Exercise with your dog to improve fitness together

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"Toronto resident Catherine Cameron and Daisy are fitness buddies. They run together a few times a week, and depending on the season, they’ll be out snowshoeing or hiking or canoeing. Sometimes, they even do yoga together — although Daisy doesn’t know any moves beyond “downward-facing dog,” because, well, she is a dog.

Like many dog owners, Cameron has found exercising with her four-legged companion is an essential part of her fitness routine.

What began as regular dog walks turned into jogging and running with Daisy, says Cameron, who lives around Bayview and York Mills and is the president of Cameron Communications. Eventually, the almost 8-year-old golden retriever started vacationing with the family, be it in Florida or Muskoka. “She became the third kid in the lake,” Cameron says.

On a regular basis, the sheer number of walks Daisy requires — three to four every day — means Cameron is always on the go. “I get an hour and a half of exercise every day, outdoors, all weather, that I probably wouldn’t otherwise get,” she says.

Having a dog can definitely be a health boost, research shows. One study from the University of Missouri-Columbia found walking a dog on a regular, long-term basis leads to weight loss — an average of 14 pounds for a group of dog walkers over a 50-week period, the study found — and encourages people to walk for longer periods of time in their daily life. It’s also one of the top ways to meet new people, according to research at the University of Western Australia, which found the benefits of dog walking include an increase in physical activity and a stronger sense of community.

So how can dog owners incorporate their pooch in a broader fitness routine? Cameron, who spent 25 years working as a fitness instructor, and Jt Clough, a San Diego-based dog lifestyle coach and author of 5K Training Guide: Running with Dogs, offered a few pointers.

Ramp up gradually

Going from regular walks to runs with a dog makes sense, but you need to start slowly. “You can’t expect a dog who’s not a runner to suddenly run great distances or high speed — having realistic expectations is important,” says Cameron.

Clough says dog owners often make the mistake of doing too much at the beginning, then get frustrated when their dog can’t handle it. It’s best to start with consistent walking, then move that into a run or integrate running portions into regular walks, she says.

Keep your dog’s needs in mind

“It’s really important to consider your pet’s needs when you’re exercising,” says Cameron. When she and Daisy run together, it’s at a slower pace than when Cameron runs alone — and she keeps an extra water bottle for her running buddy in her water belt. “If she’s overheated, a run turns into a brisk walk,” Cameron says.

The age of your dog is also important, notes Clough. Puppies shouldn’t run on hard surfaces until they’re at least a year old — it can cause damage to their bones, she says — while older dogs often start to get sore and begin slowing down.

Think outside the box

Cameron has incorporated Daisy into many activities, from family hikes to canoe trips, which keep them both outside and active.

Even yoga can be fun with a dog, Clough says, since you can train your pooch to do a few stretches with you. Aside from the fitness boost, it also encourages your dog to be in a calm state, she says.

And if you’re doing a dog-specific outing — like playing fetch or hitting the dog park — why not incorporate your own workout into the mix? “Instead of just standing there and throwing the ball, you can run while your dog is getting the ball, or stretch — any kind of movement,” says Clough."