Peeing on trees and sniffing butts is not exercise for your obese dog

Before humans started playing Gregor Mendel with dog genetics and breeding weird dog breeds with smooshed faces and stubby legs, dogs were built for function.  That function was to run around all day long scavenging for stuff to kill, eat, and maybe, if they found a female in heat along the way, expend a few calories reproducing. In order to maintain this lifestyle, they developed an energy efficient style of four foot running. This efficiency, is a headache for you for two reasons

  • Without oodles of exercise, your dog is prone to becoming rotund sitting on your couch. In fact, the incidence of canine obesity is estimated to be between 22 and 40%.
  • Unless you have a dog that chases a ball at the park or goes nuts chasing a dog who chases balls at the park you are going to have to work cut out for you if you want to give your dog enough exercise to shed pounds.


Canine obesity is about you as much as your pet.

Dogs can neither help themselves to a box of Cookie Crisp Cereal nor open the front door and take themselves for a morning run. If your dog is obese, in most cases, it is because you are feeding them too much and/or exercising them too little.  Before, you can help your dog get healthy by losing weight, you will need to examine the factors getting in the way of assisting your dog to lose weight.

Perhaps you are too busy at work/life to find time to exercise your pet. Maybe you have a medical condition that prevents you from getting outside and exercising your pet. Maybe you are exhausted because your kid is keeping you up all night blasting Nickelback and you have no energy left over for your pet. Whatever the case, you need to realize that canine obesity is about you and your lifestyle. Unless you are honest with yourself and set realistic goals, you are going to become frustrated as you try to help your dog lose weight. Assuming that you are committed to helping your pet overcome their weight issues, the first step is to stay motivated.

The road to dog obesity is paved with good intentions.

Exercise fanatics have skinny dogs. Their world is dominated by fitness and staying fit. Fat dogs are not welcome in their world. If you are reading this, chances are that your personal exercise goals are more modest and more reasonable than our Sleestak looking brethren. If you are like most normal people, your motivation for staying fit is a limiter to your long term fitness goals. All too often we make fitness commitments but do not stick with the plan.

In my experience, internal motivators (such as the knowledge that obesity has negative health effects on ourselves and our pets) are not enough to keep us motivated because it is too easy to cut deals with ourselves that side track us from reaching our goals.  Vague internal motivators are not enough because the negative consequences of not sticking to our plan are too far in the future to register on our pain radar today.

One approach that I have found useful is to set short term goals that can be reasonably achieved and then make the pain of not accomplishing those goals excruciatingly unbearable. For example, set a short-term goal of walking your dog four times a week for 30 minutes and then entering a 5K fun run/walk with your dog.  In San Diego, loads of people are taking this approach and signing up for the Petco 5k9 event.

The trick here is to tell everyone you know that you are going to do the run/walk. Post it on Facebook. Tweet till your fingers bleed. Start a charity drive1. Make sure that you either finish the race or lose face in a significant and very public way. Do this once or twice and you will find that you have created a habit that you can live with for the rest of your life.

Now that you are motivated and have no choice but to help your dog lose weight – exercise the right way.

Remember, your dog is more efficient than you are when walking or running. They are faster and can go farther while expending less energy (see below for exceptions).  Our favorite exercise for any dog is to allow them to run off the leash chasing a ball or other dog at the park. If, however, your dog 1) runs away when they are let off the leash and you live in an area with a lot of cars 2) bites other dogs in the face if left to their own devices 3) you live in an area with an inordinate amount of “tough guy” dogs and your dog is likely to get bitten in the face if allowed to run off leash or 4) your dog is like most dogs and they just stand there staring at you when they are let off the leash – you are going to have your work cut out for you because unless you are working when your dog is exercising – your dog might not even be registering what you are doing with them as exercise.

Stated another way, you are going to need to sweat if you want to exercise your dog while walking with them on the leash.

Think about it. Your dog has 4 legs. They are 20 inches off the ground so they are more aero than Lesley Paterson on her little 650c wheels and fancy pants time trial bike. They go fast really efficiently. If your goal is to give them a workout while they are on a leash you need to understand that you are going to be getting a workout too.

Going from tree to tree and from dog butt to dog butt sniffing the scenery is the canine equivalent of sitting in a coffee shop chatting up chatting the housewives. There is a time and place for that but not in your dog’s weight loss program.

Walking your dog for exercise means it is giddy up time. Walk with purpose from point A to point B like you mean it. You do not need to run. Just walk briskly and do not lolly gag. If your dog is not a good leash walker – no worries. Future newsletters will teach you how to walk with your dog in order to get them some exercise and shed some pounds. Learning how to walk properly will also help you and your dog act respectful to others during that 5K race you entered to stay motivated.

2 Caveats to everything we said so far

If you have a smoosh faced breed dog that snores when they sleep: dogs like French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Bulldogs are genetic experiments performed to see if we can squash a dogs airways and see if they can live a happy and healthy life. Unfortunately, this experiment failed. You cannot squash a dog’s upper airways into a ball and expect them to remain athletic. These dogs do great when sitting in front of an air conditioner but you really need to be careful when exercising these breeds. Airlines have banned them because they like to die on airplane rides. Your best bet is to contact your veterinarian for advice before starting any weight loss or exercise program in any smoosh faced breed (e.g. brachycephalic breeds of dogs).

If you have a miniature breed dog: Dogs like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus and Miniature Poodles are fun to keep around the house as long as you do not step on them. They are even pretty fun at the dog park because they can tear around at amazing speeds. Their short legs, however, make feats of endurance difficult. I am sure there are marathon running Malteses out there somewhere that eat chia seeds and are all Paleo but, for the most part, these little guys were not bred for distance. Be judicious with miniature breeds before taking them on any epic journeys. I have seen too many well meaning pet owners take miniature dogs on veritable death marches during their weight loss programs. Please avoid death marches with your miniaturized pets. Fortunately, you can probably pick them up if they are tired and carry them if they run into trouble. Again – please consult your veterinarian for advice before taking your miniature dog on long haul journeys with you.


1. If you do not have a charity, how about The Petco Foundation?  Our other favorite is Heifer International because we like goats and if you have ever seen the look on a kids face when he gets a goat you will like them too. Give more goats.

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