Your Happy Pet: Does your dog need some exercise?

For thousands of years, domesticated dogs stayed fit because they worked for a living herding livestock, hunting and protecting their humans.

Today, working and competitive canine athletes generally maintain their fitness. However, all too many dogs are recreational athletes that may run and play every now and then but spend much of their time relaxing on the couch.

Experts estimate that today nearly 35 percent of our pets are overweight because they get too many treats and too little exercise. The extra pudge around a pup's middle may make him look cute and roly-poly, but it increases his risk for arthritis, diabetes, breathing problems, heart disease and many other serious conditions.

Extra weight is bad for a dog of any size, but even a few extra pounds can have a significant impact on the health of a small- or medium-size dog. For example, a 12-pound Yorkie is "only" about 5 pounds overweight, but is equivalent to a 5-foot-4 inch woman who weighs 218 pounds.

A 12-pound Yorkie definitely needs an exercise program.

Does your dog?

Your dog is probably at a proper weight if you can feel but not see his ribs. If his ribs are so well-padded that you can pinch an inch, your pet is not fluffy. He is without doubt overweight. Have your veterinarian evaluate your pet to determine that he is in good health and ready to start an exercise program. Then, select a workout plan that fits your dog's personality and the type of job he was bred to do.

Most dogs love the special time and attention they receive when walking with their owner. Medium- to large-breed dogs like 20- to 30-minute brisk walks.

Small, short-legged dogs should be limited to a more leisurely pace and shorter walks of no more than 20 minutes. Just be sure to set up a regular schedule for strolls with your pet and stick to it.

If you, on the other hand, do not wish to add walking to your exercise program, there are other options. Tug of war is usually a favorite game as is the old standard fetch. Get your dog's attention then roll a tennis ball or Frisbee on the ground toward him. Allow him to explore the new toy until he picks it up. Try throwing it short distances to your dog. Keep it very low at first then work up to longer and higher tosses. Praise your dog for his successful returns and encourage him if he has difficulty finding the ball or Frisbee. The point of the game is to exercise your dog while he is having fun.

You know his likes and dislikes and what makes the two of you click, so be creative and think of other games to play. You may be surprised how much both of you enjoy exercising together and how it strengthens your human-canine bond.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at HolisticTouchTherapy.com