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How to motivate your lazy dog to get more exercise

fawn pug lying on gray blanket

at dog memes may be all the rage on TikTok, but there is nothing funny about an overweight dog. Like humans, dogs become susceptible to a whole host of health issues if they weigh too much. And too many pups do weigh too much.

Around six in 10 dogs are overweight, so says the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Many dogs aren’t getting enough exercise on a regular basis. In time for April’s Canine Fitness Month, here are easy ways to motivate your lazy dog to move more.

Reasons to exercise your dog on a regular basis

You probably know that dogs need walks on a daily basis. However, do you know how long or frequent those walks should be? Well, it all depends on the size, breed and health of your dog.

“A 15-minute walk once or twice a day with a two-year-old border collie probably isn’t going to be enough,” said Deborah Aronson, VMD, at the Main Line Veterinary Integrative Practice in Wynnewood, PA. She explained that border collies are high-energy dogs who need lots of exercise. On the other hand, if you have a flat-faced breed like a pug or French bulldog, you don’t want to push them to take longer walks.

These breeds, called brachycephalic breeds, have trouble breathing because of their shortened nasal passages. Even so, every dog, flat-faced or not, needs exercise. This is where your veterinarian can help. “It is important to rule out that instead of just being lazy, maybe your dog has an underlying health condition,” added Dr. Aronson.

Medical issues that mimic laziness

A dog that’s become sedentary could have something legitimately wrong with it. Also, the less active a dog becomes, the more health issues it can acquire. So, if your previously active dog hasn’t gotten the zoomies for quite some time, definitely make an appointment to see your vet.

“Dogs can become less active for a variety of reasons,” explained Michael Thompson, DVM, an animal nutrition expert and behaviorist in Austin, TX. “These include aging or underlying health issues.” Some of the most common health issues in dogs include arthritis, hypothyroidism and an undiagnosed injury.

“Unrecognized pain or discomfort can keep dogs from moving around the way that they should,” said Dr. Aronson. “A dog doesn’t always hold its paw up if there is pain.”

On the flipside, dogs that become inactive can end up developing a number of health problems just like humans do. “This includes obesity, muscle atrophy, cardiovascular issues and diabetes,” Dr. Thompson added.

How to get your dog moving again

Once you’ve ruled out medical issues or you’ve identified them so that your veterinarian can begin treating them, then it’s time to think about how to get your dog moving again. Just like a human coming back from injury, you’ll want to take it slowly.

You may even want to see a physical therapist – a canine physical therapist, that is. There is a specialty in veterinary medicine called veterinary physical rehabilitation. Basically, it’s therapy for dogs that employs treatments using an underwater treadmill, massages and passive range of motion exercises, among other modalities.

Exercise your dog with lots of walks

Back at home, walks are a great way to ease back into being active. Dr. Aronson recommends short, frequent walks on a leash for increased conditioning compared to one long walk. Start with five or 10-minute walks, two to three times a day, she advises. You can build from there.

Also, you can make the last walk of the day a family affair. That’s what Sheboygan, Wisconsin-based Sara Nelson of Real Balanced does. “Taking evening walks has been great for our Boston Terrier’s fitness and a nice way for us to spend time together as a family,” she said. “He really loves it when he gets to walk next to the stroller with the kids. Their energy seems to make the walks more fun for him, turning our nightly exercise into a little adventure.”

In addition, try to find new and different places where you can walk your pup. For example, learn which are the dog-friendly stores near you. Then, when you go shopping, you can take your four-legged family member with you. Visiting new destinations is great for their mental stimulation as well as providing extra opportunities to exercise your dog.

Level up their walks by taking them to different outdoor locales, too. For example, walking through sand on the beach or along the forest floor in the woods means they have to navigate new terrain. Doing so can build muscle strength that walking on a sidewalk can’t.

Obstacle course and games

If you aren’t able to take your dog out for as many walks as you would like, try to set up an obstacle course in your backyard or even in your living room. Aronson suggested putting sticks or other household objects on the floor and encouraging your dog to walk over them. “That action increases their muscle and core strength in a controlled environment,” she said.

Another idea: turn getting treats into a game that requires your dog to move more to get them. For example, rather than have your dog sit, and then receive a treat, reward the sit by sending the treat skipping across the floor. Then, your dog will have practiced their good manners, plus they will have to trot to get that treat.

Or try what Mandy Applegate of Two City Vegans in Cheltenham, England, does with her aging chihuahua called Ellie. “I hide a small treat somewhere in the house, tell her to find it, and she races around seeking it out,” Applegate said. “She loves it and it’s one of the few things that will make her run anymore.”

Final thoughts

If your dog doesn’t like to chase a ball, stick or another object, little games like these are great ways to get them moving. That’s because short bursts of energy definitely add up to being real exercise and movement for your pup.

However, you don’t want to over-exercise them either. “Always watch for signs of exhaustion,” warned Dr. Thompson, “such as heavy panting, lagging behind or reluctance to keep moving.” If you see any of these signs, it is time to end the exercise sessions and perhaps snuggle together on the couch until everyone gets their second wind.

Leah Ingram is the author of 15 books, has covered pet topics for national magazines and has rescued four dogs. She writes about dog ownership on her siteYour Home Dog.

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