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8 Ways Having a Dog Can Get — and Keep — You Fit

A gym membership? Pah! Owning a dog is like having a live-in personal trainer.

Wendy Newell  |  Jan 30th 2015


Ask anyone who owns a dog, and they will tell you that there is no need for a gym membership. Why pay money, get dressed up just in case your treadmill is in front of the cute guy or girl, and drive to another location when you live with the best trainer in the world?

Here are eight ways my dog and those I dog sit keep me fit. They can work for you, too!

1. Alarm clock

There is no sleeping in when you are a dog owner. Every morning at approximately 6:30, there is a cute pup standing next to my bed, with his head resting on the mattress, staring at me with big pumpkin-colored eyes, whining. I can tell him to go back to bed, pull the blankets over my head, and try to ignore him. Nothing will deter him, though, from doing his job of getting me out of bed and into some yoga pants.

2. Daily walking coach

I suppose you don’t have to walk your dog, but if you don’t you will most likely be sorry. About the time you are ready to curl up on your sofa for some quiet TV viewing, your pup’s crazy, which has been growing inside him all day, will come bursting out! There is nothing worse than trying to watch NCIS while a pup is running figure eights through your house, taking out everything in his path, only pausing when he is directly in front of the TV to stare at you and bark. The only cure for the crazies is to leash up, head out, and start burning calories.

3. Deep knee bends

I recently dog sat a pup whose dad told me that the chance of the sweet furry family member pooping while on a walk was 99 percent. He isn’t alone. To a dog, walking means pooping. And who can blame them? They are out and about, free to stop when the urge strikes, over and over and over again. Each time it’s your job, as the human with hands, to grab a plastic bag and position yourself next to the pile, kneel deeply, scoop, and swoosh back up, all while flipping your wrist in such a way that the poop is contained and the bag is neatly tied off. When done correctly, you should feel a burn in your upper thighs and glutes.

4. Arm strengthening

This doesn’t apply to dogs who are leash trained, but to those who aren’t quite there yet and are still getting the hang of walking politely. Take advantage of your dog’s training period to tone those arms. The bigger the dog, the stronger the pull and the need to reign in. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that just happens to be your arms doing their darnedest to not pull out of their sockets. Try to keep the work in your biceps for the best results. Leaning back and using your entire body as a counterbalance is cheating.

5. Additional calories burned

Small dogs are genius at adding additional weight to your walk, allowing you to burn more calories. Just walk until your dog is pooped and/or begging to be held. Scoop him up in your arms, turn around, and walk home. Little dogs are often the best trainers and will take every opportunity to help get you reach your fitness goal faster.

6. Balance work

To get the best balance workout, you will have to bring in some additional help in the form of doggie friends. Don’t go too fast. Start small with three or so leashes. Preferably, one or more of these dogs should be trained in the sport of “wandering,” where he zig-zags around the other dogs and you. During your walk, at random times, it will become necessary to untangle yourself from the leashes that will be trying to tie and trip you up. Stay calm and breathe through it. As you get more skilled and a faster response time, you can add more dogs.

7. Stamina

The more your coach and you go out together, the stronger you will become. It won’t take long for a half-hour walk to not tire your partner out enough. You will have to extend your daily outings to an hour, then maybe twice a day. While this may seem overwhelming at first, just remember how great your Fitbit “steps taken” chart is going to look.

8. Mental agility

Your body isn’t the only thing that needs a good workout, your mind needs attention as well. The more social your dog, the more training you will be giving your brain, strengthening your ability to focus. The older woman with a walker, the casual cyclist, the little girls playing hopscotch, the neighborhood dog bully, an outdoor cat — all and more require you to pay attention, analyze, and react. If you really want to push your mental workout to the next level, go out for walks during high traffic times when, for example, young skateboarders are cruising the neighborhood. There is nothing that will heighten all your senses more than hearing the “chunk, chunk, chunk” of small skateboard wheels coming toward you.

After a few weeks of this ongoing fitness routine, your friends will be asking what you have done to look so good and who they can call to get similar results. Just point them to their nearest shelter. Their own personal live-in trainer is waiting for them.

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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.