Don't go it alone – that's a common tip on how to achieve your New Year's resolution, whether it's tackling that last 10 pounds, building muscle or running a 10K. If your partner is eager to please, in need of daily exercise and has four legs, that's even better, says Sal Sloan, owner of Fetching, a business that offers fitness boot camps for dogs and their owners. She came up with the idea after years of struggling to squeeze in exercise after working all day, making dinner and walking her dog.
"Wait. I need exercise, my dog needs exercise. We're doing this together,' Ms. Sloan says in the Fetching studio, where dozens of canine-human pairs have gathered for exercise class, led by both a personal trainer and a dog trainer. Other programs include running outdoor trails, fitness boot camp and agility courses.
While the class was under way, Ms. Sloan talked how to get the most out of running with your best friend.
Are there breeds that shouldn't run alongside a human?
Strangely, Great Danes, greyhounds – dogs that are used to short, explosive movements – shouldn't go for long runs. If you want to work on wind sprints, sure, but some dogs just aren't meant for distance running. Bulldogs and smaller flat-faced dogs – you're not going to get a distance run out of those guys. But any of the working, hunting breeds – labs, retrievers – they're great running buddies.
My dog would run as far as I like, but she pants a lot. Is that when we should we call it quits?
This is totally weather dependent. If it's humid and hot, your dog is probably uncomfortable. But if it's cool – just like humans with their fitness, heavy breathing and panting is okay.
Will dogs push themselves too far?
Consult a trainer. I've got a lot of clients who say: 'My dog just stops. Is he actually tired or just being lazy?' If your dog will start to move for treats, then you know they're okay and just being lazy. As long as you build your dog up gradually, fitness wise – and if your dog has no physical issues, and you're not pushing her hard eight days a week – go for it. It's a great way to burn energy for both of you.
What about gait? How does running with a human affect a dog?
Be gradual about it. Dogs aren't meant to accompany you on marathons, but running is in general good for them. Don't run with your dog for more than 45 minutes.
I run with my dog and she pulls the entire way. Is it okay for her?
It depends on whether it bothers you or not. The collar around her neck will put some pressure on her. For certain dogs – ones that have trachea problems, dogs with flatter faces – this can end up affecting their breathing and harming them. If you want your dog to stop pulling, it takes practice. As soon as your dog pulls, stop moving. We call it red light, green light. You have to practise and practise. Most dogs' natural pace is faster than ours – they want to go, go, go. But with working dogs and the smarter breeds, they'll figure out quickly: 'If I pull, I don't get to go where I want. That sucks, so I'm going to stop doing that.' Training is hard; it takes time.
Some dogs are easily distracted. The first pigeon sighting and they're making a B-line. What's your advice?
We teach a thing called look or touch. You've got to work with the dog beforehand. What this does is get the dog to focus her attention on you, at your command, using a motivator – praise, treats, or toy. When you're out running, after she's learned this command, the key is to anticipate the distraction – be looking out for pigeons, get the dog looking at you through that danger zone for a few seconds, then you'll be good to go.
What's the biggest challenge with running with dogs?
Young, big dogs that just want to go – that big puppy who doesn't want to pay attention to his owner, he's just complete chaos. This comes down to finding that dog's motivator. Dogs will work for something – one client has a dog that will do anything for a toy that smells like squirrel scent. For most, it's treat training.
Do dogs need winter running gear?
Most owners know if their dog is uncomfortable. I want to buy my Australian shepherd a coat, but he doesn't need it. Booties are great if you're running where there's salt. They're like us – they need to be warmer, so put a coat on them. Do keep in mind that dogs are animals – they're built for the outdoors and love to exercise. If they're happy, you know it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.