DOG OWNERS love their pets and want to do best by their best friend.
We spend thousands of pounds each year on making sure they have the right food, the right veterinary care, that they are professionally groomed, have enough toys and treats and even sometimes we employ dog walkers so that they are not left on their own all day.
Yet, there is one thing that we are all guilty of forgetting from time to time – our dog has a brain and they need to use it.
Time is often a key factor in this. Families are living busier and busier lives. Most owners know that their dog needs a walk and they leave themselves an hour or two spare a day for that. But after running around all day, the last thing they want to think about is sitting down with a clicker and pot of treats to engage the dog’s mind. The reality is, however, if their dog is not using its mind positively, it will look to use it in other ways and that is when frustration-related behaviours can develop.
Well, fret not. There is something new, fresh and fun being brought to the island. Aimed at not only engaging your dog’s mind, but also developing your own fitness, Petsercise Gsy offers an outlet of professional training for both owner and canine. The 45-minute classes are based around circuit training, with owners building strength in their core, legs and arms while the dogs are focused and engaged doing tricks and manoeuvres that will not only benefit them mentally, but also physically.
The six-week course is being brought to the island by myself at Canine Behaviour Guernsey in association with Ryan Dawe Health & Fitness. While there are puppy classes available on island – I volunteer with the puppy and beginner life skill classes with the GSPCA – there are few options available for dogs that are ready to move on to the next stage but whose owners do not want to compete. We wanted to offer something fun and an outlet for those owners who might be struggling to balance their work/social life with meeting their dogs’ needs.
And what better way to do so then coupling it with an exercise programme for the owner?
As a personal trainer, Ryan has worked with people who are at many different levels with their fitness. And as a dog trainer, I have worked with many different breeds of dogs who are at different stages with their training. This means we are able to make the classes as flexible as possible and support people and their pets all the way. ‘We will be starting the courses with some basic exercises,’ said Ryan. ‘The dogs will need to be taught what to do, using cues at the beginning, and that is why we have made it a course rather than one-off sessions.
‘We hope people will take the exercises home and practise and by the middle to end of the course, the workout will become more intense. We can change the criteria for anyone who might be struggling with an exercise or up the criteria for anyone who is cruising through it. We also hope to introduce new exercises throughout the course. In short, you will get out of it what you put in.’
We have been doing taster sessions so those interested can have more of an idea what it is about. So far, we have had dogs whose abilities range from the lower bracket of intermediate to those who are super-advanced and used to a class setting. But we do not expect all dogs to turn up and do the exercises straight away. It helps if they have been taught the basics first and so we have set a minimum criteria – sit, lie down, stay, paw/high five and fetch/retrieve and recall. But owners should not expect too much of their dogs at the beginning. As with all training, we need to give them the time to learn what they are supposed to be doing by being patient and showing understanding. It is not a competitive class and dogs and owners will learn and develop at different paces.
The course will also improve owners’ general fitness. Speaking from experience, I know how hard it is when looking to get back into fitness.
After suffering a serious injury, the thought of joining an exercise class or bootcamp was incredibly daunting. I was worried what would happen if I could not do some of the exercises due to the limitations of my knee injury. People would think I was using it as an excuse or cop-out and I would look a fool. Of course, that is probably not what would have happened and I am sure people would have been understanding, however those thoughts crossed my mind and put me off going along to classes and camps with my friends. Now, if I could have taken my dog with me, that would have been a different story. There is something very therapeutic about having your second in command by your side, no matter what you are doing. I know this because instead of going to a class or camp, I brought home eight-week old Murphy instead and got fit again through walking and spending time doing tricks and exercises with him in the garden. Dogs give people the confidence and motivation to do certain things they might have been putting off because suddenly, you are not on your own. Somehow your dog just understands and acts as a support to you.
‘A great benefit to taking part in Petsercise Gsy is the bond that owners will develop with their dog,’ said Ryan.
‘We have seen people join who have enjoyed being able to have that one-to-one time with their pets. They have loved it and so have their pets. Owners have also said they have felt the benefit from the exercise and have been keen to go home and show their family what they have learnt.’
Working with dogs and their owners, I know just how important a strong bond with your dog is. Having the ability to keep your dog focused on you when there are many other distractions around should be the ultimate aim for every owner. Our sessions will encourage and enable this.
The classes will be held at the GSPCA training hall and the weekly sessions will take place on Monday and Thursday evenings.
‘We’d like to thank the GSPCA for all the help and assistance they have provided us with getting Petsercise Gsy off the ground,’ said Ryan.
‘We hope in the future to offer advanced sessions for those participants who want to carry on and to continue to offer something fresh and new for both the island’s human and canine population.’