Walk It Out
Exercise is the other part of the weight-loss equation, but don’t expect an aging, sedentary or extremely overweight dog to join you on a cross-country run. Look for ways that work with his physical condition, gradually increasing the pace and duration as he becomes more fit. For example, start with two or three short daily walks instead of one long one, and warm him up and cool him down with gentle, passive, range-ofmotion exercises. If your dog’s arthritic, ask your vet for help in developing appropriate activity goals. Go low-impact if your dog has a condition that makes exercise uncomfortable. Hydrotherapy—swimming in a warm pool or walking on an underwater treadmill—provides almost weightless exercise, removing pressure on painful joints or injuries while supplying the benefits of resistance, warmth and circulation, pain relief, and endorphin release, aka nature’s Prozac. (Ed. note: Read about water-based exercise at thebark.com/ hydrotherapy.)
As your dog becomes stronger, try walking in water at the beach, up streams and against gentle currents. (The caveat here is to be aware of water temperature; very cold water can lead to achy joints.) Or, walk on sand, on grassy slopes, and up and down gentle inclines. Finally, when he’s ready for it, take him on longer hikes or try a doggie treadmill.
Keep your dog on his feet and improve his balance with some fun exercises. To work his gluteals and hamstrings, have him take several steps backward. Stepping sideways tunes up his adductor and abductor muscles. Navigating cavaletti (small hurdles set at uneven heights); threading through poles or cones; or walking on cushions, an air mattress or a thick foam pad will help him with balance and proprioception (knowing where his feet are). Sit-to-stand and lie-to-stand exercises strengthen hip and knee muscles.
Weight-shifting is another way to help your dog’s balance. Hold one of his legs off the ground for three to six seconds at a time, or have him stand with his front feet on a stair step to eat. To loosen his neck, shoulder muscles and upper spine, lure him into stretching his head back toward his body with a carrot or small lean meat treat.
So, here’s the proverbial bottom line: One—paraphrasing Michael Pollan—feed your dog real food, feed him less of it, and include a variety of protein sources and dog-safe fruits and vegetables. Two, strengthen and improve his muscle tone, balance and stamina with condition-appropriate activities. He’ll have a sleeker physique and you’ll thank yourself for making the effort.