Find your perfect workout buddy

By Becky Orr
Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Zeke is the perfect workout buddy.

He loves to run and never complains, owner Michelle Hunt said.

He is such a good running partner that he even motivates Hunt to exercise without saying a word. Instead, he lets his kind brown eyes do the talking.

Zeke is a 3-year-old Golden Retriever. He played a big part in Hunt’s ability to run in and finish the Bolder Boulder 10K race in May 2015, she said.

The dog belongs to Michelle and her husband, Ryan Hunt, who serves in the U.S. Air Force at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

When Ryan was deployed away from Cheyenne for six months, Zeke and Michelle became best friends.

“It was just me and the dog,” she said. “I was trying to figure out what to do; I thought I’d train for the race and run with Zeke. It would be more motivation for me.”

She reasoned that the workouts would be good for Zeke’s health, too.

Michelle bought a leash called an Iron Doggie that fastens around her waist. The leash is made from a bungee cord material that allows it some give as Zeke jogs alongside her.

“He did great with it,” she said, recalling their training regimen for the race. The two gradually worked their way up to running four and a half miles at time.

They stopped running for a while during her pregnancy and after daughter Grace was born 13 weeks ago.

Now, though, they have started running again. These days, Ryan and Grace go with them, with Ryan pushing the infant in a special stroller.

Michelle said she learned the importance of knowing your dog and his physical capabilities. Also, “make sure he has plenty of water” to prevent dehydration after workouts, she said.

Pets make good exercise buddies

The idea that dogs often are good exercise buddies is a scientific fact.

A Michigan State University study published in 2010 found that owners who regularly walked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to meet federal guidelines for physical fitness.

These guidelines recommend that people get 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.

Matthew Reeves is an epidemiologist at the university who did the research. He also found that people who walked their dogs generally exercised about an hour a week longer than people who owned dogs but did not walk with them.

A recent Australian study showed that the odds of people achieving the recommended exercise amounts each week were 41 percent higher among dog owners.

Alice Burron, an exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer in Cheyenne, has run with Griz for many years.

Griz is a 12-year-old Golden Retriever. She still runs with him, but at a reduced level than in years past.

Interval training is a great exercise for both dogs and their owners, she said. The process allows dogs to sprint and relax.

“You can really increase your fitness levels with intervals,” she said. “You don’t have to run hard the whole time, but add some brief intervals of high intensity without totally killing yourself. You can improve your cardiovascular health.”

Intervals involve a high-intensity workout for about 20 to 30 seconds at first, followed by a relaxed period. The workouts can build to as much as two minutes of high intensity, followed by 45 seconds or so of rest.

What’s great is that dogs can do it too. The practice calms young and active dogs, she said.

During the resting periods, a person can give their dog attention and praise, she said.

“If you’re doing intervals, they are pretty controlled, and you probably would need a leash,” she said.

Interval work, like other types of exercise, requires that humans and dogs drink plenty of water, she said.

Know your dog's limitations first

“All dogs need exercise,” said Dr. Troy Thompson, a veterinarian and the owner of Tri-State Veterinary Clinic in Cheyenne. “But not all dogs can exercise with their owners.”

Owners should first check with their dogs’ veterinarians before starting such a workout routine.

“Make sure they’re healthy enough for exercise with their human companions,” he said.

Owners need to use common sense, too, Thompson said.

“If you’ve got a Chihuahua, he’s not going to run a marathon,” Thompson said. But the 26 miles a marathon requires should be possible for a Labrador retriever.

People need to be careful of vigorous exercise with dogs between the ages of 12 and 18 months because they’re still growing, he said.

“By the time they’re 18 months, the growing is done, and they can do what they are trained to do,” Thompson said. But with dogs younger than that, it’s possible to push too hard and have problems.

He encouraged owners to talk to their veterinarian about the capabilities of their dog’s breed.

A greyhound, for example, is great at running sprints, but not as good at long distances.

High-energy, intelligent dogs like Australian shepherds benefit from agility courses. Humans also get exercise from this form of training, he said.

Use extra care with all brachycephalic dogs, which are breeds with squished-in faces. These include pugs, bulldogs and Shih Tzus.

“They probably shouldn’t be hardcore endurance athletes. They have a hard time moving air,” he said.

Duration, intensity, weather factors

People should be mindful of the duration and intensity of the exercise, Thompson said. “You don’t want to push too hard.”

Owners also should avoid exercise when it’s too hot. Dogs sweat only a small amount, and when they do, it comes out of the pads of their feet, he said. “Most of the heat exchange is through panting.”

He advocates exercising with a dog at the same time each day. Routine is healthy for canines.

“It gets the animal used to it. All of a sudden, the dog will look at it as time to go for the walk, which really can provide a lot of motivation for the owner,” he said.

The type of exercise also makes a difference.

Thompson is not a fan of riding a bicycle and having the dog follow along on a leash. Still, there are products available to help keep dogs away from bicycles during such sessions.

Catching the Frisbee or playing fetch are great dog workouts, he said.
“Swimming is one of the best exercises for a dog. And hiking is great,” he said.

Dogs should have some obedience training before they work out so they understand basic commands. They also need to be under control on the leash, Thompson said.

He also advocates socializing dogs from an early age.

“If you socialize them from the time they’re young, most do well with people and other animals,” he said.

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Wyoming Tribune Eagle

With a circulation of about 16,500 daily and 18,500 Sunday, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle is Wyoming's second largest daily newspaper and its largest locally owned newspaper.