10 Ways to keep your dog in shape


It’s easy for dogs to put on weight, but you can keep yours looking trim with these top tips from Jackie Drakeford.

All dog owners know how important it is to look after their dogs’ figures.

Most vet surgeries have a helpful wall chart that illustrates how dogs should ideally appear, and usually there will be access to a set of scales in the waiting area, where you can take your dog to be weighed and so keep an eye on his body condition that way.
However, dog owners also know that most dogs can put on weight really easily, and often the owners don’t notice, or kid themselves that their dog is a chunky breed and ought to look like that!
But slim means healthy, and is especially important as dogs get older, because you don’t want them to develop joint, organ, or breathing problems because of obesity. However, that doesn’t mean you need to starve them! Here are some ways to maintain your dogs’ figures without feeling as if you are depriving them.

1. Use a smaller food bowl It’s so easy to fill a bowl right up, because leaving space at the top looks so mean! So, this is a simple way to make feeding the correct amount easy. If your dog is a big breed and needs a larger sized bowl to fit his jaws in, put his food on a shallow surface such as a plate instead. Then you won’t be so tempted to give him too much.

Overweight dogs may be less inclined to exercise, creating an escalating problem.

2. Exercise is very important, and dogs, even small ones, are natural athletes. If you allow them to get porky so they puff and waddle their way along, they may become less willing to go on walks, and so you inadvertently create an escalating problem. But if you tailor your outings to include gradients, add in a little training, which involves them running, and go to places that are safe to let them off-lead, they can have a better workout. Given the opportunity, dogs will cover a lot more ground than their owners do on the same walk. Take care if you like to take your dog jogging though or get him to follow a bicycle off-road. It’s so easy for humans to get ‘in the zone’ and not realise that their dog isn’t enjoying the exercise as much as he would if he was pottering and sniffing some of the time, and running about for short bursts. Human athletes call this interval training (apart from the sniffing!), but dogs just see it as fun.

Don’t let family or friends feed your dog titbits.

3. Some dogs get very hungry, and their correct feeding amount is simply not enough to satisfy them. You can bulk out their meals without making them fattening by adding lots of leafy greens, either lightly cooked or blitzed in a liquidiser so that they can access important trace elements and vitamins that are otherwise trapped in indigestible cellulose.

4. Don’t let friends or family sabotage your efforts!
So many people equate food with love, and get a buzz from feeding your dog titbits — and, of course, dogs aren’t going to object. Family politics can make avoiding this tricky at times. Explaining that your dog has an allergy, or a digestive issue that means he is only allowed to eat at mealtimes, may save the situation here. Be as firm as you would be if that were genuinely the case!

To dogs, bins can be a source of food!

5. Always put food away where your dog can’t reach it, and see that the family does too. ‘Food’ to a dog includes the contents of pedal bins, dustbins, and sometimes even compost, so ensure that your dog can’t access any of these. It’s much safer for them too.

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Your dog can still enjoy treats but make sure they are tiny.

6. Your dog doesn’t have to do without treats — you just need to make the treats smaller. Little fingernail-sized treats are more than sufficient, and you need to reduce your dog’s actual meal quantities by the same amount to allow for the extra. It’s useful to put potential treats, especially leftovers from your own meals, in a bowl, and at the end of the day see how much you almost gave your dog! It can be quite a surprise how it mounts up. Although many dogs are always up for edible extras, you need to watch their overall intake — think small!

7. There are ways to stretch out mealtimes by making your dog work for HIS food, using puzzle toys and mats as treat dispensers, or even hiding small caches of food in the garden. If you do the latter, you need to make sure no food is left over afterwards for garden pests such as slugs to taint, and to avoid encouraging animals such as rats and foxes. 

Rather than dogs inhaling their daily rations in less time than it takes to fill the bowl, making them use their natural instincts to prolong the food experience is really fulfilling for them, exercising their minds and their propensity for searching out edibles, but in a safe environment.

Take regular photos of your dog and compare his physique.

8. You can get a better idea of your dog’s actual size and weight by taking some photographs and looking at those, as well as by looking at your dog’s reflection in a mirror. This can present a perspective that is helpful in terms of assessing whether he could do with losing a little weight.
However, some dogs find mirror reflections puzzling or disturbing, so if yours is one of these, stick to photography.

Get your dog to engage his brain at mealtimes.

9. A soothing massage can be really beneficial to dogs, increasing circulation and gently ironing out any possible aches and pains. Concentrate on well-muscled areas such as the shoulders and haunches, leaving bony places and tummies to the experts. It’s a good way to discover over-upholstered parts of his anatomy that should be lean, and our hands can’t be fooled the way our eyes can! It’s worth learning basic massage techniques, but even if you don’t go that far, frequently brushing his coat will show how much flesh lies beneath. It provides a health benefit too, not only taking out dead hair and preventing fur knots, but by increasing circulation.

10. If your dog does have weight to lose, it can be a good idea to discuss how to tackle it with your vet. Make changes gently, a little at a time, to avoid him feeling hard done by and you feeling as if you are letting him down. It only takes a small reduction in food quantity, a manageable increase in exercise, and some mental stimulus in terms of how you deliver his food to make an appreciable difference. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you don’t have to go for instant results. If the weight comes off as slowly and sneakily as it went on, your dog won’t notice he is having less to eat. His gain in terms of welfare, comfort, and longevity will be a worthwhile reward for your efforts. And he will look so healthy!