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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

Get moving, or the pooch suffers

By John Briley
Washington Post

In our effort to get you out of the pantry and into motion, we've tried lots of stuff: exhortation, intimidation, promises, shame, scientific evidence, consistent smart-aleckry and even commiseration. Now we bring out the big gun: Your slothful behavior may be killing your dog.

We're presuming here you own a dog and that the pup is faithfully, if unhappily, leashed to your indolent routine, from those online Texas Hold 'Em tournaments to your freelance "Jeopardy!" career. You know what's coming here, but before the lecture on launching a walking regimen with your dog, here are a few plucks o' the heartstrings, drawn from "Fitness Unleashed," a book by veterinarian Marty Becker and physician Robert Kushner (Three Rivers Press, 2006):

  • About 40 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese, yet almost half of pudgy-dog owners describe their animals' weight as "ideal."

  • Overweight dogs have a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer.

  • Bad-dog behavior such as biting, chewing, digging and house-soiling is significantly lower in quadrupeds that get enough exercise.

  • Trim pets live, on average, 15 percent longer than fat ones.

    Hmmm, eerily similar to the warning label for overfed, under-exercised people, no? Dogs, like people, are not genetically wired to lie around all day. Many breeds evolved to work retrieving, shepherding, guiding, labradoring, etc. Others are just dang hyper. So asking that they hole up all day, then loaf with you when you get home, is beyond unfair, even if you are watching "Dog Whisperer" on the National Geographic Channel.

    "Fitness Unleashed" lays out a detailed four-week starter plan, both for the highly sedentary begin with three to four walks a week of at least 15 minutes each, and those with a baseline level of fitness five weekly walks of 30 minutes each.

    The book is packed with inspiring tales of dog owners whose daily walks brought not only fitness but increased sociability ("Wow! There are other people out here walking around!") and the gratification of providing for their pawed charges.

    Dog walking delivers two important staples of a successful long-term exercise program: a degree of fun and a reliable partner. People stick with dog walking because it rarely feels like work and because the animal won't bail out on an exercise date.

    I can, incidentally, attest to all of the above. For 25 years, my canines have helped me discover corners of Rock Creek Park in Washington I never would have explored on my own. Plus, stooping down to pick up all that, um, output is a great hamstring stretch.

    Two key cautions: Take extra care in heat and humidity. Dogs release excess heat through their foot pads and tongues only not via all-body sweating like humans and thus take much longer to regulate body temperature than do we. Also, if you want to try, say, cycling or inline skating, check with your vet. Some pets, by virtue of breed and fitness level, can handle sustained higher speeds; many cannot.