Body & Fitness

Jogging for dogs: how Fido’s fighting the flab

Pick up your pooch and give him a cuddle. Can you easily feel his ribs? Has he actually got a waist? Or is it more like a bit of a paunch that slides all too easily into a well-cushioned ribcage?

If that’s the case, Fido is probably getting too fat. And not just a little bit too fat either. The average ‘chubby’ dog is usually at least 15 per cent overweight.

Such puppy fat might not sound like a problem but the truth is that the waistlines of New Zealand pets now match their owners – a steadily increasing figure. And feeling a little tight about the collar is the least of their concerns. Our 700,000 plus dogs are so pampered that their health is being put at risk. Nearly 30 percent of food eaten by dogs is ‘prepared’ (i.e. processed and  packaged specifically for animals)

New Zealand has one of the highest levels of pet ownership per person, well ahead of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A 2011 surveyrevealed that 29% of New Zealand households own a dog. Of these dogs, a growing number are becoming over-weight.

Diabetes, heart disease, depression (triggered by an inability to move freely) and arthritis are just some of the weight-related conditions usually associated with overweight people that are spreading to the animal kingdom.

Charlotte Baldwyn, a chartered animal physiotherapist based in Berkshire, says: “Obesity in animals can lead to an overloading of joints that can cause pain, soft-tissue injuries and arthritis or put animals at risk of sprains and strains. Fat pets are also prone to breathing problems and structural imbalance that puts stress on a particular part of the body.”

Unfortunately, it takes more than cursory walkies twice a day to get a curvy canine back into shape, and that’s where Barry Karacostas comes in.

A few years ago, the Briton realised he needed to get his own dog – and himself – back into shape. The experience prompted him to establish himself as the ‘Dog Jogger’ –  fitness guru for man’s best friend. He has become a leading expert in the methods of coaxing pooches back into shape.

“Part of the problem is that, like their owners, pets just aren’t getting the level of activity they need,” Barry says. “People take their dogs to a patch of grass, let them walk around for five minutes and take them home again.”

“It is not enough to meet their needs.”

For $60 a session, Barry, who is based in London, will pick up your dog, then transport it to venues such as Hampstead Heath and Kensington Gardens, where he guides them through cross-country running sessions lasting up to an hour.

It is a trend that started in America; dog-runners are a huge business in New York and California, as those too time-crunched or exercise-averse to jog their dogs themselves hire someone to do it for them.

Barry’s ‘clients’ include the pets of some of London’s richest and most influential residents – from fashion designers and City bankers to actors, writers and supermodels.

Elle Macpherson hired him to train her two labradoodles, Bella and Moon, and was so impressed by the results that she has since become a partner in the company.

“Barry’s understanding of the urban dog has inspired him to come up with a brilliant fitness programme for them,” Macpherson says.

While Barry insists no dog should be allowed to get lazy, different breeds have different needs, so exercise programmes need to take this into account.

Dogs with small, flat noses such as pugs, bulldogs and boxers can have trouble breathing during prolonged, strenuous exercise and need to adopt a start-stop, interval training approach – running, then walking, then running – to boost their fitness

Barry cites the case of Juliette, a pug he put on a bootcamp programme after she was unable to run when he first took her on. “She was two kilos overweight – a lot for a small dog,” he says. “So we did stair-climbing and short bursts of running interspersed with a walk. She shed her fat and now runs with a pack.” Small dogs, such as poodles, chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers, can have trouble running long distances and should not really run more than five kilometres at a decent speed.

With any dog, the key is to start slowly. Just as you wouldn’t take a sedentary friend on a five-mile run the first time out, so you shouldn’t overdo things with your pet

“If they are only used to a 20-minute walk, stick with that but add some jogging,” Barry says. “Build up your fitness together and eventually you will find you can run together for a decent time.”

In many ways, dogs need the same workout preparations as humans. They should always eat two to three hours before a run, go to the toilet before heading off and get into a steady rhythm to conserve energy. Start running with your own dog on a short lead, always keeping them on the same side of your body so they establish a routine.

“Avoid running with them in extreme temperatures and look out for warning signs that it might be too much – excessive panting, lethargy, a dry nose and a tongue hanging out,” says Barry. “Never assume your dog can run further and faster than you can. They need to progress steadily.”

“But running is what dogs should be doing. They should be athletic and in good shape. After all, a fit dog is a happy dog.”

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