In the canine kingdom, weiner dogs are the stretch
That doesn't mean, though, that they're the only
dogs that could use a good strreeetch.
Just ask Beth Williams, a physical therapist, who's
putting her burly dog, Nitro, through the paces of her dog stretching
program in a vacant room next to Dog Training by P.J. in Reno.
"He's gonna show off for you now," said Williams
as Nitro's eyes light up in anticipation of strutting his stuff.
On William's request, Nitro, a 6-year-old Rottweiler,
offers up one paw, which Williams dutifully stretches. With one
leg done, a content-looking Nitro offers up the other paw. Soon,
Nitro is stretching up, down and from side to side as his eyes follow
a treat hidden in Williams' hands.
Getting a big, honking dog to do "cookie stretches"
just looks so gosh-darned cute. But the rationale behind Williams'
exercises goes beyond reducing onlookers to canine-induced laughs
and praise via baby talk.
For Williams, the stretches are the first step
to a full-fledged fitness program that also includes strength training
and endurance exercises. Remember the mantra of stretching before
you exercise? Turns out the same thing applies to our four-legged
Don't think you'll just be slacking off while your
dog gets into shape, either. The program — which goes by the
names "2-4 Fitness" (i.e. two legs and four legs) and "Fido N' Me
Fitness" — is designed to incorporate fitness for both man
and best friend, said Williams' dog-training partner, P.J. Wangsness
"It's a great way for people and their pets to
be able to stay fit and not have to do a more traditional-style
workout like running," Howle said. "There are just so many things
you can do with your dog than go out and jog."
Through thick and thin
Whether you're flipping newspaper pages or television channels,
one piece of health news seems to pop up over and over: Americans
are getting fat.
Unfortunately, dogs also are mirroring their calorie-chomping
"There's an epidemic of diabetes and obesity in
the human population," Williams said. "And yes, we're seeing it
in animals, too."
The similarities don't end there, Williams said.
As a physical therapist who works on both humans and dogs, Williams
said she's seen her fair share of people and canines limping into
her practice with conditions ranging from muscle strain to tendinitis.
Even treatment modalities — heat, cold and ultrasound —
can be the same for both, she said.
The best scenario, though, is to prevent problems
before they even start, Williams said. And when it comes to prevention
of many injuries, Williams believes that a good exercise regimen
would do the trick for both her two- and four-legged clients. For
that, the formula is quite similar as well: address flexibility,
strength and endurance.
Dogs who do demanding agility exercises, for example,
are especially susceptible to getting injuries. So are their handlers,
who run along their dogs as they zip through agility courses. One
way to reduce injuries is to stretch, especially before doing any
In their six-class program, Williams and Howle
start by teaching their students how to properly stretch their dogs
through proper motivation. Students also get a pedometer and information
materials, and they're taught how to take their own and their dog's
heart rate as well.
Depending on the size and breed of your dog, this
helps you monitor your pet's activity.
"It's important that we stay in our target heart
range and that the dog does as well," Howle said. "Dogs will go
forever. If you throw the ball 48 times, the dog will chase it 48
times. You don't want to overexert them."
Let the dog out
Once the basics are out of the way, the class eventually moves on
to the stations at Mira Loma park. There, you can get your dog to
do strength building exercises like doggie push-ups or have them
crawl under stations. You can even teach your dog to do his own
version of the jumping jack while you do your jumping jacks, as
Students also will be taught to come up with an
exercise routine that matches their dogs' abilities.
"This dog is not a ballerina," said Williams as
she motions toward Nitro. "He's a linebacker. So his program will
differ from a greyhound or even a puppy because they have more flexibility."
Dogs aren't the only ones who are taught personalized
exercise routines. Depending on age and fitness levels, their human
counterparts also are taught to do variations on the same exercise,
from straight push-ups from the ground to easier chair push-ups
— even wall push-offs for those who can't do the latter.
Then there are the little details like paying attention
to how hot pavement gets during the summer or special care for non-furry
dogs during outdoor romps in the winter.
By taking the class, Williams and Howle said they
hope owners will learn more about themselves and their dogs so exercising
will be more enjoyable and, as such, more effective. Just taking
off a few pounds from a person and big dog can make a big difference
in reducing joint injuries.
Walking usually puts four times the body weight
on joints for both people and dogs. If you take off four pounds,
that's similar to taking away 20 pounds of extra stress on those
joints, Williams said.
Tamera Buzick of Reno, who took the course this
summer, said the things she learned such as stretching have made
a big difference with her English cocker spaniel, Dozer, who was
starting to get injuries from doing agility. It also has made their
walks more fun.
"We'll be walking the course and we do something
at every stop — I'll do push ups, he'll do something," Buzick
said. "And dogs truly make good workout partners. When he knows
it's time to go for a walk, he'll whine and cry and drive me crazy
'til we go out. They're not like people who may go, ‘I just
don't feel like exercising today.'"
Besides fitness, there's also one more extra incentive
for learning more things you can do with your dog, Williams added.
"They need a job to do," Williams said. "If you
don't give them a job, they will make their own job, which may be
redoing the landscape in your lawn or terrorizing the UPS man. It's
so much better if the human teaches what job to do."
Dog Training by P.J. offers its six-class "2-4 Fitness" course in
either a six-week one class per week format or three-week and two
classes per week format. Cost is $110. Two introductory classes
also will be held this month -- Oct. 18, 4:15 to 5 p.m. and Oct.
29, 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. -- at 5303 Louie Lane, No. 19. Details: 828-0748.
Copyright © 2002 The Reno Gazette-Journal