MASTER CLASS: Treat Race turns playing with your dog into a workout

As we enter our third month with economic and social restrictions, exercising at home continues to gain traction. Over the last couple of weeks, I have presented some fun workout ideas for staying active with children by using the outdoors. This week, we are going to take things up a notch and provide a few tips for exercising with dogs.

While straightforward, working out with a dog does present some logistical challenges to think about. First, it is important to consider the dog's breed and physical condition.

An Irish setter, for example, probably has more energy and stamina than its owner. These dogs have long legs, a light body and are bred to run at high speeds while chasing down game. A member of the Sporting Group (as defined by the American Kennel Club), the Irish setter is naturally active and requires regular exercise to remain healthy.

A Pomeranian or Maltese, on the other hand, is too small for long-distance hikes or runs. These dogs' soft, puffy coats are also not ideal for getting down and dirty in a wet or muddy environment. These breeds are members of the Toy Group, so they are more suited for short-distance activities such as neighborhood walks or backyard fun.

Savvy owners already have a good idea how active their dog needs to be, and they thought about that before buying or rescuing the dog in the first place. Breed potential is a given, but it's just as important to think about the dog's water intake, temperature regulation ability and physical signs of exhaustion.

I learned this lesson while hiking to the top of Pinnacle Mountain (just outside Little Rock) with my shepherd mix in the early 2000s. After ascending the 1,031 feet together, my dog (Mister) sank down at the top. We rested for 5 or 10 minutes while enjoying the view and rehydrating. When it was time to head back down, he would not stand up. In fact, he wouldn't even move.

After trying to coax him to stand up for a few minutes and with darkness descending, I realized we had only one option. I would have to carry Mister down. I lifted his 50-pound frame onto my shoulders, with his front legs on one side and back legs on the other. Together, we made it down, and he recovered.

Even though Mister was an active breed of dog and was in good shape from many runs with me, the exertion of that hike was too much, and I learned a valuable lesson that day. My advice is to learn from my mistake and avoid steep, long hikes unless you are certain the dog can handle it.

But any breed is usually game for a little backyard fun, so there's really no participation requirements for this week's exercise. The Treat Race combines two things most dogs love, snacking and being outdoors.

1. Grab three of your dog's favorite treats and head outside with the dog.

2. Show the dog one of the treats. Pick the dog up and, while you hold the dog, place the treat on the ground.

3. Jog about 20 feet away, carrying the dog.

4. The goal is to set the dog down and race him to the treat.

5. If he wins, he is rewarded. If you win, you get to feed him a treat and enjoy the thrill of victory.

6. Do three races or race until you are both tired.

I love this exercise because the owner can work out right alongside the dog, and the dogs are so happy. My daughter and I run the Treat Race with our two King Charles cavaliers all the time, and it's a barrel of laughs. Enjoy!

Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Style on 05/11/2020