal, health and science topics.