As far as accountabilibuddies go, research has shown that man's best friend can pull double duty as an ideal fitness partner and weight-loss coach. Here are a few ways that your dog can enhance your workouts (as if you needed another reason to love them).
They're your biggest motivators.
"Motivation is one of the biggest obstacles for people trying to lose weight," explains Ernie Ward, DVM, a veterinarian, certified personal trainer, and triathlon coach. And what's more motivating than taking care of your best friend? "We already consider them members of our family, and part of being a responsible pet parent is making sure they're getting exercise."
Ward, a multiple Ironman finisher, definitely gets it—he has experienced the connection firsthand and is even writing a book on parallel weight loss between humans and pets. He also says that since dogs—especially small dogs—can lose weight faster than humans, their results will keep you moving forward. Talk about #fitspo.
Dogs make life (and workouts) happier.
Fellow dog-lover Elle Woods said it best: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy." Since dog owners love spending time with their four-legged companions, including a pet in their fitness routine can take the feel-good effects of a workout to the next level.
"The most important thing about fitness is finding something that's genuinely fun for you," says Courtney Stanely, a certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist in Austin, TX. She and Reed Villarreal, a certified professional dog trainer, run K9 Fitcamp, an exercise class combining circuit training with obedience training. (Yes, this is a thing.)
Dogs make everything better, and your fitness routine is no exception. Plus, science says that interacting with our pets reduces our levels of stress and anxiety, and can even lower our risk of cardiovascular disease.
It doesn't have to be complicated...
"The best, most important, and easiest exercise to do with your dog is walking," Ward says. Luckily, there are numerous important health benefits associated with taking a brisk, 30-minute W-A-L-K at least five days a week. Plus, up-tempo walks can also reduce visceral fat, which is fat stored in your abdominal area.
...or you can crank it up a notch.
Since the CDC recommends muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week, we humans need more than just walking or running. That's where moves like the kind they teach at K9 Fitcamp come in. Similar to a HIIT workout, the class combines weight-based moves along with sprints and shuffle exercises, which come together to raise your heart rate, burning more calories.
You can try a few of these heart-pounding exercises with your pooch in your own backyard or local park—just think, even those dreaded burpees are a bit more fun if you're playing fetch at the same time.
When you hear "agility course," you probably picture the ESPN version of the sport—border collies zipping in and out of poles, stubby corgis making giant leaps over water jumps, elegant spaniels gliding through tunnels—and if you just laughed picturing your dog doing any of this, don't sell them short just yet.
You can try your hand at agility courses in a more relaxed atmosphere, where fitness and fun are combined. And if you think your four-legged athlete is the only one getting a workout, think again.
"While your dog is diving through tires and jumping over hurdles, you have to run really fast to keep up and communicate his next step," explains Mark Van Wye, the owner of Zoom Room, a national, indoor dog agility facility. "You're breathless and sweaty at the end because you're working with your dog the entire time."
If you're willing to get crafty, creating your own version of an agility course or strength training/dog obedience routine can be a fun and inexpensive way to get moving in your own backyard.
"You can use playground equipment, tires, delivery boxes, and even PVC pipes or sticks," Van Wye suggests. "Your dog can go up and down a ramp, through tires, jump up on boxes, and weave in and out of the pipes or sticks. Just make sure you change things around every time so the dog isn't learning a preset sequence."
"Remember," he continues, "this is a team sport, and you have to do it together. If you leave a trained agility dog in the backyard, he will just sit—he's missing his buddy. For them, the fun is doing it with you."
While it's probably not possible to love your sweet pet more than you already do, adding a little joy to your fitness routine can only benefit you both. "The advantages of exercising with your dog extend beyond physical health and well-being," Ward explains. "This connection is very important to your emotional health. You are sharing time, exercising, and breaking a sweat—that intimacy is very special."
Gia Miller is a New York-based journalist who writes about health and wellness, parenting and divorce, and general lifestyle for a variety of publications. She, along with her two children, are now planning to create an agility course for their dog, Scout, even though he'll probably run off to chase a squirrel during the middle of training.