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Welcome to Hill’s Doggy Boot Camp! Did you know that exercising with your pet is a great way to keep fit and help keep your dog at their ideal weight? We’re going to show you how to do doggy boot camp with some simple exercises that involve your pet in your fitness routine.
Do the ‘prep’
Fit as a fiddle? Great! If you do have any concerns about your own fitness, or that of your pet, always get a health check before taking vigorous exercise. Dogs that are carrying too much weight, or have joint problems might still be able to exercise but the type of exercise they can do might have to be modified. Always ask your vet if you’re not sure.
You don’t have to be a sporty superstar or miracle dog trainer to take part – doggy boot camp is designed for normal pet dogs and their owners, just like you.
Get warmed up
As with any good exercise class the first step is a warm up to loosen those muscles and prevent strains and sprains. Walking your dog on the lead to the boot camp venue or around the exercise space gets you both off to a great start.
Remember to get into the right mind set. Both you and your dog are about to go on a steep learning curve and the most important thing is to have fun, laugh at your mistakes and don’t set your expectations too high for this first session. Your dog already thinks you’re perfect and if they can please you, they’re going to be pretty happy. Make sure that you also give plenty of praise along the way.
If it’s warm, or you both get really active, make sure that you have breaks to drink some water. If you’re sweating, your dog is likely to be keeping cool by panting and that’s going to make them pretty thirsty.
Take your stations
During doggy boot camp you’ll have the chance to go to exercise stations, each of which will offer a different type of exercise. Give yourself five minutes at each station then move around the circuit. Differing exercises will ensure you stretch and strengthen different muscle groups.
Our first exercise uses a simple hula hoop. Start off with the hoop touching the ground. Encourage your dog to step through. It’s okay to use food treats if that’s what really motivates your pet. Just reduce their daily meal to account for those extra calories. A mixture of praise, patting and food treats works even better.
Once your dog is confidently stepping through the hoop, raise it off the ground. You might find it easier to have one person holding the hoop as you encourage your pet through by calling their name from the opposite side. In no time at all they’ll be jumping and stretching those leg muscles.
Think about adding a one word command (like ‘hoop’) every time your pet jumps through – this will help them understand what you want next time.
As your dog has regular breaks, use the hula hoop yourself in the usual way.
Place a series of poles on the ground, around 50cm apart. All you have to do now is run over the poles alongside your dog. To start with, this will be easier with your dog on the lead but as you gain in experience you should be able to do this off-lead, as long as the boot camp is taking place in a safe, secure area.
As well as providing good aerobic exercise as you sprint, the poles encourage your dog to lift their feet up, building flexibility and helping with correct positioning of the feet during exercise.
Five minutes of running backwards and forwards will soon build speed and stamina and your dog will be having a whale of a time!
The 6-leg lunge
If you have ever performed a leg lunge you will know it’s all about muscle control and balance. Now it’s time to test your skills to the limit and build leg and hip strength.
Start with a walking lunge, take a big step forward then lower your body down, keeping the lower half of your leading leg at right angles to the ground, with the other leg touching the ground behind. Both knees should be bent and the leading knee should not extend beyond your toes. With your back straight and your ‘core’ stomach muscles pulled in, hold in a stationary position.
Now gently encourage your dog on the lead to weave between your legs. As your dog emerges, stand up and take another big step and lunge again using the opposite leg to lead, again encouraging your dog to walk between your legs.
This can be a difficult one to master until you have perfected the lunge, so you might want to practice at home. Once your dog gets the idea, weaving through becomes a lot easier, allowing you to concentrate on keeping that back straight and using your core abdominal muscles.
You are half way round now. If your motivation is flagging use these handy hints:
- Make it seem exciting and your dog will follow you! Dust off those acting skills and play the part.
- Teaching a new skill requires patience. But think about how impressed everyone will be by your pet’s newly acquired tricks.
- Keep changing the reward you offer. A favourite toy can encourage your dog to follow a path as well as a food treat.
- Start off slow. There’s plenty of time to speed up once your dog has learnt the technique.
- Make time to allow your dog to make new doggy friends. It’s stimulation for their mind and every bit as important.
- Remember that laughing increases your heart rate by 10-20% and is therefore a justifiable element of your fitness routine.
The Collie Weave
We’ve all seen those agile collies weaving between poles at big events. If you take your time, your dog could do it too. Show the way by running alongside your dog who stays on the lead. Help guide them through the poles by leaning and applying gentle pressure with your body and using lots of encouragement. Your dog will soon be racing you to the finish line.
High 5 Plank
You’ll be relieved to know that this move isn’t too complicated.
We’re aiming for an exercise here that is easy to do and to build fitness through holding position and repetition. While you exercise your body this one tests your dog’s mind.
In the plank you aim to lie face-down and then raise your body with your weight resting on your lower arms which are held flat to the floor. The body is held in a straight line putting tension on the core abdominal muscles. Simply holding that pose for a few minutes is a great work out.
As you hold the plank position, see if you can get your dog to go from the stand position to lie down face to face, or even to ‘high five’ you if you raise your hand.
Sit ups and downs
Otherwise known as ‘squats’ by gym bunnies, this exercise is great for toning up. Stand straight with your feet apart and lower your body, pushing your hips back and bending your knees. As you lower into the squat encourage your dog to sit.
Hold in the squatting position then rise to stand again, at the same time instructing your dog to stand too.
As you’re lowering into the squat you might find it easier to stretch your arms out in front of you for balance and you can guide your dog into the correct position at the same time.
Again you just have to repeat this exercise as often as is comfortable while at this exercise station.
Once you have completed a whole circuit you might want to go round once more for a complete hour long class.
Then it’s time for some gentle stretches to help you both cool down slowly and get your breath back.
Get a health check if you have any concerns over your own or your pet’s ability to exercise.
Make sure fresh drinking water is available for both of you
Give other dog owners space to do their own exercises and be aware that some dogs need more personal space than others
Keep your dog on a lead during the exercise when participating in a class with other dogs and their owners
Make sure you are carrying out the exercises properly and seek advice from qualified instructors
Know you and your dog’s limits – if an exercise hurts or isn’t enjoyable move on to something else.
Feed your dog in the hour before or after exercise, other than small amounts of treats to reward positive behaviour
Feel frustrated or impatient if you or your dog can’t do an exercise properly. The aim is to have fun and get active rather than to perform at a high level.
Stop after one class! Do doggy boot camp regularly to really benefit.
Did you know that carrying just 20 percent excess weight can predispose your pet to arthritis, heart disease and diabetes?
If your dog is overweight, talk to your veterinary surgeon about a weight loss programme. Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic+Mobility is one way forward for pets when weight gain becomes an issue but let’s do all we can to keep them active and at their ideal weight.