Pets 101

Petsercise: Exercise gone furry

Chihuahua on Yoga Mat

The essential beauty of a four-legged workout is that there’s no work about it. It’s play through and through, for you and your pooch. But that doesn’t mean that you and Poopsie can’t play with purpose. Exercising with pets—or petsercising—gives you the freedom to shore up your pet’s socialization while sculpting your own physique and enjoying some aerobic bonding time with your furry calorie burner. Going a step further and enrolling in a pet-friendly exercise class puts structure in your workout routine while providing ample opportunity for you and your pooch to mix and mingle. So pencil in a play date that trims both of your waistlines and ride a furry endorphin high to a happier, healthier mind and body.

Bonding As an Action Sport

While doggie bootcamps that exclusively target Fido’s behavioral woes are many and more in between, camps equally focused on training your dog and your muscle tone are still in their nascent stages. Thank Dog! Bootcamp, based in Pasadena, CA, is leading the way in the move to combine human workouts and canine obedience. Firming up your muscle tone and your dog’s behavior complement each other naturally. As the camp’s founder, Jill Bowers, says, “The number-one behavior problem in dogs is due to lack of exercise. And because dogs aren’t capable of training themselves, [we] take care of both of those things while you are losing weight or toning up.”

According to Bowers, Thank Dog! Bootcamp instructs people and their pooches from all over the world who pine for similar programs in their homelands. She became a bootcamp veteran after training under military dog trainer John Van Olden prior to starting the camp in July of 2008. The concept, however, was slow to catch fire, as guardians balked at the prospect of placing unruly dogs under a military-style exercise regimen. Effectively displacing the basis for any such fears, Thank Dog! Bootcamp requires all new enrollees to undergo a rigorous consultation before joining the camp. “Nobody is allowed to come into our class without doing the consultation,” stresses Bowers. “Once the health evaluation is finished, the dog trainer works one-on-one with the person and the pup to teach commands.”

“Because we are very strict and organized, every dog is under a command the entire class. We don’t allow socialization [among the dogs], so people don’t have to worry about their dogs not liking other dogs,” states Bowers. “Of course, if at the consultation the guardian can’t control the dog (which never happens), then we will work with them on that.”

Classes run for one hour in the early morning in a growing number of locations spanning northern and southern California, giving campers both human and canine an energizing boot kick to their day. Each class is divided into roughly 30 minutes of cardio workouts and 30 minutes of weight training, and two trainers are present at all times to keep Wiggles on the straight and narrow should she lose focus. Geared to dog and guardian equally, according to Bowers, classes welcome campers of every body size, fitness level, age, and gender.

“I think this is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life,” Bowers says. “Our bootcamp is more of a lifestyle change for everyone than it is a quick program to lose weight. Because the dogs are being exercised and trained every day along with the [guardian], it’s something that people don’t stop doing.”

A Pup’s Inner Peace

Chihuahua on Yoga Mat with Woman

If your aspirations for connecting with your pet are more metaphysical in nature, you might consider enrolling in a doga, or doggie yoga, class. “Doga allows your dog to assist you in meditation and calm your energy, as well as encourages your dog to feel comfortable with your assistance in stretching,” says Becky Solomon, doga instructor at Lakeshore Athletic Club Illinois Center in Chicago. Centered on harmonizing mind and body through strategic stretching for the two- and four-legged alike, doga puts the dog in yoga—and more than likely a smile on your face as you assist Toodles in accessing her canine chi.

“There only are a few stretches that dogs need to do. They instinctively know how to stretch. We people, on the other hand, need help and guidance in that department,” says Solomon. Consequently, much of the fun of doga arises from simply letting go of the stresses of everyday life and inhabiting the open mindset of your furry friend. And although many people report that doga helps to relax high-strung dogs just as yoga can lower human anxiety levels, doga’s primary purpose is blissfully modest: to allow you and your dog to unwind and socialize in a calm, supportive environment.

Doga practitioners often cite the inevitable comedy inherent in stretching a clueless pooch into a downward-facing dog position as a large part of doga’s appeal. “I’m going to go back mostly because my dog had so much fun,” says first-time doga attendee Sarah Hyde. “The class taught me not to be so reactive and then to take that mindset into the world.”

Doga instructors also enjoy the spontaneous and open nature of the classes: “Every class is a new experience because you never know what’s going to happen,” enthuses Solomon. “I love the challenge that each new dog presents. No two classes are ever the same. I like to help people see how their dogs can be an assistant in their health and well-being more than just a wagging tail that greets them at the door.”

Mind/Body/Dog Connection

Taking a page out of doga’s handbook, Chicago fitness guru Andrea Metcalf has developed a definitively canine spin on Pilates, termed Paws-ilates. The central aim of Pilates is an elegant cohesion of mind and body through the development of enhanced muscle control. Paws-ilates makes use of classical Pilates movements, massage, and conscious breathing while featuring Metcalf’s own personally-developed exercises for small and large dogs. But according to Metcalf, the exercise’s ultimate purpose is “to enable you to spend more time with your pet. If you work all day and then come home, it’s a way to multitask with engagement and exercise.”

A long advocate of animal rescue, Metcalf hosts 30-minute Paws-ilates classes at the Anti-Cruelty Society and donates all profits from her instruction to the animal-rescue organization. “My plans now are to expand the program this summer,” she enthuses. “Anything that Paws-ilates touches will have some extension to giving back to the pet community.”

Exercise comes as naturally to your pet as licking your ankles and running in circles. There’s simply no better inspiration for putting yourself in a healthier frame of mind. So enroll in an exercise class with Fifi. It will work wonders for your figure, energy level, and even your social life. Your pet will emerge a calmer canine with four-legged friends to spare.

–Melissa Wiley

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