Having a workout buddy increases your likelihood of exercising, but what should you do when your partner-in-calorie-burning cancels more often than she shows up? Well, maybe you should turn your attention to that lump of fur at your knees clamoring for your attention. Given some simple training (and the help of some safety tips), your pooch could turn out to be your most reliable workout buddy. "It's sort of becoming a trend that your best workout buddy is your dog," says Arden Moore, pet expert and author of Healthy Dog: The Ultimate Fitness Guide for You and Your Dog (Dog Fancy Books) (BowTie Press, 2004).
THE DETAILS: Many researchers have made the connection between dogs and the health of their owners. One in particular, from the University of Missouri, found that overweight people who walked their dog each day dropped an average of 14 pounds through the course of a year. That's more success than people often experience with some weight-loss plans! Plus, it's fun. "Our pets are our secret workout allies, and dogs put the 'p' in play," Moore says. "If you're working out with your dog, you have a tendency to have more of a fun workout." And we humans are much more likely to stick with a workout that's fun.
WHAT IT MEANS: You'll be hard-pressed to find a dog of any kind that doesn't enjoy a good walk. That's good news for the human on the other end of the leash: Research shows that just a brisk one- to two-mile walk four or five times a week can greatly improve your cardiovascular health and even ward off depression. Not every breed is built to run a marathon (dogs with longer legs and leaner body physiques, like Labradors and golden retrievers and greyhounds, and dogs that don't sport a heavy-boned body structure, generally can handle longer runs). But there are many ways you can get into a workout routine that's good for both you and your pet.
Consider these points as you plan a workout for you and your dog:
• Pooches need to stretch, too. Moore suggests these easy, fun stretches to strengthen your dog's hind legs and get him or her ready for exercise:
1. Play bow—This is a natural position for dogs. It's when they stretch out their front legs, lower their legs, and put their butts in the air. They often strike this pose when they're ready to pounce and play. When you see your dog doing this, make a big deal of it and praise him, saying, "Good play bow!" Sometimes, aid the praise with a healthy treat (but don't give a treat every single time—sometimes praise is treat enough!). Eventually, he will learn to do this pose, which yoga practitioners call "downward dog," on command before a workout.
2. Sit up and beg—Train your dog to watch you by holding a treat by your eyes. Get the animal to sit, hold the treat slightly over your head, and say, "Good sit." Then move the treat slowly up over the dog's nose, and the canine should start rising up, eventually standing on hind legs only to reach the treat. Even if the animal holds the pose for only a second, give a reward of praise and (sometimes) a treat, and soon the dog will stay in position longer. "This stretches the abdominal and back area muscles and hind legs," Moore says. "It also helps large breeds or those with long backs, like Corgis and dachshunds, with back and hip issues."