Dogs are already known as man’s best friend, but did you know they are also man’s best workout buddy?
According to a study by Michigan State University, dog owners are 34 percent more likely to reach their recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise than people who don’t have canine companions. And it’s not just the humans who need exercise.
Dr. Matthew Kleven, veterinarian and owner of West Seattle’s Greentree Animal Hospital, says pet obesity is one of the biggest problems he encounters.
“The rates of pet obesity mirror that of people in the United States, and pets have essentially the same health risks, minus the heart attacks,” he said.
Humans need about 30 minutes of activity each day to stay healthy, and as it turns out, so do our furry friends.
“Although our pets don't have to deal with elevated cholesterol and heart attacks like us humans, daily exercise is beneficial for their physical as well as mental health and stimulation,” he said.
From dog yoga to obstacles courses, there are plenty of fun options to help you and your pet get fit together.
Guidelines for exercising with your pet
Before you embark on an exercise routine together, Dr. Kleven offers a few guidelines to keep in mind.
“Every exercise routine should take into account each dog's unique needs, talents and likes,” he said. “Breeds like retrievers will enjoy a game of fetch, while younger dogs should avoid long distance runs that can be hard on their growth plates.”
“Older dogs with arthritis or pets with orthopedic diseases usually benefit from exercise routines that are moderate in intensity,” Dr. Kleven added. “Hard sprinting, sudden stops and starts and long distance running are hard on the joints, so aim for moderate intensity but high frequency.”
Activities like daily walks, short fetch sessions and even swimming are best for dogs with these special needs.
According to Dr. Kleven, bulldogs, pugs and other short-muzzled dogs have a hard time dissipating heat, so watch the outside temperature and make sure to give your furry friend plenty of breaks.
Hydration is also as important for dogs as it is for humans. So when you pack a water bottle for yourself, make sure you pet has one too.
And just like we have to step on the scale throughout the year, so do our pets. Dr. Kleven recommends getting your pet weighed three to four times a year. If they are overweight, then it might be time to talk to your vet about putting Fido on a reduced calorie diet.
“We often find that people who have pets with weight problems often don't know exactly how much food and treats their pets are eating,” Dr. Kleven said.
He adds that the serving sizes on pet food bags are not tailored to your pet’s exact weight and size, so Dr. Kleven suggests using a measuring cup instead of the scoop and changing to low calorie dog treats.
Activities to Get Fit with your pet
“Being active with your pet is as much about social interaction and mental stimulation for you as it is for your pets,” Dr. Kleven said.
So along with neighborhood walks and backyard Frisbee sessions, there are other exciting ways enjoy physical activity with your dog.
And while more the active pursuits are for typically for dogs, Dr. Kleven adds that “our feline friends can almost always be enticed to run around and pounce on their favorite cat toy.”
Humane Society Jog a Dog Program
If you love running, dogs and helping the humane society, then the Jog a Dog program is for you. It’s a great chance to “exercise the more active dogs to help them let out energy and to get them ready for potential adopters,” Seattle Humane Society’s Amanda Walde said.
The program allows you to take active breeds like shepherd mixes, labs and huskies on a four mile jog near the Bellevue Humane Society campus. Not only is this a great workout for you, you also help the dogs exercise and burn off energy.
The Jog a Dog Program requires that you be able to lift a few pounds and handle larger, active dogs. Plus, you need to be able to run at least four miles. Shifts are in the morning or afternoon, and to get involved simply visit the Humane Society website then take their orientation class. One you complete the class you can sign up for the program.
K9 agility training
Give agility training a try and hit up the playground with your pet. In fact, agility training is one of Dr. Kleven’s favorite ways to get fit with your dog. It includes work like fetch, Frisbee and tug of war along, with obstacle courses featuring activities like jumping through hoops and weaving through cones. Not only will your dog get their heart rate up, but you will too as you run and jump along side each other.
Check out agility training classes at locations like FunQuest Dog Sports in Woodinville and Issaquah, K9 Fun Zone in Queen Anne and Paws4Training in Wallingford.
Doga gives a whole new meaning to the term downward facing dog, as you get Zen with a session of dog yoga. Bring your pet as you plank and warrior lunge your way to a stronger, more flexible partnership. The added benefit of doga is that it relaxes and massages both you and your dog, which can lead to calmer happier canines.
So next time you plan your workout don’t forget to include your favorite furry friends. Whether it’s an active hike, swim session or meditative yoga class with your dog, or helping your cat pounce for prey, including your pet in your fitness routine is a great way to keep every member of the family healthy - even the ones with four legs.
You can connect with Dr. Matthew Kleven and the Greentree Animal Hospital on its website and on Facebook.