With right breed, a dog can be a great workout partner

Choosing the right dog can help motivate people to workout.
By James Fell Published: November 27, 2012
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I had two standard poodles growing up, and I remember channeling Barbara Woodhouse and calling in a high-pitched British accent, “Walkies!” and then watching my pets come unglued in anticipation.

Good times.

I love dogs but can no longer own one because my lovely wife is allergic to anything with hair that has more than two legs. Our kids have pet reptiles. Taking the snake out for a slither just isn't the same, and bearded dragons hate leashes more than cats do. Sigh.

If you need motivation to move, it's hard to beat Canis familiaris to get you out the door. But note that a dog isn't an impulse buy like a Bowflex. You can't ignore them or let them become a coat rack. This is one workout partner you mustn't bail on. You've got to be a good human.

Dogs equal duty, and duty can be a powerful motivator for fitness. Puppy dog eyes that say “Want to go outside?” can get you moving.

Choose your match

If you want a new four-legged friend to accompany you on your fitness endeavors, it's important to consider breed and build to make sure you're evenly matched. The dog for the workout warrior isn't the same one as for the casual walker. And some dogs swim well, while others should stay land-based.

“For any breed, you want to start out with an exam to give them a clean bill of health,” says Idaho-based Marty Becker, the veterinarian for VetStreet.com and author of more than 20 books on pet ownership, including one called “Fitness Unleashed” about working out with your dog. You don't want to push your new pal too hard; they need to adapt to training just like humans do.

“You want to get them panting tired,” Becker told me when I asked about how hard to let their pets work. “This will vary based on breed and age. You don't want them panting excessively. If they start falling behind or seeking shade, it's too much.”

And it's not just older dogs you need to be concerned about taking it easy on, but younger as well.

“Wait until the dog is fully matured until you really start pushing the mileage,” said Katrina Mealey, a professor of veterinary medicine at Washington State University. Mealey, who is a Boston-qualifying marathon runner, told me that certain breeds of dogs, once adapted to the distance, can make excellent training partners even for serious runners.

“It doesn't necessarily have to be a big dog,” Mealey told me. “I have a Jack Russell terrier that, when he was younger, I could take running for 8 to 10 miles at a fast pace.”

Remember dog's safety

Mealey and Becker agree that there are simple but significant differences to identify which dogs are better workout warriors than others.

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