The People and Pets Exercising Together study by Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Hill's Pet Nutrition demonstrates that dogs can serve as social support for their owners for weight loss and weight maintenance.
If you give your dog a chance, not only can he be a supportive partner in a weight-loss program, he may be the most committed, reliable, supportive, out-and-out fun workout partner you could have ever hoped for. A dog never offers excuses why today isn't a good day to exercise; you won't catch them checking their watch thinking, "I only have this much time to give you."
Dr. Tony Buffington, a veterinarian and companion animal nutritional specialist at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says using different words can make exercise more palatable.
"Many people panic at the thought or sound of the "E" word. Exercise. But with our pets towing us or in tow, or by tossing a tennis ball as we walk, we can just call it play or activity, not exercise," he says.
Buffington, whose paper on obesity therapy was published in the June 2004 "Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association," found that successful weight loss is not just about the food. His research shows activity also burns calories, but equally important, provides stress reduction for owner and pet alike, which appears to promote adherence to a new, healthier lifestyle.
Here are three reasons why dogs are excellent exercise partners:
1. Dogs elevate exercise from drudgery to joyful routine. The fun dogs find in the adventure of getting outside and working out with you is infectious. Not only is a dog good social support, but he will catch on to the new routine quickly, then make your life miserable if you try to slack off and skip a day.
2. Dogs take the focus off you. Undertaking a walking or jogging routine alone can make anyone feel excruciatingly self-conscious. Walk or jog with a dog, however, and suddenly you are a doer of good deeds, an animal lover, a good sport who doesn't mind being dragged around the block a few times by an eager dog. The difference may be about the perception of the neighbors, or all in your head, but studies show most people really do feel more comfortable walking with a dog than without one.
3. It's a good deed. Many of the participants in the P-PET study reported that they never would have undertaken -- or stuck to -- an exercise program were it not for the fact that they were doing it for their dogs. Changing your routine to make a change in your own health can seem like a decision that can be put off indefinitely, but for devoted dog lovers everywhere, a health condition caused by a pet's extra pounds is plenty of motivation.
In the study, the dogs shed an average of 12 pounds -- or 15 percent of their initial body weight -- and their owners lost an average of 11 pounds -- or 5 percent of their initial body weight. What the owners gained was the motivation to stick to specific diet and exercise strategies with their dogs and succeed at weight loss not just for the moment, but for the long term.
Chicago-based participants, Roseann and Spats, are a true success story. Roseann lost 30 pounds and Spats (a Lab/Husky cross) lost 13 pounds, 15 percent of his initial body weight.