Fitness Programs | Sit, Heel, Jump, Now Twirl! Exercise, Even Dancing, with Man’s Best Friend

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Sit, Heel, Jump, Now Twirl! Exercise, Even Dancing, with Man’s Best Friend

Starting an Exercise Program with Your Dog
Tips from the Animal Behavior Consultant

Before embarking on any physical activity program, Moore recommends a physical check-up for you and your dog. A veterinarian may identify a health condition, such as arthritis pain or overweight, which may require medical treatment or exercise precautions.

“Dogs are such pleasers that they won’t tell you when they’re too tired ,” Moore wrote in her book. A dog will exceed his or her physical boundaries, such as run faster or farther, which could cause health problems and injuries. Here’s a list of signs that your pet is running into trouble or needs a break from activity:

  • Rapid panting: An early sign of overheating
  • Weight shifting—using different muscle groups to offset soreness
  • Drooping tongue
  • Staggered walking
  • Hesitation—taking a few extra seconds before retrieving a tossed ball
  • The TV test: Dubbed by Suzanne Clothier, a professional dog trainer and breeder, the TV test tells you if a dog has been exercising too much or too little. A dog craving more exercise will often get between you and your favorite television show. A bone-tired dog, however, will flop on the floor and barely move, even during a noisy show. A happy dog will sit by your side, lightly snooze or chew on a bone.

It’s the start of a New Year and even your best friend agrees: It’s time to work off those extra pounds. Luckily for you, your friend is eagerly waiting at the door to walk and run with you.

But instead of just plodding along, why not surprise your buddy with a new routine? How about a boot-camp class, agility training or freestyle dancing? You see, exercising with your dog will make you bond and leap to new health. Even the experts agree.

“Your dog is the best workout buddy,” said Arden Moore, an animal behavior consultant and author of Healthy Dog: The Ultimate Fitness Guide for You and Your Dog. A recent study by the University of Missouri showed that volunteers who walked a dog at their local shelter just an hour a week lost up to a pound a month. “It's a great way to help out the animals and also to lose weight,” said Gene Baierschmidt, Executive Director of the Humane Society of Utah.

Walk the Dog, Lose the Fat

With nearly two-thirds of the United States population being overweight and not getting enough exercise, teaming up with your dog may be your answer to getting into a daily workout routine. To achieve a healthy lifestyle takes good eating habits and daily physical activity, or as Moore puts it: “What we put on our plate and in our dog’s bowl goes a long way with our health and longevity.”

According to the new exercise guidelines, released this October, adults should accumulate at least 2 ½ hours of aerobic-type physical activity a week. Strength training, which is important to replace lost muscle mass and strengthen bones, should be done twice a week. ACE’s extensive exercise library is a safe and effective guide for proper strength-training technique.

With 16 percent of U.S. children being obese, Fido could be a real life-saver. Children need at least an hour a day of moderate physical activity. With many children eating junk food while playing video games and watching television, this young generation is often less healthy than their parents. With obesity being a risk-factor for chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, eating right and jogging with the family pet could help your child achieve a normal, healthy weight.

So let’s explore some ways to get the entire family on the move toward a healthier 2009.

Leash Your Fitness

Once an exclusive club reserved for Marines and Navy recruits, military-style boot camp programs are already a phenomenon among average folks trying to get in shape. Now Dawn Celapino unleashed a boot camp-style program specifically for dog owners and their four-legged companions.

Celapino, an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, recently introduced “Leash Your Fitness,” a 60-minute boot camp-style workout at the Markim Pet Resort, a boarding facility and training school for dogs, in San Diego.

During class, handlers and their leashed dogs jump over obstacles, run backward, forward and to the side, and even weave around cones. They’re also asked to follow commands. For instance, when Celapino yells “sit,” handlers need to stop their dogs in action and make them sit on a mat. While Fido is sitting still, the owner performs a strength-training move, such as curling a dumb bell, balancing on one leg while petting the dog on the head, or assumes a yoga plank position.

When it’s all said and done, each team will have done a 10-minute warm-up; about 16 rotations of 3-minute cardio and 1-minute balancing, strength and yoga exercises; and end with a 10-minute cool-down.

“We do every cardio segment for about three minutes followed by a one-minute balancing, strength or yoga movement, and then go back to cardio,” Celapino explained.

Needless to say, aggressive dogs are not allowed in this class. A dog trainer is on staff to provide assistance, when needed. Celapino wants dogs to be able to follow at least four basic commands—sit, down, stay and heel, adding, “We are of course, lenient in this department.”

For older dogs and handlers, who want to refrain from running and jumping, Celapino also offers a 60-minute walking class, incorporating bands, strength and other exercises using one’s own body weight.

“Everyone is doing the same thing, so we can keep an eye on the group,” Celapino said. For more information on classes and pricing, visit leashyourfitness.com.

Agility Classes

If your dog has looks, brains, speed and is named ‘Rocky’ or ‘Storm,’ you may have a perfect breed for agility. Agility dog training, the fastest growing dog sport in the United States, involves teaching a dog how to maneuver around a timed obstacle course. The handler signals the way as your dog runs through tunnels, navigates jumps and weaves through plastic poles, often running alongside or up front to guide the dog from obstacle to obstacle, Moore said talking from personal experience.

“You have to be positioned at the right spot to usher the dog to the next obstacle,” she said. Agility dogs love it and handlers get a great cardiovascular workout from running along.

“There are people who have lost extra pounds,” Moore said. The dog with the best time and least amount of errors wins. Dogs of all sizes run these courses with adjustments in expected time and jump height. “Big dogs compete against big dogs and little dogs against little ones, so all are on equal paw,” Moore said.

Many agility enthusiasts, however, say that training a dog requires a lot of patience and time. Not all dogs are born agility champions. Herding breeds, such as Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, dominate the sport. Hunting dogs often also excel at this sport: “They are amazingly fast learners and follow directions; they are also fast and travel at high speeds for long distances,” according The Hunting Dog Website.

For more information on agility training and a training center near you contact the United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. (USDAA) online or call 972-231-9700.

Dog Freestyling

If you’ve never heard of dog freestyle competitions, it is a real treat to watch a pro team shake their buttocks and tails on the dance floor. Watching a video of Carolyn Scott and her Golden Retriever Rookie turn and weave in sync to the song “You’re the one that I want” from the movie Grease on YouTube could bring tears of joy. At the very least, the bond between this handler and dog will leave you in awe.

Originally developed in Canada in the 1980s and brought to the United States in the 1990s, freestyling of choreographed musical performances by handlers and dogs, remains the “underdog” in the dog training world.

For the organizing clubs and enthusiasts, freestyling is a serious sport. Some learn by watching one another participate in charity events; others train for national competitions at the highest level as demonstrated by Scott and Rookie. While beautiful to watch, perfecting the synchronizing moves to music takes endless hours of practice and could arguably be more of a workout for the dog than its owner. For some, it’s a mere bonding experience. For more information on freestyle dancing, visit the World Canine Freestyle Organization online or call 703-323-7216.

Whatever your choice of exercise with your best friend, the sooner you start, the sooner you’re on your way to a healthful and more active year. Make 2009 the year for real change.


Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at marion.webb@acefitness.org.


  • American Council on Exercise (ACE) is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
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