Barking up the right exercise tree


If you’re one of the 78.2 million of Americans who has a pet, you probably treat your dog or cat like family. And, if you’re like most American families that means you cuddle up on the couch and watch “The X Factor” and eat snack foods.

Of course, you feel guilty about not tossing the tennis ball for Fido or a skein of yarn for Fluffy. So, you vow to get both of your couch potato bodies up and outside for a little exercise. Great idea. Whether it is a walk around the block with the puppy, or hide-and-seek with the kitty, working out with your pet can be good for humans, canines and felines.

But like jump-starting your own fitness routine for the New Year, you need to do the same to make sure your dog or cat is up to the challenge. You won’t run a marathon after a winter of watching Nick at Nite marathons, so don’t ask Rover to roll over and do a 5K, if the farthest he’s run before is to the dinner bowl.

“You have to know your dog, not just your dog’s breed. There’s no cookie cutter,” says Kathy Santo, creator of “K9Living: Your Guide to an Obedient, Confident, Happy Dog,” a series of DVDs dedicated to dog training based on an individual animal’s energy level, work ethic and motivation. “You cannot go running with a dog who does not know to stay by your side. You could get hurt if he decides to run after a squirrel.”

From biking and hiking to swimming and even yoga, there are few limits to the kinds of exercise you and your pet can do together. Gerry Olin Greengrass, author of “Bow Wow Yoga: 10,000 Years of Posturing” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2003), pushes her 13-year-old dog to New York’s Central Park in a modified wagon. That’s a workout for her, pushing 80 pounds down the street. When they get to the park, the pup can get a workout that is better suited for her arthritic bones.

Getting into it means first assessing the animal. If your dog doesn’t know the command “come” or doesn’t pay attention when on a leash, you’ll want to start with basic obedience before you start inline skating with him along the lakeshore or bike path.

Even if you have a sporting breed who traditionally likes to run, if your dog is a puppy less than a year old, an older dog or has been living la vida lazy for a while, you want to make sure her joints are up to the task. Start with brisk walks and plenty of breaks for water. Watch how she reacts to that level of intensity before you kick it up a notch.

Don’t be afraid to look silly: The variety of with pet workouts keeps your fitness routine spicy. The ultra hip Crunch fitness health clubs, which has locations nationwide, offers yoga with your dog classes, often in big, popular city parks. If you know your dog won’t like sitting on a mat or pretending to be a tree, don’t try a program like this. But if he’s the adventuresome sort, you might leave feeling some inner peace.