The calendar declares that spring has arrived, and although some of us question whether or not it’s really here, we are hopeful. It has been a record breaker winter in many parts of the country but with the worst behind us, we feel the urge to get moving. Most of us paid the price for the bitter cold winter. We gained a couple of extra pounds, but rationalized that is only natural to put on a little layer of fat, and now that decent weather is here, it is time for both two-legs and four-legs to get out there and shape up. If you’ve packed on some extra weight during the winter, there’s a good chance your dog has too, so if he seems a little too padded, it is important to start some safe slimming strategies now, before a pleasantly plump pooch turns into a sausage dog.
According to the Veterinary Medical Association, obesity is the fourth leading cause of death among canines, and dogs carrying too much weight means extra stress on the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and other body organs, so overweight animals (and humans) are more likely to suffer from cardiac disease, respiratory problems, digestive disorders, and high blood pressure . Joints, ligaments, tendons, and bones suffer from excess wear and tear, so they endure arthritis, joint injuries, leg problems, and back ailments. Overheating, skin disease and reproductive problems are common complaints, and there is always a greater risk during anesthesia and surgery. An extra seven pounds on a dog that should weigh 35 pounds is equivalent to an extra 30 pounds on a human weighing 150.
Exercise needs be a part of both a human’s and a dog’s weight loss program, and a great way to shape up is to plan activities that combine a workout for both canine and human. Any weight loss program should include walking, but after a sedentary winter, start slowly and increase the frequency and intensity of exercise. Begin with just short walks around the block and then work toward a game of fetch, and maybe a walk through the woods or park, taking different routes to make the trip more enjoyable for both of you. Set aside time each day to exercise with your dog, so it becomes part of your routine, and not just something you do when you think of it or have the time.
Gradually work up to longer, more active sessions as your tolerance and your dog’s tolerance increases. Playing ball or hide and seek are options, and another great way to boost weight loss is to get involved with a canine sport such as agility which offers a variety of physical and mental activity, both for dog and caregiver.
You don’t have to shell out a lot of money to train your dog in agility. Backyard obstacle courses are a great way to provide exercise, build trust with your dog, and prevent boredom. Three common types of obstacles used in agility programs—jumps, tunnels, and weave poles, can be set up in your own yard. Jump obstacles can be built entirely out of inexpensive PVC pipes, and a flexible children’s play tunnel makes a great tunnel…they are usually lightweight, but also heavy enough so that they won’t move when your dog runs through them. . As for weave poles, avoid hard and immovable materials that could injure your dog if he misjudges the distance between poles. Orange traffic cones are bulkier than the weave poles used in agility competitions, but if you are just casually training your dog, they will work fine. Wherever you set up your agility course, ensure that there are no hidden dangers around the course, and that there is enough room for her to run around. As long as you put safety first, you can easily put together an obstacle course that is good for both of you.
Whatever weight loss program you choose, be consistent and persistent! With patience and a positive attitude, both you and your dog will have fun as the pounds drop away.