Almost everybody agrees that exercise is essential for weight loss and weight maintenance. Research in humans overwhelmingly shows that a program of just 80 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week is all that is necessary to maintain a healthy weight on a sensible diet.
The evidence in dogs is less convincing. Dogs exercise more efficiently than humans and burn fewer calories at slow to moderate paces. To lose or maintain weight dogs need to exercise more intensely.
Walking must be at a pace of at least 15-16 minute miles. Experiments in dogs have confirmed that such a pace is necessary to burn any significant amount of calories. This pace requires that the dog pants and the owner sweats, otherwise the exercise burns few calories.
Exercise intensity can be added to walking by climbing hills or stairs. Any elevation greater than horizontal increases the effort against gravity and will increase calorie expenditure. Uphill exercise significantly decreases exercise time especially if the pace is maintained at 15 minute miles.
Training dogs to use treadmills, especially treadmills with adjustable elevation grades, is an alternative for walking outside. It allows exercise no matter the weather conditions. It is also an alternative for owners that have disabilities of their own that restricts exercise intensity.
Adding weight vests also increases the effort against gravity and is very effective when uphill options are not available. The vest should be a snug fit without areas of skin chaffing. Make sure that weight is equally distributed so all limbs receive equal force and the vest does not shift.
Fetching and Frisbee catching can burn large numbers of calories in the shortest period of time. Dogs typically enjoy these games more than joining their masters on walks. These activities also reinforce actions that benefit behavior training. These types of exercise should be avoided for dogs with joint and spine problems.
Swimming is also a good, calorie burning exercise for all dogs. It is the preferred exercise for dogs with spine and joint problems. These dogs can expend large amounts of calories without any of the concussive forces on the skeleton required with land exercise.
Panting during exercise is not a sign of thirst. Exercising dogs must pant to rid their body of heat because they do not sweat except in their foot pads. In cool weather, dogs can pant for up to an hour when walking without the need of water. Fetching, Frisbee and swimming dogs may need water every 20-30 minutes. Walking dogs may also need a water break every 20-30 minutes in warmer weather. Avoid outdoor exercise in extremely warm or hot weather. Care should also be taken when exercising dogs indoors during humid weather. Panting, like sweating, is less effective when the humidity is high, even indoors.
~Dr Ken Tudor
THE DOG DIETITIAN