Marty Becker's Advice to Understanding 'Your Dog'

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Now, while it's true you can get a doggy treadmill (some look like human treadmills; the ones for small dogs look more like hamster wheels), or get someone else to exercise your pet, the fact is that getting out with your dog is good for you both. That's not just me talking, by the way: studies have shown that people who walk their dogs benefit from the activity as much as their dogs do. So much so that I wrote a book on the subject, Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together, with Robert Kushner, MD, an internist and nutritionist who's an expert on human weight loss.

The least amount of time you can get away with is probably an hour a day, all total, for feeding, cleaning up after, and a little play and exercise. For larger dogs— or high-energy small ones, such as most of the terriers— there simply isn't a high end on the amount of time you could spend with them. They'll happily jump up and be ready to go every time you pick up the leash or the car keys.

There are always imaginative ways to get your dog exercised without you exhausting yourself, of course. Fetch is always great for this, and swimming is another energy burner, especially when combined with fetch. Toys that require dogs to work for small food rewards also count, and are really well suited to those times when you simply can't keep your dog busy, such as when you're out earning the kibble. If you can't carve some time out of your schedule for a dog of your own, you might consider volunteering at a shelter, fostering now and then for a rescue group, or walking a neighbor's dog. If you can make time for your own dog, though, you'll be healthier for the time you spend.

Day Care, Dog-Running, and Poop Scoopers

Gina Spadafori, who coauthored this book, has a friend who's an ultramarathoner. The regular twenty-six-mile endurance run is nothing for him— his hobby is running in races of fifty to a hundred miles or even more. He has been a runner all his life but just started ultramarathoning in his fifties.

That sort of athletic endeavor requires a lot of training, so he figured he might as well start a business to take other people's dogs with him on training runs. Gina's three retrievers go out with him two or three times a week and are far happier for it (as is Gina).

While you'll surely find more dog walkers than dog runners, the trend toward a wider array of pet services has been growing in recent years, in ways people never could have imagined.

People may roll their eyes at the idea of doggy day care, for example, but if you dream of having a large, active dog but you work long hours, a place for your dog to play and run all day may be just the ticket. No "dog guilt" for you, and at the end of the day your pet will be dog-tired and just as happy to crash on the couch as you are.

What about paying someone to clean up your yard? If you can afford it and have better ways to spend your time, why not? After all, it wasn't that long ago that paying a service to keep your lawn mowed or your house clean was unusual, and now it doesn't even raise eyebrows.

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