Fitness Friday: My Dog, the Personal Trainer By Ariella Monti

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Bailey is my 1-year-old Lab mix. She's an awesome dog, but like most Labs, she high-energy and needs a ton of exercise or she'll tear my house to shreds. It's because of her that I've been heading out at least four times a week to go for at least a one-mile walk. It's because of her that I've been able to lose any weight at all. Sufficient exercise not only keeps you in shape, but keeps your dog lean too. It will keep you both healthy for the long haul and your dog will have less behavioral problems.

Like most brides, I had plenty of weight I wanted to lose before my wedding day. Three years later, I can honestly tell you, I didn't really try that hard. I was at my heaviest when I got married. 

But, despite that (and some really unflattering photos) I think I looked pretty damn awesome on my wedding day. I had a dress that fit well and flattered my figure, my hair looked fantastic, and my cousin did my makeup in a natural, yet classy fashion.

After I got married, I vowed to lose that weight.

And then I gained even more.

Sigh….

As I approached my three-year wedding anniversary, my goal was to lose the married weight I gained and get back down to what I was on my wedding day. Unfortunately, I missed that goal by 1 pound. A couple days of bad news set me on an emotional eating binge and I fell off track. I am, however, proud of what I've accomplished so far.

Without money for a gym membership, my primary exercise routine is limited to things I can do for free at home. For the bulk of the past year, that's been walking and, more-recently, jogging.

Friends have called me an inspiration for jogging a mile or two at 6:15 in the morning. I can assure you that I don't have the discipline to hit the pavement that early on my own. I do it because if I don't, my dog will turn into a monster.

Fitness Friday: My Dog, the Personal Trainer By Ariella Monti

Bailey is my 1-year-old Lab mix. She's an awesome dog, but like most Labs, she high-energy and needs a ton of exercise or she'll tear my house to shreds. It's because of her that I've been heading out at least four times a week to go for at least a one-mile walk. It's because of her that I've been able to lose any weight at all.

Studies have shown that dog owners are more active than nondog owners. Sufficient exercise not only keeps you in shape, but keeps your dog lean too. It will keep you both healthy for the long haul and your dog will have less behavioral problems.

I'm not recommending that you go out and adopt a dog on a whim just so you have an excuse to get some exercise. Dogs require a huge commitment so think carefully before heading to your local shelter.

But, maybe you have a dog that could be a good walking or jogging buddy and never considered them as such.

Fitness Friday: My Dog, the Personal Trainer By Ariella Monti

How We Started

Let me start by saying I hate jogging. I've always hated jogging. Jogging is a means to an end, with that end being a smaller pant size.

Bailey and I started walking when she was about four months old. Our walks would range from 1.3 miles in our neighborhood to 3 miles on a greenway trail.

I waited until Bailey was about 10 months old before kicking it up to jogging. We started slow by doing the Couch to 5K program. I downloaded a free app for my iPhone and used that to begin our training.

I honestly never got past the third week. Things would happen and I'd have to stop and then start over a couple of weeks later. But one day in February, I just jogged as far as I could. Bailey and I had jogged a mile. At that point I could count on one hand how many times I had ever jogged a mile. I had never in my life jogged a mile outside. This was a major milestone. We kept at it and we're now up at 2 miles.

Fitness Friday: My Dog, the Personal Trainer By Ariella Monti

Some Tips

Talk to your vet: Not all dogs are suited for jogging. Check with your vet to make sure your dog is healthy enough to start a jogging regime.

Talk to your doctor: Most people don't think to consult their doctor for tips on how to effectively lose weight. I recently paid mine a visit and she gave me a diet to follow and asked that I come back in a couple of weeks. This has helped keep me on track and keep me accountable.

Start slow: The Couch to 5K program is great because it alternates walking and jogging, allowing you and your dog to build up your strength. Take it slow and build up your speed with time.

Listen to your body: Push it, but don't over do it. Listen to your body. Your body is going to be tired. It's going to hurt. There's going to be pain you can and should push through and then there's going to be pain that you shouldn't. Let your body guide you and if you need to back off, do it.

Listen to your dog's body: This is especially crucial during the warmer months. I follow the adage that if it's too hot for me, it's too hot for Bailey. This means we go out at 6:15 a.m. before the hot North Carolina sun has started to peek over the trees. Keep a close eye for signs of heat stroke, which include excessive panting, excessive drooling, bright red tongue, red or pale gums and dizziness.

Drink water: Drink lots of water afterward and make sure your dog has plenty available. Bailey loves chewing on ice cubes after a jog, but doesn't like drinking water while we're out and about.

Prepare for extra training:  I quickly learned that Bailey is afraid of children with backpacks. My normally friendly dog begins barking at children she sees waiting for the bus. I use this situation as a training opportunity. I bring high-value treats with me and only pull them out when we are about to pass a bus stop. I work on keeping Bailey's focus on me and not the children. I often do this while still jogging. Sometimes, though, you're going to have to put your cardio aside and cater to the needs of your dog.

Make it fun: Jogging might be torture for you, but it should be fun for your dog. Bailey took to jogging really quickly. She's actually a better jogging dog than a walking dog. When she walks, she's easily distracted by a urine-scented mail box. When we jog, she's much more focused. I periodically reward her with praise and a treat during our jogs. When we reach our goal we cheer, give high fives (seriously) and Bailey gets lots of pets and ear scratches. Whatever your dog loves, try to incorporate that in your jog. And if your dog is just downright miserable, don't force her to do it.

Be Prepared to Stop: Unless you have a super well-trained dog, it's likely that you'll have to stop a couple of times if for nothing else, to allow your dog to do her business. Despite having a whole yard to poop in, Bailey always has to go number 2 when we walk or jog. We rarely have a continuous walk or jog that doesn't require a quick break and I'm OK with that. I'm not OK with carrying a bag of poop, but I don't get all worked up about a quick potty break.

Wear Appropriate Gear: If you're going to jog or walk at night, make sure you and your dog are both wearing reflective gear or invest in a harness, leash or collar that lights up at night. And while we're talking safety, if you have to jog in the street like I do, make sure you are jogging against traffic.

I have about 40 more pounds to lose before I want to start expanding our family. The past year with Bailey by my side has been my most successful weight loss year of our marriage. I'm hoping that by my fourth wedding anniversary, I'll be down to my goal weight.

Ariella MontiAriella Monti is a broke public affairs journalist based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. She was the woman behind the blog, L.I. Budget Bride, until she got married and got way too busy with three jobs to manage the site.

Maybe now that she’s got some spare time, she’ll revive it. Until then, she is happy Cris lets her delve back into the wedding world when she needs a fix. For pictures of her dog, cats and latest garden adventure, follow her on Twitter at @AriellaM.