By Arden Moore
Who says that exercise must be limited to sweating at the gym, fighting for an elliptical machine or failing to keep pace in a spinning class? Can't seem to muster the motivation to remove the clothes draped on the stationary bike in your bedroom to pedal a few miles?
The solution to staying in shape -- and having fun -- may be just a tail wag away. Check out the latest fitness trend: people-dog workout classes that focus on strength, flexibility and aerobics while unleashing plenty of fun for you and your dog.
By teaming up with your best workout buddy -- your dog -- both of you can shed pounds, tone muscles and strengthen your connection.
"Regular exercise provides people and pets with physical and mental benefits," says Dr. Christine Zink, a veterinarian and professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Exercise releases endorphins -- feel-good chemicals that provide a sense of well-being. Exercise helps maintain proper weight, improves coordination and balance, and stabilizes joints to prevent arthritis and acute injuries."
These special workout programs also reinforce good doggy manners. They bring out play with a purpose, offering dogs the chance to master basic commands such as sit, stay, down and come in positive settings. For the past two years, I've regularly attended Leash Your Fitness classes in San Diego with my two dogs: Chipper, a 60-pound golden retriever/husky mix, and Cleo, a 12-pound terrier-poodle mix.
Our "gym" is a huge fenced grassy field. Certified personal-fitness trainer Dawn Celapino credits Jack, her energetic cairn terrier, for inspiring her to create Leash Your Fitness.
"I hated having to leave Jack at home while I went to a gym to teach or work out," says Celapino. "He loves running, hiking and swimming with me. I discovered a lot of other dog people looking for new ways to work out with their dogs."
During each hour-long class, people sprint, skip and even hop while their leashed dogs match their strides. Together, they leap over hurdles or weave through agility poles. At any time, Celapino will call out for people to drop into squats and get their dogs to maintain a down stance. Or we'll heed the command to do pushups, and then get our canine pals to perform doggy pushups -- a series of quick sit-downs.
Since enrolling, I've shed 20 excess pounds and canceled my gym membership. My veterinarian has deemed my 8-year-old dogs to be at ideal weights.
Before you enroll, get a physical examination from your physician and book a head-to-tail checkup for your dog with your veterinarian. Go at your own pace and set your goals to gradually get better.
Exercise fortifies your body against a host of medical woes, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It can also save money on doctor and veterinary bills. Regular workouts can provide your dog with a perfect setting to unleash pent-up energy and reduce the amount of doggy destructiveness in the home that's often due to sheer boredom.
Try one of these classes -- or work out with your dog on your own -- and together you will give a welcomed, new meaning to the expression "dog tired."
To learn more about people-pet workouts, check out Leash Your Fitness at leashyourfitness.com.
Heed These Cautionary Signs
Be careful not to overexert your dog during workouts. Stop the activity and allow your dog to rest if he displays any of these signs:
-- Drooping tongue
-- Rapid panting -- an early sign of overheating
-- Hesitation -- taking a few extra seconds before retrieving a tossed ball
-- Weight shifting -- using different muscle groups to offset soreness
-- Staggered walking
-- Muscle tremors
-- Limping -- check footpads for cuts and bruises and legs for sprains or muscle pulls
Arden Moore is the founder of Four Legged Life (fourleggedlife.com), the author of 20 pet books and host of the "Oh Behave Show" on Pet Life Radio (petliferadio.com).
a deadly pet poison
Q: My two dogs lapped up some antifreeze that had spilled in the garage. I saw on the container that it was toxic, so I took them to the veterinarian right away. They needed dialysis, and I was told my dogs could have died. Why is antifreeze so poisonous to pets?
A: You are very lucky that you saw your dogs drinking the antifreeze and were able to get them to the veterinarian so quickly for treatment. Too often, people don't realize their pets have drunk the stuff, and by the time they realize something is wrong, it's too late for treatment to be effective.
Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, has a sweet flavor that is attractive to pets and children. It is not toxic on its own, but as the body breaks down the antifreeze, it creates metabolites that are toxic to kidney cells. Those metabolites form oxalate crystals that damage and block the kidney tubules. The animals act drunk and become dehydrated. Then kidney damage sets in.
That's dangerous because the job of the kidneys is to remove waste products from the body by way of the urine. When the kidneys are damaged, toxins build up in the bloodstream and aren't eliminated from the body. Dialysis does the work of the kidneys until they regain normal function. Unless pets are treated quickly, they usually don't recover from the damage done to the kidneys.
In the future, choose a brand of antifreeze that contains bittering agents. It may cost a little more and it is just as toxic, but because it is unpleasant to drink, your dogs are more likely to leave it alone. It's also a good idea to store antifreeze in a closed cabinet that is out of the reach of your pets and to wipe up spills or leaks immediately.
Dogs ease MRI worries
-- A study has found that patients who interacted with therapy dogs prior to MRI procedures suffered fewer anxiety symptoms than those patients in the study who did not. Researchers said therapy dogs could be a viable substitute for anti-anxiety medication normally given to patients before their MRI and would have fewer side effects.
Science Daily reports that the project was conceived by a 15-year-old high school student, Allison Ruchman. During the course of her MRI, she experienced anxiety and claustrophobia. She relieved her tension by creating a mental picture of her dog, Wally, and believed that her experience could be applicable to other patients who often need anti-anxiety drugs in order to complete the examination.
Allison became a certified dog therapist, and conducted the research on this project, assisting physicians who compiled and analyzed data, and prepared an abstract of the study at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J.
-- Money bet on greyhound racing nationally has declined from $3.5 billion in 1991 to $1.1 billion in 2007, according to numbers released by Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas. Ten years ago, there were 50 tracks in 15 states, but today there are only 25 tracks in seven states.
-- An 8-year-old Clydesdale-thoroughbred cross named Maggie recently put her best nose forward in her bid to become the Guinness Book Of World Records' smartest horse.
Maggie learned to identify numerals as they were spoken aloud. She identified numerals 21 times in one minute without making a mistake.
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.