Do you remember how, when you were a kid, your dog vanished one day and your parents told you that they took him out to the country to live on a farm where he could be with other animals and run free and wild?

We all learned that was a gentle fib to cover up Rover’s untimely exodus. But kids hearing that explanation today can take solace in the fact that it just might be true — well, partially true. Rex will be on a farm, but it will be a fat farm. And some of his runs will be strictly regimented.

The Associated Press turned out a story last week about the growing number of facilities designed to help your pooch lose his paunch. These businesses offer "pawlates," "doga" and "Barko Polo," reports the news agency’s Sue Manning, who writes that 53 percent of dogs are currently overweight or obese, up 8 percent in just four years.

A doctor quoted in the story pointed out that obese pets can face the same medical problems that might befall their overweight owners — heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and shorter life expectancy.

In 2007, the American-Statesman published a story about Dream A Dream (dream-a-dream.com), a mini dachshund boarding facility that offered a month-long fat camp. After an examination (owner Sherry Rogers consulted with vets from Pflugerville Animal Hospital), the canines were put on a healthy diet and participated in workouts that included swimming, hiking, treadmill walks and free play.

"There’s no fancy food or pills," Rogers said in that story. "It’s just exercise and monitoring food intake."

Here are seven signs your dog needs to visit a fat farm:

7. People keep asking where you got "the miniature cow."

6. You have to create a new notch on his harness so it will fit.

5. When you visit the dog park, he waits in the car.

4. His only trick is "play dead."

3. He waits for you at the door — the refrigerator door.

2. When you play fetch, he comes back with a can opener.

And the No. 1 sign your dog needs to visit a fat farm:

1. He insists on riding one of those grocery store scooters on his walks.