5 Lessons About Exercise You Can Learn From Your Dog

by | Feb 23, 2015

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The same thing happens every day. Whether it’s raining or the sun is shining. Whether we had a late night encounter with raccoons or we’re well-rested. Shortly after lunch every afternoon my dog Toaster wanders into my office and puts his little head on my lap.

It’s time to go to the park.

While it’s clear that Mother Nature plays a roll in his timing (potty time is a an excellent trigger), it doesn’t take more than a glance to realize that there is a deeper motivation under all that fluffy fur.

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Our daily park trip is the best part of Toaster’s day. Nothing makes him happier than running full speed after his frisbee and hurling himself into the air to catch it, then triumphantly prancing back to me and dropping it at my feet.

He’s so adorable. And to be honest, going to the park has become one of the best parts of my day too.

A few weeks ago when Toaster and I were playing our familiar game of fetch I couldn’t help but notice not only the pure joy he was experiencing, but also how hard he was working.

We played until his tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth and he was panting so hard he just flopped over. I realized that I rarely feel so contented, or so exhausted after my own workouts at the gym.

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It struck me then and there that Toaster has something figured out that the rest of us still struggle with.

For Toaster, exercise isn’t a chore. It’s play.

Dogs have a fundamentally different outlook on physical activity than us hominids, and it got me thinking about all the lessons we can learn from their ability to find motivation where we can’t.

5 Lessons About Exercise You Can Learn From Your Dog

1. It’s play, not punishment

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I’ve been taking Toaster out to exercise for over three years now, and not once has he just jogged boring laps around the park. Instead he chases things, runs through puddles, makes new friends, and generally causes a ruckus. Basically, he uses it as an opportunity to do all the things he enjoys, but can’t do at home.

We humans can harness similar powers by incorporating fun activities into our workouts. You can rock out to your favorite 90s bands you’re embarrassed about (no one judges me for liking No Doubt on the elliptical machine), listen to podcasts and audiobooks (I read over 15 books last year, how about you?), or just having a friendly fitness competition with a friend via social apps like Fitbit.

2. It’s social

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Toaster might be the friendliest dog in the world, and few things make him happier than meeting new people and stealing their attention and affection.

He especially loves children, and whenever a new kid comes out onto the grass he wiggles over to it, puts his ears down so he isn’t threatening, and licks it’s hand. The child invariably squeals in delight, and if Toaster can get away with it he’ll go in for a cheek lick at that point.

Though I generally don’t lick people I’m happy to see, I know firsthand how motivating it can be to have a workout partner. I’ve been working out with the same friend for over five years, and I always get a better workout when we’re together than when I’m alone. Making it social makes it more fun.

3. They aren’t self-conscious

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Even though he is adorable, Toaster isn’t the most coordinated dog on the planet. It took him years to be able to catch a frisbee mid-air, and even now he can be seen making enthusiastic bounds into the air that are completely off target. I laugh at him every time, and he just picks up the dropped toy and runs it back to me to try again.

I know that many people feel intimidated by the gym, because they feel they look fat or stupid, or are too self-conscious to try anything new. This is a huge tragedy, and it exists entirely in your own head.

Almost no one is born with an innate ability to use fitness equipment or do proper pushups. Even the most avid gym rat had to learn somewhere at sometime. If you can put your ego aside you’ll see there is far more shame in not trying, then trying and not getting it right the first time.

If you really feel like you need help, don’t be afraid to hire a trainer for a few sessions to get you comfortable using the equipment.

You can also take comfort in the knowledge that most people are far more concerned about themselves while working out, and probably aren’t paying attention to you or anyone else.

4. It makes them better citizens

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To be perfectly honest, it isn’t Toaster’s desire to go to the park that gives me the discipline to take him every day. I love him to pieces, but I’m also very busy and have other things to do, just like everyone else. But I learned early on in puppy training that if Toaster doesn’t get enough exercise outside of the house, we’ll have trouble inside the house.

I lost many pairs of shoes and cleaned up more than my fair share of shredded books and toilet paper rolls before I learned that it is almost impossible for Toaster to behave at home unless he is able to get some of his energy out through exercise.

I also should have figured this out sooner, because I’m the same way. Not that I tear up shoes and books, but that I’m far more likely to get lost in meaningless minutia and dumb Facebook posts if I don’t clear my mind with a solid workout several times a week. Making time for exercise actually makes me more effective in the rest of my life.

5. It’s part of their identity

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There isn’t a cell in Toaster’s body that wonders whether or not it is appropriate to go to the park every day. Of course we’re going to the park. That’s what we do. Playing at the park is part of his dog-identity.

People who already exercise regularly and have been doing it for years or decades likely already feel that their fitness routine is part of who they are.

But if you haven’t yet built an exercise habit you might tell yourself you can’t exercise because, “I run a startup,” or “I’m a working mom,” or “I’m French.” (I’ve heard all these and more). While any of these facts may pose unique challenges to building a new habit, we often rest on these identities as reasons to do nothing.

On the flip side, someone who already has a self-identity that includes being “a healthy and active person” will likely stay that way even if they start a company or a family. In other words, our actions often originate from how we see ourselves.

The important thing to remember is that your self-identity can always be changed or expanded, especially if you truly do care about your health and quality of life. If you believe you are capable of enjoying physical activity on a regular basis, then you can.

What exercise lessons have you learned from your dog?

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16 Responses to “5 Lessons About Exercise You Can Learn From Your Dog”

  1. Donna Dobie says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Love the comparisons to dogs and it really does make sense. Thanks for putting a smile on my face today!

  2. Maggie Mae our english mastiff has really taught me never to quit. As a 250 pound 6 year old who thinks she’s a puppy she will continue to try new things and never quit. Including chasing and catching a frisbee in mid air which for a 250 pound dog is a little rough.

    She still tries though and that keeps me encourage to keep trying.

  3. Amanda says:

    Pets are forgiving. That’s a big one that my pets reminds me of regularly.

  4. fanny says:

    Dexter gets all anxious when it’s time for his walk. He never asks for five more minutes on his pillow.

  5. Marcia says:

    Your posts are always great , but I have to say this has to be one of your best yet! The pictures are just classic, showing all the facets of Toaster’s darling personality (well, the ripped up papers maybe not so much…). I love how you use Toaster’s natural approach to life to remind us how unnatural or own lives can become, which mine most certainly has recently. I’ve just begun a journey to rediscover my “Inner Toaster”, and it’s cathartic. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Emily says:

    I have two dogs – a must-be-exercised-daily boxer and a small couldn’t-care-less-about-exercise mutt. My boxer has taught me that sometimes, it’s gross outside. Sometimes, you don’t want to go out in the rain. But if you shut up and power through, the reward in the end is so, so sweet. And you will be calmer and happier, and you might even sit on the front porch thinking, “That rain wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was a little refreshing.” My mutt? Teaches me to play and explore. When he’s leashed, it’s not because he has energy to work off. He wants to see and be seen, say hello, sniff around. He teaches me that it’s not all about work. You can still get in your exercise and have a good time. You don’t have to be a slave to the treadmill — you can run at the park and explore new neighborhoods and soak up the sunshine while you’re active. Together, they prove to me that there’s no one-size-fits-all workout. It’s “What do you want to do today?” and then you go out there and do it. :o)

  7. Kate says:

    This is funny because just a few days ago I was talking with a friend about how we’re both annoyed with ourselves for being inconsistent around exercise and I said, basically: “Your body is basically a puppy. A puppy wants to run and play every single day, it craves motion, and when you don’t do that, your puppy is unhappy.”

    I should treat my own body as well as I treat my pet (in my case a cat but she, too, needs her playtime every day.)!

  8. Hilary says:

    Toaster is SO adorable, what breed is he? I want to be friends with him!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Thanks! He’s a mini labradoodle, and believe it or not he’s even cuter in person. Such an amazing dog with the most wonderful, happy disposition.

  9. Rakesh says:

    Loved the Article and Toaster too. Thank you am hitting the gym from tomorrow

    Take care

  10. Judith says:

    What a GREAT post Darya! I’ve agreed with this since I realized the same thing about animals AND children! So much energy makes me want to play too! And what an adorable dog you’ve got!!
    Judith

  11. Sherry A. says:

    Your post is very thoughtfully written, Darya:)

    I love seeing the pure joy my pomeranian experiences watching leaves blow away at her paws; she chases them with such urgency. It fills me with joy to witness her excitement.

    I need to bring that to my workouts! I’m blessed to be healthy and can move – Thank you, for encouraging new thinking in my life!

  12. Great article! I love how “in the moment” dogs are when they’re exercising. No worrying about unpaid bills or upcoming deadlines or getting through the morning commute. They’re completely absorbed in what they’re doing while they’re doing it.

    This actually ties into recent research that suggests being “mindful” during exercise makes the experience feel more satisfying. And that encourages people to exercise again. As a personal trainer, I have seen firsthand how much easier it is for clients to stick to a fitness plan when it’s built around an activity they can throw themselves into wholeheartedly.

    Finding a workout you really enjoy and “being present” while doing it can go a long way toward helping you sustain a regular exercise routine.

  13. sydney says:

    I know personally, my 4 dogs have helped me open up and i have become a healthier person because of it. when i don’t take them for some kin of exercise i feel horrible. i am making my animals be uncomfortable, because of my lack of commitment. so i make sure that i do something with them everyday even if it means just throwing a ball for them in my back yard it helps them sleep and it helps me break out a sweat. i love this blog it has helped me in so many ways!

  14. I come back to this blog post year after a year. My favorite line is that you’ve never seen Toaster run boring laps around the park.

    What a great way to see exercise, as play.

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