Start the new year off on the right paw

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This morning I am pleased to welcome Sal Sloan, the owner of Fetching, Toronto’s exercise solution for people and their dogs (you might remember her from Issue #2). Fetching offers year-round programs, such as guided hikes, boot camp classes and agility, to help people and their dogs stay active. Today, Sal is here to talk about the elusive matter of New Year’s resolutions and how your dog can help you stick with them!

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It’s that time of year, when many people look forward to a fresh start and set goals to improve their health and fitness. The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that most good intentions are often derailed within a few weeks. Does this sound familiar? You are not alone. Fortunately, however, you don’t have to embark on this alone — you can bring your four-legged friend along for the ride.
Often times the one massive, impermeable obstacle that stands between you and your resolutions is time. There’s your job, family, friends, and your pets, all vying for your attention. But the truth is that not making exercise a part of your daily routine isn’t just hurting you. It’s hurting your dog too.

Just like us dogs need exercise to stay balanced, happy and healthy. Dogs gain many of the same benefits from exercise as we do. Exercise keeps weight down, wards off disease, tones muscles, boosts energy and helps to maintain happiness. According to Forbes Health and the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 61% of Canadians and 44% of their dogs are defined as overweight. So why not commit to your fitness resolutions this year and make sure you both don’t end up in the doctor’s doghouse. Here are some helpful tips:

This year, include your dog in your fitness resolution
Dogs are the perfect exercise buddy: they don’t judge you, they won’t tease you about your workout fashions, and they are an incredible source of positive energy. What could be better than knowing you’re improving your health and happiness together?

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Make a realistic commitment To improve your chances of success make a resolution that will fit into your lifestyle. Your dog needs a minimum of 30-60 minutes of exercise each day, but that doesn’t mean you have to be galloping next to him every time. Aim to exercise with your dog three days each week. Book that time into your mental calendar and commit to it.

Similarly, it is important to be aware of your dog’s abilities and limitations and work within your dog’s age and breed characteristics. Just like us, dogs slow down as they get older and some dogs are better suited to exercise than others. If you have an older or less active dog, focus more on stationary exercises and brisk walking instead of extended periods of jogging.

Build your routine My favourite way to exercise with my dog is to combine cardiovascular activity (walking or running, depending on your fitness level) with stationary strength segments spaced out throughout your workout. It keeps your dog engaged and focused on you because he’s been asked to both follow you on leash while you move, and work on his patience while sitting or lying down as you strengthen your muscles. Keep your strength exercises simple (squats, lunges, planks and push-ups are great classics), focus on your form, and don’t forget to warm-up your muscles slowly and cool down them down gradually with slow stretches.

Equip yourself

  • Dress for the weather. If you’re outdoors, layer so that you can remove and put on clothing as you get warmer and cooler.
  • Wear comfortable, appropriate footwear. Running shoes, cross-trainers or light hiking boots are best.
  • Bring water for both you and your dog. Let your dog have water mid-way through your workout and at the end, but be very careful that he doesn’t drink too much or too quickly. It can cause a sometimes fatal condition called bloating, something we all want to avoid.
  • Grab a leash that’s easy to handle. My favourite attaches around your waist, leaving you with both hands to exercise. Here’s an excellent one from Canine Equipment, and it’s fully adjustable. Avoid retractable leashes (they are heavy and can get twisted around you and your dog, causing burns).
    Sloan’s favourite leash for hands-free exercise.

Keep your dog engaged and motivated
Like humans, dogs love working for a reward. What really motivates your dog? For some, it’s food (freeze dried liver and tiny bits of cooked hot dog are among the favourites). For others, it’s a great toy (squeaky or not). Some dogs are suckers for a bit of love from their human. Whatever the reward, make sure you head out on your workout with some kind of treat up your sleeve and be ready to give your dog positive feedback as soon as he successfully does something you ask.

Form or join a groupTo keep things interesting add a social aspect to your workouts, by joining a group in your neighbourhood. It can be as simple as asking friends from the dog park to change up their routine with you. Building a group will help you to stick to your plan and continue your path to healthier habits with your dog. Having people around you means you can also add a new dimension to your workout and your dog’s training: ask your dog for a sit/stay, then have a friend watch him while you do 2-3 short, quick sprints moving away from your dog and then back towards him. You can rest while your friend takes her turn.

Reap the benefits of regular exercise with your dog Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labour! Here are just some of the benefits you’ll experience:

  • Bond with your dog: spending structured, active one-on-one time with your dog is one of the best ways to strengthen your relationship (and make exercise more fun).
  • Improve your dog’s behaviour: running around a dog park with others is fun for a dog, but being connected to you on-leash and being asked to follow, sit, stay and listen will do wonders for his manners.
  • Improve your overall strength: a program that combines cardio, strength and flexibility exercises will improve your strength, mood, help with weight loss, and increase muscle tone.
  • Save time: tick your workout and your dog’s exercise off your list at the same time, leaving you with more free time in your day!

The top three New Year’s resolutions are spending more time with family and friends (including four-legged ones), getting fit and losing weight. If you exercise alongside your dog, you can commit to sticking to all three resolutions and have fun at the same time!

This entry was posted in HEALTH.

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