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Tips for losing weight and exercising with your dog

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While human obesity is at an all-time high, so too is dog obesity, with 25 to 40 percent of American dogs -- an estimated 17 million -- overweight. Exercising with your dog can be a great motivator for both of you to get -- and stay -- fit, happy and healthy.

"It's as difficult a battle for dogs as it can be for us,'' Chicago veterinarian Dr. Tony Kremer said, adding that being heavy is not only unhealthy, but can also slow a dog and a person down. Following are a few suggestions for winning the battle.

Kibble in bits

Just as it is for you, so it goes for your dog: The first step to losing weight involves a balanced and healthy diet. "It's amazing how many people think their dog isn't eating enough, and yet so many dogs are overweight,'' Kremer said.

The problem starts, he said, when pet owners -- fueled by either a sense of duty or guilt in leaving pets home alone -- want to do something nice for them. So they give them a tasty (translation: high-fat and high-salt) treat.

Sound familiar?

Instead, Kremer recommends finding another way to respond to a dog's perceived need for attention. "Usually, it just wants positive reinforcement,'' he said. "And you can do that in moderation -- for your pet and yourself.''

For the dog, in particular, he recommends putting its normal kibble in a plastic container and rattling it, then giving it one piece, followed by praise.

A daily walk for good measure

If diet is the first half of the equation, it follows that exercise is the second. Nobody knows that more than Sandy. At 70 years old, she walks her two-year-old pug, Elvis, every morning for at least 30 minutes. After all, given her age and Elvis' breed, which is prone to obesity, it's good for both of them.

"There's an old saying,'' said Andrea Metcalf, a fitness expert in Chicago, "if your dog is getting fat, you're not getting enough exercise. Unfortunately, a lot of people think they don't have the time to get it in -- for themselves or their animals.''

And yet, Metcalf said that a 10-minute walk in the morning and evening, combined with an appropriate diet, can be meaningful. As you and your pet get stronger, she recommends going for longer walks on the weekend, hiking, biking, and even running.

"Getting in shape is a win-win for everyone,'' she said. And not just in terms of losing weight, but making a commitment to do exercise together. "Pets can play a huge role in helping us stay with it.''

Motivate each other

Finally, dogs are great motivators, especially when you consider that they need to go outside to use the facilities, and are creatures of routine.

"If you play, walk, or exercise at a certain time each day, chances are your dog will be standing in front of you holding the leash when that time comes,'' said Kremer, "and you'd better be ready.'' In that sense, he and others agree: Your dog is the most reliable workout buddy you could ever ask for.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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