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Updated: Feb 14

Veterinarians typically recommend walking as a key element of most canine weight loss regimens. Sounds simple enough but is it really? Few dogs will naturally walk at a pace that generates the elevated heart rates needed for sustained aerobic activity. Of course, make sure your pet can begin a weight loss exercise program by having it examined by your veterinarian before beginning any physical activity program. Follow these helpful tips to pace your pooch for optimal weight loss.

1. Get the right equipment Forget the leash and collar if you want to burn some serious calories with your dog. Collars can compress the trachea (windpipe) when pulled causing difficulty breathing or even injury and should be avoided. Especially dangerous are choke-collars or constricting-collars of any design. A head halter or walking harness is your safest choice. Look for wide, soft and padded straps and breathable materials.

No retractable leashes! Leashes no longer than six feet, ideally 4-feet. You’ll be keeping your canine companion close to keep up a steady pace.

For winter romps, protective booties may be required in cold climates. Also, if it’s warm (above 80-85°F for most dogs) or if you’ll be walking greater than thirty minutes, don’t forget to carry water. There are many styles of portable water bottles and bowls available for dogs on the move.

2. Set the right pace Based on observations of people walking with their dogs, the average pace is 25 minutes per mile. That is a slow stroll with frequent pauses (on average every 30-50 seconds!) to allow a dog to smell an interesting object or mark territory. We’re here to shed pounds, people, not smelling the bushes!

Walking for weight loss is very different than walking for pleasure. Make your objective to walk briskly and focused on the “out” leg of your walk and then you can check the “pee-mail” on the return. We recommend starting the activity with the brisk or “hard” effort first. Too often, if we try to start slowly with the dog, allowing them to sniff and smell everything, we may have a challenging time getting them up to speed when we’re ready. People often ask, “Shouldn’t we do a warm up before you walk them?” Not unless you start with an all-out sprint or maximum effort interval (unlikely). If you’re walking at a brisk pace, simply start walking at a brisk pace. Your dog can handle it. Of course, if you have an older pet or if your dog has an injury or medical condition, a short five-minute warm-up is a good idea.

Draw your leash close – generally within two to three feet of your body – to your left or away-from-the street side and set off at a pace you feel comfortable sustaining. This should be about a fifteen minute per mile pace for most small dogs. It should feel like a brisk walk and you should break into a light sweat. The key is to keep it up! Don’t stop. Don’t look down at your dog when they inevitably want to stop and smell something or mark a hydrant. Continue staring straight ahead, tighten the leash (don’t jerk) and give a command such as “Come” or “Here” if their attention begins to stray. It is important that your dog understands that walking for exercising is different than a casual, relaxed outing. Head halters are a great tool for training dogs to heel during a fast walk and retain their attention. If they sit or refuse to walk, you may have to return home and try again another time. We have yet to encounter a dog that didn’t take readily to aerobic walking after a little training.

3. Set time goals For most overweight dogs or dogs with obesity and have normal heart and lung function, normal blood pressure, and no other pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, Dr Ward (see below) recommends starting with thirty-minute walks a minimum of five times per week. A sample schedule follows:

Week 1

30 minutes total

10 minutes brisk followed by 20 minutes casual pace

Week 2

30 minutes total

15 minutes brisk followed by 15 minutes casual pace

Week 3

30 minutes total

20 minutes brisk followed by 10 minutes casual pace

Week 4

35-40 minutes total

30 minutes brisk followed by 5-10 minutes casual pace

Week 5+

35-60 minutes total

Try to do two 20-30 minute walks per day: 15-25 minutes brisk followed by 5 minutes casual pace

Clients are encouraged to walk 30 minutes every day if possible and after they become comfortable with “real walking.” The health benefits for clients and pets are simply incredible!

4. Monthly weight checks Until your pet reaches its ideal or target weight, we recommend having your dog weighed at your veterinarian monthly. In addition, inspect the pads and legs for any issues after walks and have a veterinarian or registered veterinary technician ensure the nails are short and healthy. Once your pet reaches its desired weight, they should be re-weighed every three months to ensure they remain healthy.

More info can be found at

*Article sourced from: Association for Pet Obesity Prevention by Dr. Ernie Ward

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