As I told you in last week's column, the best way to tell if your pet is obese is to feel for the animal's rib cage.
Once the realization is made that your dog's ribs and backbone are too far submerged to even find them, changes need to be made. Cutting back on the daily food intake is step one. The next vitally important step is to increase activity. In other words, more exercise.
Most everyone admits that they need more exercise. Studies have proven that people who exercise with a friend are much more likely to follow through and stay with the program. A dog is a most willing companion for any activity. Dogs are always there. They care about us. They want to go where we go and be with us, and they are never critical. Our dogs will not refuse to walk with us because they have a headache or that it is too cold or too hot. They are never too busy to accompany us.
Dogs not only enjoy walking with us, they are very willing to take part in other people-type activities. Dogs enjoy the treadmill. In fact, there are treadmills designed just for dogs. They love to go jogging and with proper conditioning, they can join in on bike rides. As with any exercise program, start slowly and build yourself and your dog up gradually.
Too often, a pet owner starts off with a rigorous exercise program with his pet, whether jogging or bicycling, without proper conditioning. Too much too fast can result in a blown out cruciate ligament. This is the most common injury seen in dogs today, according to Dianne Dunning of the American College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, and it can be easily prevented.
Most dogs sit around the house all week, and then on the weekend, a semi-strenuous exercise activity is introduced. This can so often lead to injury, particularly if the dog is overweight. A regular regime of exercise, 20 minutes a day, will help to reduce obesity and lead to less joint disease and other chronic diseases like diabetes, according to Dunning.
The problem with most exercise programs is that we tend to start off with such a rigorous program and then quickly decide it is just no fun. We go full speed ahead for a while and then quit all together. A daily walk is undoubtedly the best form of exercise for both dogs and their owners. Even with walking, conditioning is important. Start slowly and work up to longer and faster walks. But walking should be enjoyable and any kind of walk is helpful. Stop and smell the roses and let the dog do some exploring also. If you do not end up as a speed walker, at least you are putting one foot in front of the other regularly and you are getting outside.
The best plan is to start out with young dogs enjoying regular exercise. Walking is the best way to begin. As the dog matures, the walking speed and distance can increase.
If the dog walks daily on sidewalks and roads, the pads of his feet will toughen up so that he can handle both hot and cold surfaces quite well. However, we must be aware of how our pets are handling the exercise. A dog will seldom say, "I quit." On longer hikes, carry a small bowl for your dog and a bottle of water to share.
Occasionally, a person is honest enough to admit that walking with the dog is no fun because he pulls on the leash or chases squirrels or has to stop and smell every single bush. Don't let the dog miss out on these walks because he has not been properly trained to walk on a leash.
Next week's column will address the issue of walking etiquette for dogs and their people.
Walking is enjoyable. It is amazing that so many people miss out on this rewarding and healthy activity. It is good for the heart, good for the soul and good for the waistline.