Getting you and your dog started on the path to fitness doesn’t require a big budget or any special equipment. You need a plan and a couple of basics. First and foremost, you’ll need a commitment from yourself to follow a plan. After that it’s easy; a decent pair of walking shoes, a secure collar and a leash and some doggie clean-up bags-that is it.
For you, start out simple and take a look at your beverage consumption. Whenever and wherever, try to replace what your are drinking with water. Don’t feel like you have to be on an austerity program though. Jazz it up with fruit and feel free to opt for fizz if it helps.
We asked Cathlyn Rivera, a Registered Dietician at Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System for some quick pointers. She suggests, “If you have ever considered going vegetarian or even kick starting a healthier lifestyle, but are not convinced of the results or that you can be successful, going meatless one day a week can be a great way to start.” Furthermore, she adds, “The benefits of a diet high in fruits and vegetables and lower in meat consumption can help reduce the risk of heart disease, some cancers, Type 2 diabetes and help maintain a healthy weight. With the variety of produce available in grocery stores today and creative recipes at your fingertips, there is no reason to have to give up on flavor – it’s easy to find a dish you will enjoy and may even add to your favorites!” SMH has its own recipe collection, you can find it here. Here’s another good local source for some fun, fresh vegan recipes.
For your pup, make sure his treats are healthy and low in fat. There are a couple of great brands on the market. One such brand, The Honest Kitchen, makes Smooches handmade cookies from all human grade ingredients. Alternatively, you can whip up a batch of your own homemade biscuits. Here’s a recipe that we like for Veggie “Bones”.
Dr. Anne Chauvet tells us that “Dog owners often opt for baby carrots for their dog, but in reality they are very high in sugar. Look instead for fresh or steamed green beans, if you can’t do fresh then frozen is the next best option. Like humans, different dogs prefer different types of fruits and vegetables, especially those that crunch, so it is often a question of trial and error.
Now on to the exercise plan. Don’t panic! You are going to start off very slowly. If you and your dog have spent your summer chillin’ in the a/c, you need to ease into things. If you are unsure of your dog’s readiness to start exercising, check with your Veterinarian.
Start with a walk around the block, let’s say just a quarter mile or less. Stay this course for a week or two until you feel that it’s just natural to keep going for another block or so. Watch your dog. Is he panting? Slowing down or hanging his head down? If yes, then hang it up for the day and head for home. And ALWAYS be sure to carry water for both you and your dog.
Walks are a great time to practice obedience as well. Try stopping at the corners and asking your dog to sit. Use calorie-free praise like “good dog!” as a reward. Talk with your pup as you are walking, and make eye contact. You will be strengthening your bond, ) and taking in the sights together. Dr. Chauvet adds, “Dogs love to communicate with their owners, but remember that English is not their first language! Always be clear and consistent by using the same words and tone.”
By the way, how are YOU feeling? Be careful not to press on just to match your dog’s pace. You should be breathing normally and not feel winded.
Choosing a place for your walk that offers a new view for you can mix it up and keep things fresh. Two of our favorites are Joan Durant Park on Long Boat Key and Bayfront Park. You’ll find other like-minded dog people at both venues.
Last but not least, breed of dog and weather should also be a consideration. For instance, if you own a flat-faced breed like a pug or bulldog, you should take walks at night and avoid hot and humid days altogether. With small breed dogs, body harnesses are preferable to neck collars since many of the smaller breeds have issues with their tracheas. And, finally, no matter what the breed, if the pavement is too hot for you to walk on, it’s too hot for your dog as well. On these days, have your dog wear booties, opt for grassy areas/trails or consider swimming (but don’t forget the life vest!)