Part 3 – These “legs” were made for walking (and running and playing!)
Written By Dr. Jacqueline Boyd, Nutritional Consultant, Skinner’s Pet Foods
One essential part of any weight management plan is combining both nutrition AND activity. We have previously thought about monitoring weight and what we feed our dogs as an integral part of keeping them fit and healthy, but exercise is also important. Dogs are naturally active and inquisitive, and the more active your dog is, the more energy he expends, meaning calories are burned off! Thinking about exercise and feeding will go a long way to helping you manage Fido’s waistline (as well as maybe your own too, so additional benefits!)
It’s a sad fact that many dogs don’t get regular walks and some research suggests that many dogs never actually leave their own gardens. Modern, busy lifestyles often mean that time is precious and sometimes, our dogs suffer as a result. However, getting out for even a brief powerwalk will go a long way to help manage your dog’s weight, as well as give them mental and physical stimulation! Ideally, regular walks are best. It is far better to have short, regular walks than long walks that happen only occasionally. This helps condition and train your dog’s body and mind. Ideally, a minimum of two brisk walks a day is a good rule of thumb and depending on your dog’s age, breed and health, the distance, speed and length of walk should be altered accordingly. Off lead exercise (where safe to do so and make sure you have a good recall!) is also a brilliant way of allowing Fido to run, play and have fun, as well as burning off some of those pesky calories too!
Watch out for the weekend warrior!
Sometimes, we fall in to the habit of limited exercise during the week and then go crazy at the weekend. While many dogs will love this, and slightly longer walks/activities at the weekend won’t negatively affect many dogs, if your dog is essentially a couch potato all week, climbing Snowdon at the weekend isn’t really a good idea! Aside from the real risk of injury for unconditioned dogs, infrequent and irregular activity output makes monitoring activity levels difficult and balancing input (food) to output (activity) is harder.
Start small and target set
Humans find new habits difficult and creating new habits are notoriously prone to failure. However, if you are determined to create a new exercise regime for you and Fido, start small and make it achievable. Do whatever will help you both succeed! This might mean getting your shoes, coat, lead, poo bags and treats ready the night before so everything is ready for the morning walk without much thought or brain power! Even a ten minute walk each morning is better than none and who knows, you might quickly see results. Indeed, it’s often estimated that it can take three weeks for something to become habit, so stick with it and when your new habit is second nature, target set! One trick I use is that I have makers where I walk my dogs (trees/lampposts/other landmarks) and I time how long it takes us to get to them. I then end up competing with myself (and the dogs!) I now find myself thinking “if I walk to that tree it’s only another 2 mins but another 200 plus steps!”. Both my dogs and I benefit as a result!
In the same way that human fitness monitors can tell us how active we have been (and are a great way of recording how far and how consistent your dog walks are!), we can get monitors for our dogs to wear too! These can be great fun as well as a great way to get an idea of what your dog actually gets up to, as well as an idea of how many calories your dog is actually burning off – you might be surprised at how few! Combining activity monitor information with weight and food intake monitoring makes for a holistic weight management plan.
Fitness and physical stimulation aren’t always just walking or off lead running however. Be creative! If your dog is happy to trot along beside a bike, do that (providing it’s safe to do so and you allow your dog to regulate their pace appropriately!) Look at canine activities such as obedience, rally, flyball, agility, gundog events and scurries and even cani-cross – running with your dog! All of these are not only fun and great bonding opportunities, but they also burn off calories!
You can even be creative about how you feed your dog to increase their activity level – think of puzzle feeders, toys that you can stuff with food and your dog has to work to remove the food, scatter feeding, puzzle bowls and so on. The more your dog has to work for their food, the more energy they will expend, as well as being good for mental stimulation too!