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What's your dog eating?

First lady Michelle Obama got a shout-out from her hubby during his State of the Union address for her determination to tackle the ballooning issue of childhood obesity. The East Wing's approach thus far involves breathing new life and an additional $1 billion into LBJ's Great Society-era Child Nutrition Act — a program that essentially makes it the responsibility of schools and government to ensure that the nutritional needs of children are met.

Despite some $15 billion the feds already pump into school breakfast and lunch programs annually, kids keep getting fat — and fatter. Might the problem be what kids — and their parents — are eating at home?

If you take the results of a Dutch study on the link between the weight of dog owners and their dogs and apply them to children, the answer is yes. But it's not just about what these people and their pooches are doing — overeating. It's also about what they're not doing — exercising.

Originally published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the study examined the correlation between the body weight of pet owners and the body weight of their pets. The results? Fat dog owners are the leading cause of fat dogs.

This isn't the first study to trumpet these findings. But what makes it interesting is that no tie was found between the body weight of cat owners and their cats.

Comparing dogs and cats is like comparing Eskimos and islanders. Puppies and dogs have a lot more in common with children: They both need routine, boundaries, education, and love and affection to feel secure. They both require nutrition, exercise and leadership to develop into healthy, mature adult versions of themselves. Cats can figure most of this out on their own.

But you can always count on people to think outside the box. The Los Angeles Times, responding to the same study, reported one creative effort to break the weighty bonds between dog and owner: "At a Highland Park dog park not long back, we spotted a car, window open, with a leash trailing out of it. Attached to the end was a dog, huffing and puffing to keep up with the moving vehicle."

With that kind of resistance to physical exercise, it's no wonder the White House is tasked with waging the War on Childhood Obesity. Maybe kids should start jogging alongside the school bus on the way to and from school every day?

But a fat dog is no laughing matter. Obese dogs live shorter lives that include a much greater risk of: osteoarthritis, cardiac disease, diabetes, respiratory conditions, heat or exercise intolerance, dermatological issues affecting skin and coat, compromised immune function, heightened surgical and anesthetic risks, disk rupture, hip dysplasia and chronic back pain.

Great news, though. The solution to this problem does not require how-to books, a life coach or White House intervention. Here's what you do if your dog is overweight:

Schedule an appointment with your vet to determine how much weight your dog needs to lose, and to create a nutritious diet that will facilitate healthy weight loss.

Stop feeding your dog table scraps and anything else not on his prescribed diet.

Gradually increase the length and number of walks he gets each day.

Schedule some quality cardio-playtime with him every day.

Exercise will not only help him drop pounds, but bad habits, as well. Dogs with a lot of energy and nowhere to put it tend to chew, jump, bark and get into trouble. A tired dog is a good dog — and a healthier dog, too.


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!"