Those adoring eyes, that wagging tail, the happy-go-lucky grin: your dog is a furry ball of love. But what you may not realize is that he’s also a natural fitness partner. The American Heart Association recently reported that dog owners tend to be in better physical condition than non–pet parents: they have a lower risk of heart disease, a reduced incidence of obesity, an increased level of activity, and an improved ability to deal with stress.
Since your pooch is already helping you lead a more active life, consider maximizing those health benefits by making your daily walks and doggie play sessions more of a workout. Angi Aramburu, fitness trainer and founder of a dog-and-owner exercise program called Go Fetch Run in Brooklyn, New York, has these pointers for shaping up with man’s best friend.
1. Walk Briskly Around the Block
Picking up the pace burns extra calories and helps get your heart pumping without being taxing. If your dog is accustomed to a short walk, start by strolling slightly faster and extending your distance by a block or two. Each time you take things up a level, give Fido (and you) a week to get used to it. Just like people, pups that are not used to moving much need to slowly increase their activity level or risk injury.
2. Play Race to the Ball
Fetch you already know, but you’ll break more of a sweat and torch more calories by hurling a ball as far as you can and then running with him to retrieve it. He’ll think it’s a race, which will make him (and you) go faster. If your throwing arm isn’t very strong, try the Chuckit! Ball Launcher to extend your range.
3. Train Him While You Move
Combine muscle-building interval sprints with canine training: Using an extra long (30 ft.) leash, order your pooch to “sit and stay,” then run forward for the length of the leash. As you rest, command Fido to “come” and watch him run happily to you.
4. Do Lunges on the Leash
Test your dog’s discipline by commanding him to walk slowly by your side as you do five lunges in a row. When you stop to rest for 10 seconds, he should “stay” until you start moving again. You’ll build stronger thigh and calf muscles—and he’ll wag his tail in bliss knowing that he’s pleased you.
5. Run With a Pack
As with any other routine, you may be more inclined to stick with it if you find a supportive social circle. If you and Rover don’t already go to a local dog park, beach, or run, locate one in your area here. Or sign up for a dog-human fitness class, a fun way to get moving and bond with your furry buddy. See the box below for links to programs across the country.
6. Hit the Trails
Dogs make excellent hiking companions, but stick to a flat terrain unless you and he are experienced hikers, and avoid rocky trails with pebbles and stones that can be sharp or heat up in the sun, potentially irritating your dog’s paws.
7. Hydrate Often
Don’t forget to keep yourself and your pooch watered when you’re moving around, especially in the summer. A good rule of thumb: About every half hour, pour him some water from your own bottle into a foldable dog bowl like the colorful ones sold at your favorite pet supply stores.