Turn off the TV (even Animal Planet) and play fetch, hit the agility course or even hop on a skateboard to keep the pounds off canine and human family members.
Q: The veterinarian put our Labrador on a diet. We take him to doggie daycare and play fetch with him, so I’m a little shocked to hear that he’s overweight — but the scale doesn’t lie. Since summer vacation is here, what are some activities my kids can do with the dog so that everyone gets moving?
A: No one wants to believe that an extra piece of cheese or a handful of doggie treats can do more harm than good. But a few calories here and there tend to add up, especially when the whole family shares food with the dog. As you said, the scale doesn’t lie.
The ideal weight range for a Labrador is 65 to 80 pounds, which is quite a handful. Excess weight can make it more difficult for your pet to move around, even when surrounded by four-legged friends at doggie daycare. It’s also a problem that affects quite a few dogs across the country — the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 43 million dogs are overweight or obese.
Some pet boarding facilities offer additional workout packages to ensure that pets burn calories rather than just chill in the sunshine. Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow dog boarding facilities, has gone a step further. As part of a summer-long “Furry Fitness Challenge,” Camp Bow Wow facilities will offer health and fitness events at franchises across the country, along with online advice on pet health, virtual weigh-ins and weight-loss advice for dogs’ human companions.
“Their lives are short already and we shorten them quite a bit when they’re overweight,” Ganahl says. “We all need to get off the couch, move and be more active.” To encourage movement among people and pets, Ganahl’s team recruited challenge participants at the boarding facilities as well as nearby gyms. She also asked Dr. Michael A. Snyder, surgeon and founder of Fullbar weight loss products, to join her team of experts. Here are his tips to help the kids and the dog burn calories this summer:
Forget about weight
“When it comes to kids, never make it about weight; it is too disruptive,” he says. “Find out what kids like. My daughter loves taking the dog to the park and throwing the ball, then he chases her on her skateboard. It’s a great relationship.” Find activities that will engage the dog and the kids.
“People say, ‘the kids have a dog,’ ” Snyder says. “No, the dogs have a kid. It’s a built-in playmate that’s dying to hang out. What a huge gift. My golden retriever has a little girl.”
Agility classes also provide a built-in workout while promoting bonding and obedience as dogs jump through hoops, mount ladders and maneuver around poles on an obstacle course. Local toy stores carry agility equipment such as hurdles so that you can re-create the experience at home.
Less downtime, more fun time
Snyder emphasizes getting to the heart of that sedentary behavior. “Part of the reason parents love it is that kids are occupied and it feels somewhat safe, but the downside is that it involves passivity,” he says. “It doesn’t involve what they are best at, which is moving around.”
To correct the problem, he suggests trading downtime for activities. “A great guide is one hour plugged in a day,” he says. “If kids are active, they can buy more time. ‘One hour of SpongeBob and then the TV shuts down, not because it makes you fat but because it doesn’t engage your mind like I want you to.’”
This trade-off will teach kids balance and the value of time. “If we can teach them balance at a young age, that’s a very powerful message.”
Make sure health is nonnegotiable
Most people will go to great lengths to keep their pets happy and healthy. Snyder says that we should apply that same principle to our own lives.
“Take care of yourself with the same respect you give animals and it will be better for both of you,” he says. “Pets will happily go along for the ride.”
Consult with your vet before engaging your pet in any physical activities. Also, check out a previous column that features tips on how to keep your pet safe as you travel around town together.
All the best!
— Morieka Johnson
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network.