5 easy exercises for you and your dog

5 easy exercises for you and your dog

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5 easy exercises for you and your dog

You may have heard that having an exercise buddy can help you stick to a fitness plan. It turns out, the best workout partner may be right at your feet: your pooch. Whether you're running in the rain or walking through the snow when it's -30C, chances are your dog will be ready and willing to join in.

"Dogs have a natural zest for life that humans, if we could capture it for ourselves, would find makes fitness plans much more successful," says Jennifer Panko, a registered veterinary technician and certified canine rehabilitation practitioner at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

Despite my dog Bink's small stature, I can attest to a dog's huge motivational power: This former couch potato now hits the trails daily, takes part in weeknight street-safety classes and hikes every Sunday through the provincial parks and conservation areas bordering Toronto.

At the end of a long day, I'm not always excited to swap my heels for sneakers and take my dog for a long walk. But knowing he needs the exercise – and relies on me to meet that need – gets me out the door every time. Daily physical activity can prevent weight-related problems for your dog, such as osteoarthritis and knee injuries. It also helps fight boredom and is great for mental stimulation – benefits that help your dog behave.

"Fitness is a great long-term investment in your dog's health and longevity," says Panko. Feeling motivated? Here are five great ways to get fit with Fido.

1. Walking
It's time for an honest question: Is your dog walking enough? Most dogs need to spend at least an hour exercising each day. A daily stroll is great for fitness and it keeps your canine happy, says Panko. It can also curb misbehaviour by giving your pet the chance to burn off energy and socialize with other dogs.

"If dogs have infrequent interactions with other dogs, when they do interact, they may become anxious or aggressive," says Panko.

Colleen Pope of Queensville, Ont., says when her happy-go-lucky field spaniel, Cooper, joined the family, there wasn't much emphasis on getting fit together. But meeting a group of dog owners who actively walk and hike with their pets changed her mind.

"It was the whole philosophy of giving your dog what he needs," says Colleen. "I like to be active; I can take Cooper along with me and give him that outlet to release his energy."

Now they regularly walk around their scenic neighbourhood, and Colleen says Cooper is more relaxed and doesn't get into much trouble.

Best in show: "Every dog likes to walk – and should!" says Panko. If you can't do an hour all at once, go out a couple of times for 30 minutes.

Mix it up:
Walking in the park can be fun, but it can get a little monotonous. Try adding walking lunges to your daily outings. Each time you lunge forward, pull up on your dog's leash to signal him to sit. Hold the lunge for as long as it takes Spot to sit down.
2. Hiking
Hiking has cardiovascular benefits, but navigating over uneven terrain also works a lot of muscle groups. "Not only does hiking work your dog's quadriceps, hamstrings and core muscles, but the variety of surfaces also improves his proprioception (his knowledge of where his body is in space), coordination and ability to react," says Panko.

Hiking is also good for the soul. After hitting the trails, it's amazing how healthy and happy Bink and I feel. By the time we get home, we're ready for a nap. And Panko agrees that a tired dog is a happy dog.

Best in show: Outdoorsy dogs that like adventure, such as German shorthaired pointers, Labs, pugs and golden retrievers, make ideal hikers.

Mix it up: Boost the cardiovascular benefits of your hike by adding some interval training. Panko recommends starting with two-minute intervals of light jogging on your hike and working your way up to five-minute intervals of jogging or running.

3. Running
Dogs are often at home alone all day, so going for a run can be a great way to get rid of their built-up energy. "Running has a great cardiovascular fitness component to it," says Panko. "Just be sure to go at a pace your dog is OK with."

She suggests beginning with a consistent walking program, then moving to interval training, then hiking and, finally, running. "Treat your dog as you would treat yourself," says Panko. "Make sure he stretches, warms up and then cools down after a run."

Start by having your dog lie on his side. Gently flex and extend each joint in each limb to its limit, holding for approximately 20 seconds. Start with his right front paw, then his elbow and, finally, his shoulder. Then stretch his right back paw, knee and hip. Repeat on his left side.

Best in show: Dogs with long legs that are typically obedient and like to stay with their owners, such as vizslas, Weimaraners, poodles and Rhodesian ridgebacks, make great running partners.

Mix it up: Run in a zigzag. "Making a constant S shape works your dog's coordination and proprioception," says Panko.

4. Taking Classes
Fitness classes, such as those offered by 6Legs to Fitness, typically include interval and strength training for both you and your pet. You can expect to do pushups, sit-ups and
lunges. You'll also learn how to guide your dog over obstacles, such as park benches and picnic tables, which activates his muscles and provides strength training.

Taking a fitness class together can improve your relationship. Showing your dog that you can run and move with him and give him direction helps build a bond, says Laurence Ormond, a 6Legs to Fitness instructor in Kelowna, B.C. I love the group dynamic of the classes Bink and I have taken. There are people and pooches of all ages and fitness levels, and the instructors are very good at tailoring classes and exercises to individual needs.

Just be wary of what Panko calls "weekend warrior" exercise programs – those with prolonged intense activities. Train your dog slowly and gradually. Pushing him (or yourself) to do too much in a short time can lead to injury.

Best in show: Classes are great for well-trained dogs with lots of personality. Dogs that like variety and have a zest for life, such as goldendoodles, will enjoy them.

5. Biking
If you're not a runner but you want your dog to reap the benefits of a good jaunt, biking could fill the bill. "My dog, Jake, and I bike all the time," says Ormond. "It gets him running – something all dogs need to do."

The key to a safe and fun ride is having a well-trained dog that is not easily distracted (read: won't pull you into the street to chase a squirrel). Introduce him to the bike slowly, says Ormond. Start by going for a walk, guiding your bike along beside you with one hand and walking your dog with the other hand. He can get used to the way the bike sounds and moves before you cruise down the street.

You'll also want to hold your dog's leash (a six-foot leash works best) in the hand farthest from the street, preventing him from potentially running onto the road. And never tie the leash to the bike or to yourself. Panko says she sees injured dogs at the rehab centre who have been accidentally run over by their owners.

By holding the leash in your hand, you have more control over how close your dog gets to your bike.

Best in show:
Working breeds, such as border collies, pointers, hounds and Australian shepherds, make good biking buddies. "They might herd the bike, though," laughs Panko.

This story was originally titled "See Spot Run" in the March 2013 issue.

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5 easy exercises for you and your dog