Exercise With Your Dog to Improve Fitness Together
Catherine Cameron and Daisy are fitness buddies. They run together a few times a week, and depending on the season, they’ll be out snowshoeing or hiking or canoeing. Sometimes, they even do yoga together – although Daisy doesn’t know any moves beyond “downward-facing dog,” because, well, she is a dog.
Like many dog owners, Cameron has found exercising with her four-legged companion is an essential part of her fitness routine.
What began as regular dog walks turned into jogging and running with Daisy. Eventually, the 8-year-old golden retriever started vacationing with the family all over the country.
On a regular basis, the sheer number of walks Daisy requires – three to four every day – means her owner is always on the go. “I get an hour and a half of exercise every day, outdoors, all weather, that I probably wouldn’t otherwise get,” she says.
Having a dog can definitely be a health boost, research shows. One study from the University of Missouri-Columbia found walking a dog on a regular, long-term basis leads to weight loss – an average of 14 pounds for a group of dog walkers over a 50-week period, the study found – and encourages people to walk for longer periods of time in their daily life. It’s also one of the top ways to meet new people, which found the benefits of dog walking include an increase in physical activity and a stronger sense of community.
So here’s how dog owners can incorporate their pooch in a broader fitness routine:
Ramp up gradually
Going from regular walks to runs with a dog makes sense, but you need to start slowly. “You can’t expect a dog who’s not a runner to suddenly run great distances or high speed – having realistic expectations is important. Start with one mile brisk walks for a week, then one mile jogs for a week, gradually increase the distance which will also gradually toughen up the paw pads.
Dog owners often make the mistake of doing too much at the beginning, then getting frustrated when their dog can’t handle it. It’s best to start with consistent walking, then move that into a run or integrate running portions into regular walks, she says.
Keep your dog’s needs in mind
“It’s really important to consider your pet’s needs when you’re exercising,” says Cameron. When she and Daisy run together, it’s at a slower pace than when Cameron runs alone – and she keeps an extra water bottle for her running buddy in her water belt. “If she’s overheated, a run turns into a brisk walk,” Cameron says. This is especially important during August heat and humidity. If humidity is high, go for shorter walks and take a collapsible water bowl.
The age of your dog is also important. Puppies shouldn’t run on hard surfaces until they’re at least a year old – it can cause damage to their bones, she says – while older dogs often start to get sore and begin slowing down.
Think outside the box
Cameron has incorporated Daisy into many activities, from family hikes to canoe trips, which keep them both outside and active.
Even yoga (“doga”) can be fun with a dog, since you can train your pooch to do a few stretches with you. Aside from the fitness boost, it also encourages your dog to be in a calm state, she says.
And if you’re doing a dog-specific outing – like playing fetch or hitting the dog park – why not incorporate your own workout into the mix? “Instead of just standing there and throwing the ball, you can run while your dog is getting the ball, or stretch – any kind of movement.
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