The festivities of the holiday season often comes with a price: unwanted weight gain. Our dogs can be no different and, sadly, we’re to blame. We may tempt them with treats or slide them some table scraps to show our love, but those calories can add up quickly.
We can also be so busy that we don’t realize that lack of adequate daily activity can lead to more weight gain and, in turn, health issues. In fact, overweight pets are becoming all too common. About 53 percent of dogs are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
“Most people also fail to appreciate the [negative] health effect that excess weight causes,” says Ernie Ward, DVM and author from Calabash, NC. “When I see an overweight dog, I don’t see a number on the scale, but that the pet is inflamed. Inflammation causes cancer, diabetes and osteoarthritis. It’s a disease state.”
So what’s a concerned dog owner to do, especially in the winter months? Here are some tips to help your dog fight fat and get fit in the New Year.
Before you start any type of exercise program, it’s important to visit your veterinarian for a full checkup. Sometimes a dog’s weight problem might be due to a hormone imbalance, like a thyroid disorder or an underlying heart issue that needs to be treated, so it’s important to get the all clear from the vet before you embark on a regular exercise program.
Even though it’s tempting to just let your dog out in your yard when it’s chilly, don’t be fooled. “It simply doesn’t cut it as exercise,” says Jill Bowers, certified personal trainer, dog trainer and owner of Thank Dog! Bootcamp in Cortland, Ohio. “When in the yard, dogs don’t move enough and often just sit at the door wanting to come in.”
Instead, make a difference in your dog’s health through planned exercise. “At least 30 minutes a day is ideal,” says Ward. This can be broken up into different blocks of time (i.e. two 15-minute walks) but the important thing is to just get your pooch moving every day. If you miss a day or two, Ward suggests adding workout time over the next couple of days so that over the course of a week you spend at least three and a half hours exercising your pup.
Protect from Cold
Depending on where you live—especially in colder climates—doggie outerwear, like booties, warming vests or jackets, can add additional warmth if the temps are at or below freezing. Dogs need to get used to wearing these items, but once they do they’ll be excited to put them on because they’ll realize that it means time with you outside.
“Be sure to make exercising your dog a mission to prevent disease, not chase a number on a scale, “Ward says. You’ll need to start gradually—like 10 minutes of exercise each day —and work your way up as tolerated by your pooch.
“It’s important to think of weight loss and exercise in three-month increments,” Ward adds. “If the dog is obese, we’re going to look at how we can get this dog to walk uninterrupted (from taking breaks) for 30 minutes and work our way up over a course of three months.” After three months, owners should make goals that are more challenging.
Start walking on flat surfaces if your dog is new to exercise, then amp up your efforts. Use hills to shift the workload in their body and build mass in their hindquarters. Repeat the hill work as your dog’s fitness improves.
Backyard Boot Camp
Once your dog is used to exercise, or even if he’s been getting regular exercise and could benefit from more challenges, explore other fitness games like search and rescue play. Hide one of your dog’s toys and have him go find it unleashed. Agility is another option for more rigorous fun that involves running and jumping in and around obstacles. These activities could be done in your backyard or at a local park.
You can also try the following boot camp-inspired exercises that can be done on-leash in your yard or a local park:
- Set up two cones (or any marker you have) about 20 big steps apart from each other. With your dog on your left side, sprint to the cone in front of him, then back-pedal back with him on the opposite side. Repeat.
- Release your dog into play mode. Run everywhere and, when you’re ready, make him sit. Then release him and run around again, using a toy like a rope to play tug and get your pup super excited. Make him sit. Repeat.
- Set up five cones about 20 big steps apart from each other. Run from cone to cone, leading off with a sprint then changing your speed at each mark, keeping your dog on your left side.
- Set up four cones or use landmarks. Sprint from the center of the cones to each landmark and back, touching the ground when you reach each point and keeping your dog on your left side throughout.
- Jog with your dog for one minute, then make your dog sit and stay as you jog around him. Once he understands the game, try jogging for two minutes before putting him in a sit-stay, eventually working up to five minutes of jogging together.
You’ll want to practice these exercises slowly at first before doing them regularly.
Finally, always remember that, while we’re tempted to comfort our dogs with snacks and scraps, they actually prefer activity with us. “Dogs crave affection and interaction more than anything else,” says Ward. “Time with owners playing or exercising can make our dogs healthier and happier overall.”