Pet Connection: Dogs need exercise, just like owners

06/05/2012 12:00 AM

06/04/2012 3:26 PM

Some dogs, like some people, are high maintenance – they need lots and lots of attention. For many dogs, the attention they need comes in a category that most Americans say they don't have time for already: exercise.

All dogs need exercise. Even little ones. Even old ones. Even ones who really don't seem to mind a sedentary lifestyle. They need exercise, just as you do, and for the same reasons. Exercise helps keep their hearts healthy, helps keep their joints strong, helps keep their weight down. (Did you know that veterinarians say the majority – yes, more than half – of all dogs they see are overweight or obese? The statistics are even worse for some breeds that just seem to be born to blimp – Flabradors, er, I mean Labrador retrievers, beagles and pugs, to name just three.)

Exercise – or lack of, more specifically – is also one of the main reasons why dogs misbehave. They need to burn energy. If you don't find something for them to do, they'll find something to do on their own, and chances are you won't like their choices.

Now, while it's true that you can get a doggie treadmill (some look like human treadmills; the ones for small dogs look more like hamster wheels), or get someone else to exercise your pet, the fact is that getting out with your dog is good for you both. That's not just me talking, by the way: Studies have shown that people who walk their dogs benefit from the activity as much as their dogs do. So much so that I wrote a book on the subject, "Fitness Unleashed! A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together," with Dr. Robert Kushner, an internist and nutritionist who's an expert on human weight loss.

The least amount of time you can get away with is probably an hour a day, all total, for feeding, cleaning up after, and a little play and exercise. For larger dogs – or high-energy small ones, such as most of the terriers – there simply isn't a high end on the amount of time you can spend with them. They'll happily jump up and be ready to go every time you pick up the leash or the car keys. But at minimum, dogs need about a half-hour a day of heart-thumping exercise.

There are always imaginative ways to get your dog exercised without you exhausting yourself, of course. Fetch is always great for this, and swimming is another energy burner, especially when combined with fetch. Toys that require dogs to work for small food rewards also count, and are really well-suited to those times when you simply can't keep your dog busy, such as when you're out earning the kibble.

If you're in a large metro area, you can likely hire dog walkers, hikers or runners, or send your dog to day care. There's nothing wrong with any of it, of course, except that you'll be missing out on a great time with your own dog.

Make time for your dog and you'll both be healthier for the time you spend. It's worth it! Talk to your veterinarian before you get started, though, just to make sure everything's OK before you step out with your best friend.

Dr. Marty Becker is currently on a national tour for "Your Cat: The Owner's Manual," his newest book with fellow Pet Connection writer Gina Spadafori. "Your Dog: The Owner's Manual" is now available in paperback. For information on where to meet Becker, visit dr-marty-becker.


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