Fitness Has Gone to the Dogs
Summer’s sticky heat can tempt us all to laze around. It’s easier to motivate yourself with a workout partner—and what about that furry, slobbery one thumping his tail against the door? Breaking a sweat with your canine will strengthen your bond and your body. The dog days are over!
The best outdoor workout partner you can find is already lying down in your living room. Sure he might chew your gym shoes and drink out of the toilet bowl, but that’s just to remind you that you haven’t gone for a sweat in a while—and you need to drink more water!
Has your dog ever brought you his leash or a ball? Has he jumped on top of you when you’re lying on the ground? Does he go ballistic when you say the word “walk”? Of course, he’s a dog! And dogs love to play, they love to walk, and they love to exercise. So why not exercise together?
Chubby puppy syndrome
Many dog owners who own a backyard assume that because they let their dog outside, it’s getting enough exercise. The reality is your dog is either waiting for you to come out and join him, or waiting to come back in. It’s the interaction with you that dogs crave.
If your dog is overweight, it could be at risk for many of the same issues that overweight humans face; maintenance of fitness for you and your dog is equally important.
In addition to a healthier dog, increasing exercise can help correct bad habits such as chewing or barking, or behavioural issues such as aggression or pulling while on leash. One of the world’s leading experts on canine behaviour, Cesar Millan (“The Dog Whisperer”), cites the need for dogs to burn off energy to reach a calm and submissive state. According to Millan, many disorders, such as separation anxiety and hyperactivity, can also be attributed to excessive nervous energy; treatment includes an elevated exercise regimen.
Your most supportive and motivational workout partner greets you at the door every time you come home, begging for a workout. Instead of tousling his head and telling him to go lie down, indulge him in a little walk around the block. It might make your day— and your dog’s.
Friends with benefits
Just owning a dog is proven to have mental and physical benefits. Research shows that dog owners are 57 to 77 percent more likely to achieve daily recommended physical activity levels. Additionally, dog owners, on average, have a more positive outlook on many life factors.
You can walk with him, run with him, or bike with him (if your dog is already fit), or you can try these fun, fitness-building exercises that are sure to strengthen and lengthen the bond between you and your best friend.
Fit for a dog daily workout
Target: cardiovascular system strengthening
In the beginning, alternate 3 minutes of walking with 30 seconds of jogging, 10 times. Do this routine a few times until it feels easy (you’ll notice Rover has more energy during the walking portion).
Shadow dog tag
Target: agility, balance, and cardiovascular strengthening
For this exercise you need a playful pooch and some space (if you play this indoors, you’ll need to hide your breakables).
There are two types of dogs: chasers and chasees; either will work nicely. Start by facing your dog, staring it straight in the eyes, while being very still. After 10 seconds or so of unbroken eye contact, feign as if you are going to jump at it. If it jumps at you, you are being chased; if it starts to run, you are the aggressor.
Basically, the game is tag, but you face your dog the whole time and react to its movements. Play for 30 to 60 seconds to start, and then rest for 60 seconds.
Try to do this 5 times.
Tug of war
Target: whole body strength and stability
What dog doesn’t love a tug of war? You can use rope, an old sturdy rag, or even just a stick. Start with your right hand and pull on the object for 3 seconds (using slightly more strength than your dog provides so the object’s being pulled toward you), and then let your dog pull your arm straight.
Do this 12 times on the right and then 12 on the left.
Target: leg strengthening and cardiovascular strengthening
Find a set of stairs at a park or local trail, the longer the better. In the beginning, just walk up and down the stairs with your dog. This will train your legs and lungs, and will strengthen the dog’s entire body.
When you both get more fit, you can run up 10 steps and then walk 10, eventually running the whole thing. If at first you need to stop for breaks, do so; chances are your pup is tired too.
Do stairs for 5 to 10 minutes.
Downward dog to upward dog (modified cobra)
Target: strengthens chest, triceps, shoulders, and core while stretching hamstrings, abdominals, and back
After completing the other exercises, you and your best friend will be ready for a stretch. Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders. Pull your backside up toward the ceiling as you shift your weight back toward your heels. As you shift your weight forward, bend your arms and scoop your chest and then hips toward the ground, finishing with straight arms, pushing your chest up, and looking up toward the ceiling, in a modified cobra position. Inhale and then return to starting position.
Complete this 8 times, being sure to breathe deeply throughout.
Is your dog the optimal weight?
You can assess whether your dog is over or underweight by standing above him and looking down. Dogs should have an hourglass figure. Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to see their ribs, but when you put your hands on their sides and lightly press in, you should be able to feel their ribs. If you can’t see or feel the ribs, you’ve got a chubby puppy.
Step it up
When you feel ready, scale down the amount of time you walk, while increasing the amount of time you jog. The ultimate goal is to achieve a 1:1 ratio, where your “jog” becomes a brisk run.
Don’t have a dog?
Don’t worry! There are plenty of dogs that need walking and attention at your local animal shelter, such as the SPCA or Humane Society. Simply contact the dog shelter closest to you and ask how you can get involved. Many of these dogs are also waiting for new homes. You can register as a foster parent to help dogs feel comfortable and well taken care of while they wait for a permanent home.