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Most people are familiar with the expression "couch potato", and this can also be applied to dogs that would just rather lie back and enjoy the sunshine than actually get up and move about. It is sometimes hard to tell if the dog became lazy because he or she was lazy by nature of it was actually a side effect of being in a home where relaxation was king. In reality it doesn't matter why the dog doesn't choose to exercise, rather it just matters that he or she isn't.
If you dog has been a normally active, healthy dog and suddenly stops showing any signs of interest in getting out and about, you should immediately contact your vet if this behavior persists for more than a couple of days or seems to come and go over a period of time. Since most dog health issues, diseases and even genetic conditions start with one of the major symptoms being lethargic behavior, it is absolutely important to get your dog's health checked. Just a few of the health conditions that list inactivity, lack of energy or lethargy as a symptom include diabetes, cancer, heartworm, congestive heart failure, respiratory infections, Lyme disease, parvovirus, coronavirus, distemper, allergies, roundworms and even neurological issues such as epilepsy. Getting the appropriate blood and health tests to ensure it is not a condition that needs to be treated is the very first step.
Once the vet has given your dog a clean bill of health the next step is to try to determine what has changed for the dog. Dogs can go through periods of depression or loss, especially if a companion pet or family member has passed away or is no longer in the dog's life. Often when children move away to college or a divorce happens the dog goes through a period similar to grief where may "mope around" and not have much interest in things they used to enjoy. If this depression persists be sure to talk to your vet as there may be medical treatments or holistic treatments to help alleviate this mood.
If there has been a change in the household, getting your dog engaged in other activities can help re-establish your connection with the pet. Focus on things that you know the dog likes and provide lots of praise and attention to the dog both when they are active and when they are not. As the dog becomes more like their old self you can gradually fade out as much attention during inactivity and try to emphasis attention while exercising.
For dogs that have become lazy because the owners are couch potatoes you will need to work on your own exercise level as well as that of the dog. It can be a real team effort, just set reasonable, practical goals and follow through with them. Planning to start out with a thirty minute jog every night might not be practical at first, especially if your normal activity level is a walk from the couch to the back door to let your trusted companion in and out. Start by a walk around the block or a slower, moderate walk for 10 minutes one way and 10 minutes back. Once both you and the dog are comfortable at this pace either increase the distance, the pace or both. Before you know it you will be walking two or three miles, then increase the number of walks you take per day. It may not be necessary for either your dog or yourself to move up to jogging, but if you do just keep it slow and gradual.
One problem that many dogs have as they age is that they seem to lose their interest in playing with toys. Some breeds will stay playful until they are well into their teens, however just as breeds seem to just gradually fade away from playing. If you have a breed that does stay playful, be sure to provide lots of toys and actively engage the dog in games at least once a day. Fetch, tag, chase or even just a romp in the yard is a great way to get an inactive dog doing something fun and healthy. If the dog hasn't played for a while, make it easy. Don't throw the ball as far as you can, roll it on the ground until he or she gets back into the playful spirit.
Sadly but perhaps appropriately lazy or inactive dogs often are very motivated by food. It is essential to help your dog get back in shape by eliminating any type of human food including those little treats, table scraps and the tidbits you give him or her because they have perfected the starving dog look when you are having a piece of cheese or a cookie. If, however, the only way to motive your dog to play or to go for a walk is to include food, consider some of the very health dog food treats and cookies now available. Ask your vet which ones he or she would recommend and use only a small portion of the biscuit or cookie, not the whole thing. If you have a large breed of dog, buy the treats for small breeds and cut them in two. Remember it just takes a small food reward to get a dog motivated in most cases.
Watch what your dog does find interesting and look for ways to incorporate those interests into his or her exercise routine. Perhaps he or she is interested when another dog walks by and maybe you could ask a friend with a dog to come for a walk with you or even go to an off leash dog park where your pet can interact with other dogs. If you dog loves to run and sniff, find a quiet park or rural area where you can allow some safe off-leash time for your pet.
It is never too late to start adding exercise to both your dog's life as well as your own. Just remember to start slowly and give lots of praise to the dog and gradual increase activity level and intensity as exercise becomes more of a habit for you both.
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