Your Best Workout Buddy
Say the word exercise and many people respond with one word: ugh. Or they may come up with a half-dozen excuses why they can’t make it to the gym or reasons their bike gathers cobwebs in the garage.
He urges people to replace the word exercise with motion. Each time you lift, bend down, twist, turn, throw, walk, run or even skip, you’re improving your digestion, melting body fat, and fortifying your body against a host of medical woes. “I tell my patients to consider a refreshingly new approach to fitness — a crosstraining, cross-species approach: Work out with your dog,” Dr. Hamner said. “My dog, Zook, a Japanese Chin, loves to join me in casual jogs through Central Park.”
Keeping your body in motion is like putting gold in the bank. A national study by the American Heart Association reported that burning 2,000 calories a week by performing a physical activity — such as walking an hour a day for a week — could increase life expectancy by two full years.
Why not step into an exercise program with your dog? You can become fit and healthy together. You’ll enjoy more happy years together, have improved strength and flexibility, be at reduced risks for heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and other conditions, and save money on doctor and veterinary bills, Dr. Hamner said.
“A dog who doesn’t receive adequate exercise will find another outlet for that pent-up energy, such as chewing on the sofa.”
An added bonus: You may discover that you have a much better behaved dog, said Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and Director of the Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
“Quite often, the cause behind doggie destructiveness in the home is sheer boredom,” said Dr. Dodman, author of If Only They Could Speak (W. W. Norton). “A dog who doesn’t receive adequate exercise will find something to do to release that pent-up energy. That may mean chewing on the sofa or digging up the garden.”
Before you lace your sneakers and start getting serious about regular workouts, get a complete physical exam from your doctor, Dr. Hamner said. Then book an appointment with your veterinarian to give your dog a head-to-tail physical. Discuss the best workout plan for your dog based on health, age, body shape, likes and dislikes.
“From a cardiovascular perspective, your dog’s overall health will be benefited by keeping him toned and trimmed,” said John Rush, DVM, board-certified by the American Colleges of Veterinary Internal Medicine in cardiology and Emergency and Critical Care, Professor of Clinical Sciences at Tufts. “There is very clear evidence in people of the major association between cardiovascular disease and the lack of physical activity and having extra pounds. Overweight dogs often have extra fat deposits on their chest walls or inside their chest cavities, which puts added burdens on their cardiovascular and respiratory systems.”
Keep in mind that no two dogs are the same. What may work, exercise-wise, for one dog may not work for another, even if they’re the same breed. Generally, longlegged, light-framed dogs are best suited for jogging and leaping. Short-legged, stocky-framed dogs are built for short energy bursts and steady-paced walks.
But there are always the exceptions: the low-to-the-ground Dachshund who craves a spirited jog down the block or the Golden Retriever who prefers long, loping walks over mile-long runs.
Begin major activities with a five-minute warm-up to stretch your dog’s muscles. Using a treat for motivation, have your dog jump up on you. Then instruct your dog to get into a “play bow,” with outstretched front legs, head down low and rear up in the air.
If willing, have your dog do a figure-8 in between and around your legs, recommended Linda Caplan, a professional dog trainer and licensed aerobics instructor for people from Lebanon, Conn.
Depending on your dog’s condition, start with a five-minute walk, gradually working up to 30 minutes or longer. Equally important: Size up your dog. Dogs of extreme sizes like the gigantic Bull Mastiffs or the itty-bitty like Yorkshire Terriers usually require less exercise than mid-sized breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers. Make a date with your dog daily – even if you can spare only 10 undivided minutes with him. For starters, break up the monotony of the nightly walk, said Susan Greenbaum, a professional dog trainer who operates the Barking Hills Country Club in Milford, N.J. Don’t take your dog back inside as soon as he eliminates.
Vary your routes and stop occasionally to practice obedience commands and fun tricks. Have your dog “Sit” or “Roll over” or “Gimme paw.”
These actions reinforce his mental focus and provide a good workout so that, when he comes inside, he’s ready to relax. Avoid turning your dog into a weekend warrior by working out with him only on Saturdays and Sundays.
A dog who’s had an overly strenuous workout will sleep through loud television programs. One who’s had adequate exercise will sit contently.