By Dr. Becker
For many of us, New Year’s resolutions always seem to include a promise that this will be the year we lose those extra pounds and get in shape. And if your family happens to include a dog, chances are he needs to nap less and move more, too.
So while you’re working out the details of your new workout regimen, why not consider including your canine pal in your plans? Did you know there are actually exercise classes available for dogs and their humans?
Torch Those Extra Pounds at Bark ‘N’ Burn
According to organizers of the Bark 'N' Burn class at Wag ‘N’ Tails in Shelby Charter Township, Michigan, which features equipment specifically designed for canine exercisers, there are lots of benefits to working out with your dog.
For example, classes can help socialize dogs who may not get many opportunities to hang out with their own kind.
Another benefit is that as a dog parent, your focus will be on your pet — not on your pain. "As they're doing some of these exercises, they don't even realize that they're working out, because they were so focused on their dog," says Christine Fox, owner of Wag ‘N' Tails.
Bark ‘N’ Burn classes feature specialized dog-centric conditioning equipment that can be used for core strengthening, increased range of motion and flexibility, neuromuscular facilitation, sensory and perceptual stimulation, joint alignment and balance control.
Choose From an Extensive Menu of Activities at K9 Fit Club®
Tricia Montgomery, founder of K9 Fit Club® in the Chicago area, developed her program after losing over 100 pounds several years ago while working out with her dog, Louie. Her classes combine cardio, agility and strength training, along with basic obedience training and commands.
K9 Fit Club offers several different classes with intriguing names, including Begging for Beginners, Bow Wow Bootcamp, Sit, Stay & Get Fit™, Rover Run Club™ and NamaSitStay™.
Power Walking With Your Dog
If the programs I mentioned above don’t float your boat or aren’t available in your area, you can still turn your pooch into your workout partner.
Unlike a human exercise buddy, your dog will always be ready to get up and go. And since dogs love having a daily routine they can count on, yours will be happy to remind you when it’s time for your daily workout.
Working out together can provide important health benefits for both you and your dog. These include lowering your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and joint disease. Not only will you get in better shape, but your canine companion will also benefit both physically and mentally.
Bored, under-exercised dogs often develop behavior problems that can be resolved by adding more physical activity into their daily routine.
If you do it right, power walks with your dog may just replace your need for a gym membership. And what could be better than spending some extra bonding time with your pet, while insuring he’s getting all the physical activity he needs to be healthy?
First, though, you have to “reprogram” your pooch if he’s grown accustomed to sniff-piddle-dawdle walks. Don’t expect to make a one-day transition from leisurely strolls to power walking. It will take several sessions for him to catch on.
Of course, you’ll also be taking your dog on casual walks, so you’ll need to help him learn to distinguish between the two. It could be a time of day thing — for example, you could schedule slower walks for first thing in the morning and again before bedtime, and workout walks happen at some point in between.
Or you could develop a verbal cue that tells your pet he’s about to go on a power walk. I also strongly encourage the use of a harness for exercising with your dog. A leash attached to his collar can quickly become a health hazard as you’re cruising city streets or even country roads.
Many dogs learn which walk they’re going on by whether the leash gets attached to their collar (short walk) or a harness (time to get serious!).
Getting the Most From Your Workouts
To get the most from workout walks, your dog needs to learn to move beside you at the same pace, rather than in front or behind you. When you’re power walking, jogging or running with your pet, he should be in the shoulder-at-knee heel position. This allows the two of you to move as one, and reduces the risk of smacking into each other along the way. If you need help training your dog to move well beside you on walks or runs, Karen Pryor's clicker training offers some excellent tips and tricks.
To make working out with your dog a true fitness-building experience, variety is key. Try increasing your pace after a short warm-up. Increase the distance you cover. Do interval training by speeding up your walking pace, or breaking into a jog or even a run for a block or two to raise your heart rate and your pet’s. Substitute an uphill hike or climb for your usual power walk.
Your dog will also benefit physically and mentally from playtime, so get creative and find ways to play with your pet that also provide you with exercise. If she likes running off leash at the dog park, run along with her. If she loves retrieving a ball, throw it and race her for it. Done correctly, working out with your canine partner can give you all the aerobic exercise you both need to stay well-conditioned.