Play MORE With Your Pet and Boost Your Fitness!

Animal obesity is an epidemic in the United States. What if we could fix that and improve our own fitness just by playing with our pets a few times a week? After all, exercise partners help you stay motivated—and there’s no better partner than your dog! To help you reach your fitness goals with your four-legged friend, we asked professional running coach Spencer Casey of Team ASPCA to share his best pet-friendly workout ideas.

Before you begin any workout with your pet, remember to warm-up properly with some light stretches or foam rolling and make sure to always bring water for your furry friend (or ensure you will have access to some along the way).  Start by planning for just 15 minutes of exercise together, and eventually aim for 30-45 minutes of fun.

  1. Get some miles in. Take your dog to the local park and let the dog dictate where and when you run.  Aim for about 30 minutes total with little bursts of running, along with some walking, and of course lots of sniffing.  Don’t forget to stop and hydrate along the way. For speedier runners looking to get faster miles in, a short easy jog with your dog is a great way to get in a warm-up before beginning your tough workout or faster run.  Be sure to check your local park rules. Some parks and beaches will even allow dogs to run off the leash during early morning hours.
  1. Get creative. Make an obstacle course out of hills, park benches, trees and even stairs. Run laps with a good rest break in between each loop.  Having your dog jump onto park benches and crawl under obstacles is great agility training for them. You can mix in some good strength training for yourself while your dog is resting by adding some bench jumps or single leg lunges in the middle.
  1. Get speedy. Jog to the park as a warm-up and play fetch with a ball.  Unlike traditional fetch, where only the dog chases after the ball, you can give the dog a “STAY!” command.  Then, get a head start running after the ball before you say “GO” and try to beat your dog to the ball.  Aim for 10 x 100 yards before heading home.
  1. Get sporty. Play soccer with your dog.  Set up some goals and start by teaching your dog to “dribble,” and reward him with a treat.  Keep the ball under control at first; start with short runs and kicks until your dog learns how to go after the ball and play in a bigger space.
  1. Get flexible. Aptly named down-dog is not just for you, but for your dog too! “Doga” (dog yoga) is a great way for you and your dog to bond and work on flexibility.  Don’t expect a workout here, but a fun time of lifting, stretching and massaging your dog that has multiple benefits and is a great compliment to both you and your dog’s normal routine. Check with your local yoga studios and community centers for classes.
  1. Get involved. When you join Team ASPCA, you can walk or run to make a difference for animals in need. Team ASPCA is currently looking for animal-lovers to join the 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Halloween Half Marathon. Train at home with your pet, then run or walk the half marathon and raise funds for the ASPCA’s lifesaving services for animals nationwide.  Also, be sure to have your family and friends bring your pooch on race day so he or she can watch you cross the pet-friendly finish line in their honor!

When it comes to working out with your pet, you should aim for about 3-4 sessions a week and substitute these for your normal recovery runs.  Commit to “showing up” for your pet just as you would if you agreed to meet a human training partner. Remember to build-up slowly each week as your dog’s (and your own) fitness improves.  Be sure to check with a veterinarian who has treated your pet first regarding your individual pet’s health history and defer to any specific exercise recommendations or warnings from your vet.  Most importantly, remember to have fun and incorporate your play days with your pet into your bigger fitness routine, like training for a 5k or a half marathon.

Warning: you may be rewarded with some slobbery “thank you” kisses at the finish line from your very happy, healthier pup.

Sign up to join Team ASPCA and run the 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Halloween Half Marathon.