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A New Year's Resolution for You and Your Pooch: Get Fit with Your Dog

Take this from a veterinarian and animal behaviorist who exercises with her own dogs and her clients' dogs regularly: combining the two can be a great way to bond as well as an efficient way to exercise.
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Is your New Year's resolution to loose weight and get fit? Well, if it is, remember that routines are easier if they involve a friend or partner. What better exercise partner than your dog? Take this from a veterinarian and animal behaviorist who exercises with her own dogs and her clients' dogs regularly: combining the two can be a great way to bond as well as an efficient way to exercise. The following are some tips to help you get fit with your dog.

Tip 1: Walking with your dog is a great exercise. Be sure that you're walking at a brisk pace. Your dog should be at a fast trot to benefit the most from the walk.

Tip 2: Ideally, your dog is walking by your side rather than pulling your arm out of your socket or dragging you to each bush to water the plants. As a result, it's best to incorporate dog training into the workout. Instead of feeding your pooch his meal before the walk, carry the kibble in a fanny pack or in your pockets and use it to reward him for good behavior. That is, reward him throughout the walk by giving him a kibble or two for remaining at your side. The goal is to reward him frequently at first so that he gets the idea where he should be, but then with successive walks or as the walk progresses, require that he walk longer distances by your side before he gets a reward. Ultimately you won't need to reward with portions of his meal; the walk itself will be rewarding.

Also consider trying a gentle leader head collar, which is like a head halter for dogs. By controlling the head, you can more easily control where your dog's body goes.

Tip 3: Will your dog run with you? Most dogs that engage in a good round of fetch or sprint around with dogs at the dog park can run at least a couple of miles. But to make the run fun for you, it's best if your dog can stay by your side instead of dragging you by the leash and messing up your running form. To train your dog to run nicely, start the same way you start with walks. That is, bring a portion of your dog's meal and reward him for being at your side. You can break your first runs into short running intervals interspersed with walks so that you can reward him both while he's running alongside you as well as when he slows down to your brisk walking pace. That way, you get him used to the conditioning and train him to stay at your side.

It's also easier to run if you have your hands-free leash. My favorite such leash is the buddy system:


Tip 4: Work on your dog's sit or down-stay while you perform calisthenics. For instance, have your dog lie down and reward him frequently with bits of his meal -- just frequently enough so that he remains lying down. Then increase the time in between treats by doing exercises. For instance, do a few squats and then reward Fido for remaining in his down-stay before he has a chance to get up. Systematically increase the number of squats or lunges or pushups that you do in between going back to reward him for staying in down-stay. This way, you can build up both duration and the distance you are away from him at the same time. The bonus here is that not only are you training him to lie down and stay, reliably, but you're training him to do so with the distraction you create by doing weird things in between. Graduate to jumping jacks and burpees -- dogs generally take these exercises to be a cue to get up and play. So be sure to hurry up and reward them for staying before they have a chance to get up.

Tip 5: Play fetch with your dog while you do calisthenics. This is a great way to ensure that your dog gets as much exercise as you do. If your dog does not have a 100-percent immediate come when called, make sure you're in a dog-safe area such as a backyard or fenced-in park. Toss the ball, and while he's running, see how many squats or pushups or jumping jacks you can get in before he gets back to you.

Mix Up the Routine

My Jack Russell Terrier and I do all of these, including sprints followed by some heeling followed by pushups, burpees or squats on my part. Make up your own routine using things you've learned in exercise class. It's a great way to work in your own exercise and quality time with your dog.


To see the New Year's Fitness workout I shared with my dog, read Get Fit with Your Dog: My New Year's Day Dog-Human Exercise Workout.

For tips on how to train your dog to behave politely so that you can work out easily, go to and read the blog articles or watch the videos.