Walk anywhere through Doylestown and you can just tell it’s a dog town.  It’s no wonder that we’re gearing up for our first ever “Strut Your Mutt” event, a dog walk, parade and hat contest at Fanny Chapman on May 4th to raise money for Roxy Reading Therapy Dogs. This non-profit, volunteer-run Bucks County organization helps promote reading and gives comfort to children facing different challenges.  The whole town is gearing up to support this great cause.

Learning about Roxy Reading Therapy Dogs made me think about the important bond between pet and owner. Dogs are great companions for so many reasons.  Of course, as a personal trainer and fitness instructor, health benefits are on the top of my list. Dogs are a great excuse to get more exercise. Just taking care of a dog with basic, daily walks can help keep you moving and on the way to fitness. Read on for some tips on working out with your pup. You might soon find that your best friend is also your best workout partner.

Personal Trainer on 4-legs

A dog may be a perfect exercise companion. Not only are they loyal, but they also are consistent.  A canine companion is never going to skip a walk because something better came up or because they are feeling under the weather. They are walking, rain or shine, which means that you are too. It is no wonder research has revealed that the majority of dog-owners exercises for 300 minutes per week—about an hour per day— and are less likely to be obese, compared to those without dogs.  Another study found that just having a dog cuts the risk of childhood obesity in half.

Taking Care of Business

Walking the dog can mean so much more than walking the dog. Sure, there’s business to take care of, if you know what I mean, but getting out with Fido can be more than enjoying the great outdoors. With a little planning and a little practice, your daily walk can also be a daily workout.

Downward Dog, Of Course

Get into the habit of getting a good warm up in before you start. Be mindful of your body as you’re going through the routine of preparing for a walk. Take a moment, rotate your ankles and make circles with your arms as you gather your leash and scoop.  Start slowly and enjoy the occasional stops at trees and fire hydrants.

Furry Fitness

 A brisk walk with your dog is as much a core as it is a cardio workout. Your core should be engaged as you walk. You never know when cat, squirrel or something else will cross your path and you will suddenly see Spot run.  Your dog introduces a little instability into your walk and a tightened core will help keep you safe and will increase your strength.

As a new fitness duo, you should be mindful of your posture while you’re moving. As you would be instructed to do in one of my fitness classes or personal training sessions, imagine you have back pockets on your pants and you push your shoulder blades down into your back pockets. This will enable your shoulders to retract and keep your posture upright. Also, keep your elbows bent as you hold the leash. It will give you more “give” and control over the leash and your body.

Man’s Best Friend

Are you and Rover up for more? Have you been consistently strolling and are now looking for a more intense workout? Scope out a hill or two and get that heart rate up. Go off the beaten path every once in a while. Your pooch may appreciate the soft grass on his or her feet. Or choose a fun cyclocross or mountain bike terrain as an alternative route.  Climbing over rocks and logs can be a fun change for both of you.  Gradually make your route a little more of a challenge by walking faster or maybe even jogging a little. Your speed and distance will depend a little bit on the breed, age and energy level of your dog.  Don’t forget: hydration is important for both you and your pup. Carry around a foldable bowl and a bottle of water that you can share with your pooch.

Every Dog Must Have His Day

Just as I encourage my clients to check in with a doctor before starting an exercise program, if you’re about to increase your exercise by running with your pet, check in with your vet first.  Not every dog is made for running.  Dogs with short snouts, like a Pug, or heavy undercoats, like a Golden Retriever, could overheat when running.  Running can put too much stress on joints of some larger breeds, like Great Danes. Of course, there are plenty of dog breeds that were made to run, like Weimeraners.  A good old mutt may have plenty of characteristics to make an ideal running partner.  Age and energy level of your dog are important considerations as well.  Arthritis, heart or lung problems in your buddy could limit what he or she can do.  Your vet can give you more guidance on the amount and type of activity that is appropriate. Once you get the all clear, get out there and walk—and maybe jog or run as you are your pal are up for it.

Every Bark Counts

Taking your dog for a walk, or a run, if it suits you and your pet, is not just good for you, it’s good for Rover, too.  You may have heard the phrase that a tired dog is a good dog.  Extra exercise can help burn off extra energy that might otherwise lead to destructive behavior.  (Your running shoes are for running, not for chewing!) Dogs can struggle with weight gain, just like people.  Does a new tool motivate you to exercise more?  Do you wear a pedometer to track your own mileage?  Then check out FitBark.com and learn about a wearable device that will track your dog’s activity. You’ll receive a daily “Bark Score” to make sure your pooch is getting enough exercise.  To try out the human version, check out FitBit.com and you are your dog are ready to track your steps towards fitness.

Healthy Owner, Happy Pet

 The extra, consistent exercise isn’t the only health benefit of pet ownership. Pet owners typically have less anxiety and lower blood pressure. There is even evidence of lower allergy rates among dog owners, too.  Plus, a dog is a great way to get connected in your community. Taking a dog on a daily walk is a great way to get to know your community—and they are great conversation starters, too, keeping your connected and involved in your neighborhood.  That social interaction can make you feel good. (The Strut Your Mutt event this weekend is a perfect example of the dog and community connection!) Whether you walk, jog, run, read to or just love your dog, they can be great for your health.