Run with, not from, your dog

From the April 7th 2010 edition of The Lancaster News

It is estimated that more than 40 percent of animals in the United States are obese.  And just like their owners, overweight dogs face obesity issues ranging from arthritis to heart disease.

With the arrival of spring, exercising with your pet can be an affordable and fun alternative. In reading some recent research, I found statistics prove that if you exercise with your pet, you’re more likely to stick with your fitness program.

This means less time spending money for doctor and veterinarian’s office visits. Most dogs are bred for specific purposes ranging from hunting and herding to protecting their loved ones.

Don’t assume letting a dog out in a big yard is proper exercise. Most dogs are not running laps by themselves and are craving attention. Something as simple as throwing a Frisbee can help your dog control its weight, build energy and maintain strong cardiovascular and immune systems. Exercise will help you do exactly the same.

We adopted Ziggy from an animal shelter in April 2009. Ziggy had a hard life before becoming a member of our family. We’re his fourth owners and he was abused in the past. He’s come a long way in the last 12 months and has blossomed into his own personality. He still has a few quirky issues. I recently started Ziggy on his own canine cardio routine and he absolutely loves it.

As a collie/golden retriever mix, I guess you can say Ziggy was born to run. I enjoy running outdoors with him rather than always being on the treadmill. It gives us a chance to bond and spend time together. Ziggy recently started a doggie day camp with activities to jumpstart his health and wellness.

OK, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, he is spoiled.  Ziggy will even ride a “doggie school bus” to and from camp.

Getting started

Setting up an effective exercise regimen for a pet is not different than setting up your own. First, check with your veterinarian. You want to make sure you are matching the exercise to your dog’s abilities and there are no other health concerns. A dog with inflamed joints or arthritis needs a low-impact exercise routine.

Next, look for an exercise routine that is realistic for you, too. Consider your work schedule and your dog’s needs. Ziggy is still in beginner stages and has gotten used to running with me for about a mile. After that distance, he becomes stressed so I run him back home and before completing my 2.5 mile run.

When we got started, he could barely make it two blocks. Just like anything new, you must start off slow and build up to reach your goal. If you run on busy streets, your dog will have to get used to traffic and loud noises.

This could be a really big shock on their systems. Walk your running route first to look for possible obstacles and then go back the next day with your pet. Do it in intervals; let them run for a few seconds and then walk for a minute or two. You can build this process to as moderate or as intense as you would like.

You must also learn to control your dog on a leash as they run beside you.  They must understand their side and the side that they should stay on while running with you, the owner. This is very important and can prevent serious injury such as tripping over the dog leash or the dog itself while running.  Basic obedience training is highly recommended to make sure your dog understands and complies with commands.

By now, you may be asking, what kind of exercise you should do with your dog.
You can never go wrong with walking. Walking is one of the most basic exercises for you and your dog, especially if both of you are new to exercising. Walking is a great low impact, calorie-burning exercise that increases your cardiovascular system.

Try to take your dog on as long a walk as possible. Maintain a consistent pace and don’t avoid hills. Walking hills increases exercise intensity and forces the body to burn more calories.

Jogging is best matched with the right breed. All dogs aren’t suited for long term jogging. Research your dog’s bloodline and breed to see what works best for them. If you have a puppy, wait until it is at a certain maturity, and then build slowly. Jogging with your dog should include 5 minutes of warm up, 20 minutes of jogging, and 5 minutes of cool down time.

In hot weather, swimming is an enjoyable sport for both you and your pet.  Swimming is a low impact sport but don’t underestimate how tough this one can be. Swimming works many muscle groups, improving endurance while strengthening the heart and lungs. Not all dogs enjoy swimming, so just like all of forms of exercise, start off slow.

Playing Frisbee is a traditional sport that your pet may have a knack for.  There are actual competitions you and your dog can enter to encourage motivation. Once again this is one activity that requires proper behavior training.

Hiking is one of my favorite forms of exercise with Ziggy. Most animals enjoy new sights and smells. Right now, Ziggy enjoys the trails and running wide open while meeting other dogs and taking in blooming spring flowers. The important thing to remember with this one is to keep moving at a brisk pace.

Another Ziggy favorite is soccer. You can find various sizes of soccer balls at a local pet store to match your pet.

Ziggy usually does this in our hallway because of his past abuse issues. I just roll the ball down the hall for him to retrieve.  Sometimes dropping the soccer ball at my feet leads to little playful paw/foot action.

Playing ‘soccer’ with a pet is best suited for the park. Just kick the ball and let the dog chase or retrieve it. As a result you’ll both get a great workout and have a lot of fun to boot.

For the more advanced athlete, cycling is a great way to exercise together and burn calories. The trick is getting the dog to run beside you without doing all the work. A springer attached to your bike can absorb some of the force as your dog pulls. But with cycling, you have to keep a close eye on your best friend so you don’t overdo it.

It’s always important to maintain a safe training environment for you and your pet. Remember, you’re working too hard if you can’t speak. Called the “talk test” I always make sure clients can comfortably speak while working out. If you can hold a conversation after or during exercise, you are at a comfortable level of intensity. Speaking in broken sentences with long pauses and gasping for air is a definite sign of overexertion and slowing down the intensity is highly recommended.

Your dog may be working too hard if excessively panting, breathing too fast, or not obeying commands.
Regardless of what exercise you choose, it’s important for both of you to stay hydrated. The most common mistake I see people make with their pets when visiting the park is not providing water for their dogs. When you pack your water bottle, bring along a foldable water bowl for your best friend.

If you don’t have medical issues that bar you from exercising, you should make it a weekly regimen.
The bottom line is we have no excuses for not exercising.

If you can’t afford a gym membership or a personal trainer or dread working out in front of others, you will rationalize why you don’t exercise.

I’ll wager that if you have a stagnant lifestyle, your pet does, too.

Let’s show them the unconditional love they show us and get them on the healthy track. Exercising with your best friend is as fun as it is budget friendly. Until next time, train hard and eat healthy!

– Fitness expert and bodybuilder Kennett Washington is president of Healing Strength Personal Training.