Waking up to sunshine is such a marvelous incentive to get out and about with your dog, although I am thinking of getting Bodie an eye mask so he stops mistaking the 5am sunrise for the start of our day…
Whether you are on the road or staycationing, there are a few key factors to consider before you devise your dog’s summer fitness plan – your dog’s weight and diet plus the outdoor temperature, to name but three. Seeking expert advice, we joined a Google Hangout with Dr Kurt Venator, a three-dog veterinarian with a PHD in Zoology who has been sharing his expertise with Purina for the past 13 years.
Before we start limbering up with Lurchers and doing star jumps with Shar Peis we first have to take a look at our dog’s weight – according to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, 54% of dogs in the US are overweight or obese. Bodie was always quite trim in California but I must confess that since arriving in the UK he has developed a penchant for Marmite on toast (a very English savory treat you either love or hate). Concerned he’s getting a tad portly, I followed Dr Kurt’s three checks to see if your dog is in optimal shape:
1. With your thumbs on your dog’s backbone, run your fingers down your dog’s side – you should be able to easily feel your dog’s ribs beneath his fur/overlying tissue.
2. Kneel down and look at your dog’s side profile – ideally you should be able to see an ‘abdominal tuck’ – as in an indentation under the rib cage.
3. Viewing from above you want to see an ‘hourglass shape’ – not quite as swervy-curvy as Sofia Vergara (!) but the waist should tapering in between the ribs and hips.
Because Bodie has a rather barrel-like torso I decide to take Dr Kurt’s advice and have his physique professionally assessed – our local vet duly weighs him, eyes him, feels him and then declares him, ‘Perfect!’ Yes! The pair of us walk home with an extra spring in our step.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
As with humans, diet plays a significant part in getting fit and is another factor to consider before you tie your trainers. It starts with the simple portion size: Dr Kurt explained that Purina has 500 scientists researching, developing and conducting feeding trials in order to expertly meet your dog’s nutritional needs (with the ideal of also reducing disease and increasing life span). And this, of course, is based on a precisely measured amount of food.
‘Not the overly generous Italian Grandmother portion,’ he laughs and then holds up a stainless steel measuring cup, highlighting how even a level cup versus a heaped one is a big variation, nevermind the difference between ‘a coffee cup and a Slurpee cup!’ Though he does acknowledge that of his three dogs, brothers Chancellor and Thatcher are on different formulas due to their vastly different activity levels…
Dr Kurt also reminds us to resist giving our dogs table scraps (ahem) and to ‘treat responsibly’. This is something I need to take note of – just because a treat is specifically designed for a dog it still adds to his or her daily calorific intake (especially where peanut butter is concerned) and isn’t so different to us humans snacking on rather too many chips or popcorn.
I like his suggestion about feeding times being a time to chow down together. In fact Bodie has developed a ‘can’t start without you’ habit in that if I were to set down his bowl and leave the room, he’d wait until I get back to start eating again. (Although I have a theory that he thinks I might disappear forever and thus not know where his next meal is coming from, so he has to see if he’s going to have to eek it out.)
THE HEAT IS ON
Now it’s time to get moving! If both you and your dog are feeling a little tubby then you want to ease into your exercise regime and be especially mindful of the heat during the summer ensuring that you both keep fully hydrated with clean, fresh water. But what if it’s just Too Darn Hot to even venture out?
Dr Kurt recommends early morning walks in the cooler air and then evening strolls after dark. This is definitely advice Bodie and I followed in Palm Springs – in these kind of desert areas you have to be ultra mindful of paw-singeing pavements where it is literally too hot to trot. (Never, ever a problem in England!)
When Bodie and I lived in Portsmouth, Virginia summer temperatures were sweltering – 100 degrees, high humidity with the added ‘bonus’ of mosquitos – so I often opted to tire Bodie with a tennis ball in the shaded brick corridor outside our apartment – it was long enough for him to pick up speed and spared us being reduced to sweaty puddles when there wasn’t even a breath of a breeze.
I would also take him to our local doggie daycare once a week as it had an air-conditioned indoor play area and a fun splash-pool outside. If this is not an option, Dr Kurt recommends arranging puppy playdate with a friendly local dog, perhaps in a cool basement, so they can release their pent-up energy that way.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Now what about when you’re on a summer road trip? Perhaps you’ve arrived late at your accommodation or there isn’t anywhere enticing to exercise your dogs in the surrounding area. Dr Kurt has traveled all across the country with his three Labradors so he’s had plenty of experience exhausting his dogs within the confines of a hotel room and offers these helpful tips:
1. ‘The first thing I would recommend is to make sure you bring your dog’s favorite toy with him/her and play with him/her as you would at home.’
2. ‘The next thing would then be to introduce a new or novel toy while on the road. If he/she normally carries around a squeaky stuffed toy (like my lab Thatcher) then perhaps unveil a toy with a different look, feel and sound. This will help with engagement and enrichment and if you share your own excitement through voice inflection, scratches behind the ears etc, you should get your dog excited as well.’
3. ‘The last thing I would recommend is either teaching your dog a new trick (combined with positive voice/touch energy from you and perhaps a treat as well) or reinforcing existing tricks/behaviors.’
We’ll definitely be incorporating this into our next trip. In the meantime…
EXERCISE – THE NEXT GENERATION
Bodie and I have incorporated a little modern technology into our exercise regime by accepting Purina’s challenge to test out a FitBark – yes, you guessed it, a FitBit for dogs! Click here to read Why Your Dog May Be Your Best Exercise Partner!
For oodles more information on optimizing your dog’s exercise and nutrition visit www.purina.com
This post is sponsored by Purina but we dig their mission to increase the well-being of pets and their owners so they can live bigger, healthier and happier lives together!