Working out is better with a buddy. They keep you motivated and accountable. It also doesn’t hurt if they have four paws and never complain about powering through an a.m. run. Don’t let the cooler temps fool you, spring will soon be in the air and with it a sense of new beginnings (and, perhaps, an extra sense of urgency to whip that bod back into summer shape). Enlist your trusted four-legged friend, get outside and get going on those renewed health goals. Certified professional dog trainer Michael Schaier is sharing his advice on starting a dog-friendly workout routine off on the right foot…err…paw. Fido and your waistline will thank you.
Ease Into It
Committing to an exercise routine with your dog is beneficial in more ways than one, said Schaier, owner of Mineola-based Michael’s Pack and author of What Can You Expect When You Are Expecting A Puppy. Schaier, who trains dozens of dogs each week, often sees a common denominator when it comes to pet fitness on Long Island: “Seventy-five percent of dogs don’t get the proper amount of exercise.” Starting your pup on a regular workout plan can reverse behavioral issues such as barking or nipping, and combat obesity.
With that in mind, Fido is not becoming Air Bud any faster than you’re going from couch potato to marathon runner. Like all goals, this will take time and training. Ease into it if your dog is not used to extended periods of exercise. Schaier suggests starting with a 20-minute brisk walk and taking a quick pit-stop half way through.
As you increase your collaborative fitness, decide how you and your dog want to rev up your routine, said Schaier. There’s plenty to do: more frequent brisk walks or running programs, for starters. If you’re up for a challenge or a new adventure check out local classes that allow Fido to workout with you. Doggie-friendly yoga, standup paddle boarding, even cross-training programs are becoming increasingly popular. “Every breed from Rottweilers to Pomeranians and in between loves doing agility work,” Schaier said. “And, they need it.”
Like people, dogs need to find the right exercise to suit their build, age and general health. A five-month-old puppy will not be able to keep up on a five-mile bike ride the same way a senior bulldog might not be too keen on swim classes. Exercising with a partner is about taking time to connect and bond. The same goes with your with pet. Think of tossing a ball or throwing a Frisbee at a dog-friendly park or beach as a great low-intensity way to shake up your workout and have fun with Fido. “Gradually increase time as well as endurance,” Schaier said. “With the weather getting nicer, I highly recommend these type of activities.”
The Great Indoors
Spring showers are par for the course, but it doesn’t have to derail your fitness regimen. An at-home treadmill is great for days when the weather’s lousy and hitting the gym isn’t in the cards. It’s also a surprisingly great way for you and your canine companion to stay in shape indoors, Schaier said. While you may reserve notions of dogs on treadmill to funny, albeit impressive YouTube videos, Schaier said it’s easier to train your dog to use a treadmill with you than you’d think.
“First, have your dog treat the treadmill like it’s a piece of furniture,” Schaier said. “Let them get use to the treadmill while it’s off and have them do some sits and downs and stays on the machine. The next step is to have the dog doing the same type of work off the treadmill, but I’ll put the treadmill on so they get used to the sound. Once the sound doesn’t affect the dog anymore then get on the treadmill with the dog on a leash. Straddle the dog, having him face the same way as you and start off at a very, very slow pace with the dog on a leash so he doesn’t slide back. I’ve worked with dogs that took one day to run on the treadmills, other dogs it takes a month for them to get comfortable enough to get on.” You shouldn’t assume the dog will ever be able to go leash-free for a solo workout, he added.
Rewards Make It Worth It
Downing a hot fudge sundae after reaching a particular challenging fitness or weight loss goal isn’t exactly a step in the right direction. Not that a reward to celebrate your accomplishments isn’t in order. But, instead of reaching for a high-fat treat, opt instead for a relaxing mani-pedi or killer outfit you’ve been eyeing.
Just like you’re editing your diet, Fido needs to also, Schaier said. Positive reinforcement goes along way, especially if you’re teaching your pup a new “trick” like running along side your bike or standing on a paddleboard. And while a treat is perfectly acceptable from time-to-time, Schaier recommends non-food rewards since obesity is common in dogs no matter their breed. “You want you pup to actually enjoy his life as much as you do, so treat him with love and new toys and leave out the sweet treats and chewy dog bones.”