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Exercise for Two: Working Out With a Canine Companion

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It may or may not be news to you that the epidemic of obesity in the United States affects 42.4% of adults aged 20 and older. But did you know that 55.8% of dogs are obese? Even if you stop giving your dog table scraps on top of full meals, the dangers of obesity can persist unless you adopt an active lifestyle that includes both of you.

So boost yourself and your furry best friend toward better health by exercising together. Research shows that dog owners who take regular walks with their pets can get enough of a workout to meet national standards for regular moderate activity – and a 20-minute dog walk five days a week can translate into more than 10 pounds of weight loss each year.

When you walk or run with your dog, you may also improve your mood, lower your blood pressure, and develop lasting habits that contribute to quality of life—not to mention strengthen your relationship with your pet. Your dog gets cardiovascular benefits, too, and burns off boredom, along with the excess energy that otherwise can result in chewed-up shoes, backyard digging, and anxious running around.

Pick the right workout

Like you, your dog needs to ease into an exercise routine rather than start off with a marathon run. Also: your dog may be able to outwalk and outrun you, but not all dogs benefit equally from the same amount of exercise.

So consider your dog’s breed as you decide how to work out together. Short-nosed, or bracycephalic, breeds such as pugs and bulldogs can’t go for long runs without losing their breath. Short-legged breeds such as dachshunds don’t do well on long walks, either. Older dogs and pets with health challenges may need to break up longer walks into shorter excursions.

Finally, puppies have boundless energy, but their developing bones and joints can suffer if they engage in too much strenuous activity. Pay attention to how your pup recovers from a workout and adjust accordingly.

Swap treats for attention

Use petting and interaction as a reward for good behavior. You may need to use treats as part of a training regimen, but in many situations, your praise offers the same benefits as food, minus the calories that can pack on the pounds.

Keep it cool, not cold

When you schedule your walks or runs, skip the hottest part of the day to avoid giving your dog a case of heat stroke. Prime time for human/canine workouts comes at sunup, sunset, and after dark, especially in the hotter months of the year. Choose a time you can maintain as a consistent routine.

Safety underfoot

Protect your pet’s feet from seasonal extremes. When it’s hot, let your dog walk on the grass instead of the sidewalk. Concrete soaks up enough heat to cause a burn on sensitive paw pads. In winter, use doggie boots to avoid snow, ice, and road salt, or wipe Fido’s feet carefully when you get home, and check for injuries or damaged toenails. If you salt your walks and driveway, choose an ice-melter product that’s rated as safe for pets and children.

Vary your route

It’s great to make exercise part of your routine with your dog, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore new territory. Pick a new route to explore together, walk in a different direction on a familiar street, or visit a new dog park. Try different forms of exercise as well, including hikes in the woods, a swim in a dog-friendly lake or other body of water, or even your workout treadmill on bad-weather days.

Dogs love routines so much that if you make exercise a consistent habit with your pet, you’re likely to find him or her waiting to go out at your regularly scheduled time. With a workout partner who offers that kind of encouragement, you’ll be on the way to more fun and better health together in no time.

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