It’s been quite a while since we’ve had another one of my “stories from the dog park”, so why not today? Last week, Janice, Leroy, and I headed to our local hot spot to let the dogs get in a good run. Both of them have had a bit of extra energy lately, and it’s always nice to see which dogs at the park they can convince to have a race. But not all the dogs at the park are up for such spirited exercise.
There is a Beagle that shows up from time to time named Baby. Baby is about five or six years old, and like many Beagles, she’s pretty overweight. This breed struggles with obesity and can gain weight fast if they are allowed any sort of extra calories. Her owner is a very straightforward woman who, in her own words, “also needs to lose a few pounds”. We were talking last week while the Boxers ran around like big goofy tornados, and she informed me that she and Baby had started working out together. I thought that was a pretty neat idea. Dogs are already great exercise partners, since they need regular walking and exercising to stay healthy. But the idea of an overweight dog, and an out-of-shape owner, getting fit together, is pretty awesome.
Last update on 2019-01-17 at 16:55 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
If you haven’t been keeping your New Year’s Resolution to lose the pounds yet this year, there’s definitely still time – and your dog could be the best accountability partner you have. They won’t let you forget that it’s time for some fun, and you may feel more motivated by knowing you are also helping them get healthier. Here are some great fitness tips for you and your dog.
One of the best ways to workout if you are out of shape and can’t exercise for long periods, is interval training. Essentially, you are teaching your body to handle sustained exercise by taking baby steps. You start by walking for a few minutes, then sprinting for just a few seconds – even as little as 10 or 20 seconds. Then you walk again for a few minutes. Then sprint again. And so on. Over time, you increase your sprint times, and decrease your walk times, till you’re able to run for many minutes at a time.
Your dog does a very similar thing when she plays fetch. They walk, then sprint to the ball, then walk back to you to start over. It’s the perfect marriage of exercise – you can even motivate yourself by trying to beat your dog to the ball. All you have to do is find a safe, fenced in area where you and your dog can walk and sprint off-leash. Walk with your dog, and right before it’s time to sprint, throw the ball. Then take off after your dog and try to keep up! Then do it again. Your dog will love the added challenge of beating you to the ball.
If you aren’t really interested in running or gym activities, you may find that the best exercise for you is walking. To really burn calories, you’ll need to do quite a lot of walking. Hiking in National Parks, State Parks, on local walking trails, or in any place that gives you a nice long path to follow. You can keep your mind off the exercise by taking in some gorgeous sights along the way, and you may even discover a new hobby in bird watching or plant identifying.
Your pup is a great companion for long hikes. Overweight dogs who aren’t able to run a lot will do great on hikes. Start with shorter hikes, around a mile or so, and work your way up to longer hikes over time. If you are in a public place, or a place where there is no fence to keep your dog in the area, you’ll need a good leash. If you want your hands free for a long hike, try a leash that connects your dog to your waist. Also be sure to bring water for the both of you.
If age, or being out of shape, has done a number on your joints, swimming is a great way to shed a few pounds and stay mobile. You don’t have to automatically head to the water aerobics class, though. Swimming laps every day is a fantastic thing to do for your muscles, your respiratory system, your endurance, and your metabolism. But it can be a kind of lonely exercise.
If you have the kind of dog that loves the water, you can make your water workouts a lot of fun. Find a dog-friendly swimming pool, put one up yourself, or even go swimming in a lake or pond that you know to be safe. Take along a floating fetch toy, and throw it as far as you can. Then race your dog in the water to the toy. Think of this like interval training, but in a way that may be easier for your joints. You may need to get your dog a life jacket if they aren’t expert swimmers. If you do go swimming with your dog, make sure there is a lifeguard or help nearby, just in case.
Do you love the idea of being calm, flexible, and having a very strong core? Yoga is a very good exercise to try. It can be customized for people of all sizes, ages, fitness levels, and abilities. Yoga is fantastic if you don’t want to break a sweat (or if you do – there are “hot yoga” classes as well!) Yoga can be practiced at home, at parks, alone, with groups, in classes, and really anywhere you have enough room to do a push-up.
Your dog can do yoga with you. There are plenty of dog yoga classes that exist out there, but you can also find instructional videos online that show you how to train your dog to do yoga with you at home. They’ll get to stretch and be with you, while you work on strengthening your core and maintaining a healthy body and mind. True, it’s not the same as active exercise for a dog – but’s a good addition to your routine.
If you’ve ever wanted to run a 5K, but you would label yourself as more of a couch potato, there is a free training program online called “Couch to 5K”. In this program, you do something very similar to interval training, but with jogging rather than sprinting. Slowly, you work up from very little jogging and lots of walking to jogging a full 5K. This program has helped tons of self-proclaimed couch potatoes learn how to run, and how to enjoy running. The fact that you are working towards being able to run a 5K is very motivating for people – it gives them a concrete goal to focus on.
There is now a doggie version of this program! It is very similar, asking you to repeat a series of walking and jogging intervals until you are jogging about half a mile. At that stage, you start increasing your jog to three quarters of a mile, a full mile, a mile and a quarter, and so on. This program gets you to jogging a full three miles (a 5K) with your dog in two months. It does include plenty of rest days, for both you and your dog. If you are running on hot pavement, like sidewalks, consider getting your dog some summer-time booties to protect their paws. At the end of the two months, you and your dog could participate in a canine-friendly 5K to support a local dog shelter or charity!
Those five exercises can help both you and your dog to improve your fitness. But while you are doing this, you must remember that you are responsible for the health of two beings – yourself, and your dog. You need to monitor your out-of-shape dog, and you need to monitor yourself. In your dog, look for signs such as:
If your dog is doing any of that, you should head to the vet. At this stage, your dog is likely suffering from either heat stroke or extreme dehydration. Be sure to always keep water on you for your dog, and rest in shady areas if the day is extremely hot. Try to schedule your routine so that you are working out in the coolest part of the day (or the warmest part if it’s winter).
In yourself, be sure to watch for signs such as extremely excessive sweating, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, changes in your vision, extreme chest pains, or extreme pain in any of your joints.
If you have decided to stick with long walks for now, that’s also a great way to get in shape with your dog! Consider switching up the walk route you take every week or so. This will keep your dog interested because they’ll have more to explore, smell, and learn along the way. After they’ve smelled the same route hundreds of times, they’ll get bored and may not want to go out with you.
It’s also a very good idea to connect with both your vet and your doctor before starting an exercise plan with your dog. Get both of you checked out to make sure that you are both healthy enough for any program you have planned. You may need to start with something that advances your activity a bit slower to keep you both healthy.
Finally, keep in mind that getting in shape involves eating right too! Just like humans, dogs’ health is more impacted by what they eat in the long run. The saying goes “you can’t outrun your fork”, and that’s true for dogs too. Consider switching your dog to a lower-calorie food that offers real animal protein for energy, and will keep them full and healthy without packing on extra pounds.
Last update on 2019-01-17 at 16:55 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
I’m not sure what program Baby and her owner have decided to tackle together, but I’m excited to see Baby’s progress. Maybe there will come a day when she can run and play with Janice and Leroy at the park like the other dogs. I know two Boxers who wouldn’t mind having yet another pal to run around with.
There are tons of other ways to exercise with your dog that don’t include running or yoga just for the sake of running. For example, if your dog likes to fetch and chase, I bet they would make a great partner for a game of football or soccer in the backyard. You’ll get to run around, and so will they. If you get creative with the types of exercise you like, you can definitely find ways to include your dog.
I would caution you against trying to ride a bike or rollerblade with your dog unless they are specifically trained for this. There is a lot of potential for danger when you involve wheels in the exercise equation with a dog.
But even if you can’t come up with any better ideas other than walking, you can still make this fun for the both of you. Find a more challenging place to walk, such as through the sand on a beach, or uphill. Bring along music, audiobooks, or podcasts to keep your attention off the boredom of exercise. Let your dog stop and smell whatever he wants to keep him happy – you can always do a few stretches, jog in place, or do some jumping jacks while he does that.
The key is to keep in mind that you are doing your dog a huge favor helping him lose a bit of weight, and you’re also making sure your dog always has a loving caregiver by taking care of your own health.