Relearn to play from your dog

Some of you may wonder how is it posibble to get regular and sustained movement.  The answer is play!

But who’s your coach gonna be?  The answer is your dog!

Dogs understand that play is fun. They also understand that real play begins in the body and involves movement.

play with your dog

We will never get to a healthy weight without understanding that, in many important ways, humans are animals. Our minds might enjoy “playing” computer games. But millions of years of human evolution have created a body that loves to express itself through exuberant movement. Kids know this. Many adults forget.

Some adults make the mistake of trying to over-organize play. That’s why fitness programs become dull, repetitive, over-measured, soulless, or bound up by teams and rules. Your dog isn’t buying it.

If it’s fun, you’ll do it more. Walking with your dog is fun for both of you, especially if you mix it up and respond to your dog’s naturally playful spirit.

The play master: Frank Forencich’s dog Mojo

One of Weight Waggers’ favorite writers is Frank Forencich. He has a degree in human biology from Stanford and has taught martial arts and functional movement for 25 years.

But he’s not too proud to learn from his dog.

Here are a few excerpts from his fascinating and original book Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play and Joyful Movement. Weight Waggers recommends the entire book.

Play includes varied movement

Forencich urges people to avoid the overly determined approach:

 “My dog’s name is Mojo…. His fitness program is truly amateurish…. He violates all the rules. When he exercises, he doesn’t warm up or cool down. He doesn’t check his heart rate and he  never measures his body fat percentage….. He doesn’t keep a spreadsheet and he never bothers   to log his progress. He has no performance objectives….

There’s no sense of discipline to his method. When he goes out on the trail, he sets whatever  pace he wants…. On some days he walks, some days he does wind sprints, some days he goes swimming….

Not only that, Mojo is completely apathetic about competition…. If he gets tired, he rests. If he gets hot, he seeks out shade. If his paw hurts, he slows down.

According to everything I read in the fitness and sports medicine press, Mojo out to get in terrrible condition…. But no, it’s not like that at all…. He’s got great muscle tone and a slender waist.

He does adhere to one basic rule. That is, he tries to get moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week. That’s it. Aside from his obvious preoccupation with play and pleasure, this is his only rule for fitness. “(p. 232-233)


Real play begins in the body and involves movement

In 2004, Forencich interviewed his dog, Mojo, one of the “preeminent voices in the field of play philosophy” who has won “numerous awards for his work in the field of cross-species play.”

 Forencich: So what about humans then? Do they play too?

Mojo: Well I assume they do, but it’s really hard to tell sometimes. They aren’t like other animals, that’s for certain. Sometimes aney run and jump like normal critters, but a lot of them just sit there, for hours on end, hardly doing anything at all. I worry about them….

You humans are so dense sometimes. The point is that play begins in the body and that it involves movement…. All other forms come from that. You might say that you’re playing in some other way, but if you’re not moving your body, you’re missing out. You might be playing with all of your objects and tools and and sounds that you make, but if you don’t actually move, you’re missing the best part. (p. 209-212)

Learn more about Forencich and his books.


ivv-logoAbout volksmarching

Volksmarch translates from German as “people’s walk.” It is a noncompetitive walk, usually 10k. For those who are unfamiliar, here’s a fuller definition from the website of the American Volkssport Association (AVA):

“A volksmarch is a noncompetitive 3.1 mile (5 km) or 6.2 mile (10 km) walk. It’s not a pledge walk, it’s not a race, it is a fun activity you do with a club, with your family, with your pet, or all by yourself. Volksmarching got its name from its origins in Europe. Today there are thousands of volkssport clubs around the world, allied in the International Volkssport Federation, the IVV.”


Volksmarch with your dog

There are a lot of people who love bringing their dogs with them for a volksmarch. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a brilliant idea for both of you to have fun, move together and change the scenery. But, before you plan to do so, please check the specific event rules for each volksmarch. Some may say: “Pets are allowed, but must be leashed at all times during the walk.” Also, make sure your dog has the appropriate temperament and training.

FMWR hold third annual Volksmarch at Smith Lake
Photo courtesy of Sharilyn Wells/Paraglide


Getting the best out of a volk

smarch with your dog

In order for both you and your dog to take the best out of this amazing walking experience, you need to assure safety and comfortableness.


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  • Make sure your dog can handle long walks. You can prepare for this by taking him on small walks first, and then increase  the time and pace gradually. If your dog has accompanied you on long walks before but there might have been quite a long time since then, you need to make sure he’s not out of shape in order to prevent serious health problems from arising during, or even after finishing a volksmarch.
  • Think about the temperature. Really hot weather can make your dog just as uncomfortable as you get in such conditions, sometimes even worse.  Before committing to a long walk, make sure you check the forecast  for the whole day. If you think it might get too hot, you can even decide to leave your dog home for the day. Don’t worry, there will always be other opportunities!
  • Make sure you are carrying lots of water for your dog too. Depending on how big or small your dog is, you need to be aware of the right amount of water that he normally needs and that he would need in long walks. This can be based on your own previous experience, but if you are unsure of this, the best way is to ask your vet about the best quantity.
  • Don’t forget to take food for your dog with you. You might be tempted to carry treats and other unhealthy snacks because they seem like an easier option but you don’t have to give up on your dog’s healthy eating routine; you can simply bring his favorite food into zipped packs and decide upon specific times when to feed him.
  • Always use a leash for safety. Even though you know that your dog is friendly and could never do any harm to other runners or dogs, you can’t count on how other dogs are. So, the best thing to do for the safety of your dog is to keep him on a leach at all times.
    Tensed situations between dogs can rapidly excalate, so there might not be enough time to put the leash on your dog in case he gets a face-to-face confrontation with another dog. It’s always good to prevent such things. Don’t worry, your dog can run without a leash in a more intimate and private area, like the back yard of your own house.
  • Pay attention to your dog’s feet and always carry small pet first-aid kit. If the terrain is rough or has large, sharp rocks, make sure your dog’s feet are not cut or injured in any way. It would be preferable to carry your dog over the dangerous parts of the trail and if he is too heavy try to find a safer path for his paws.  If injuries occur along the way, use the first-aid kit that you ought to have. This should consist of at least non-stick pads, gauze, cotton and a bandage.
  • Make sure u check his fur for insects or burrs. If you walk in tall grass you need to check his entire body for ticks and other infects that might have crawled into his fur. Keep Your dog well-groomed to avoid insect infestation.

Some last tips that are very useful:
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  • Always pay attention to the surroundings.  There might be dogs that are not very well- mannered, usually in the towns and surrounding areas.
  • If your dog is distressed you should get him to a safe place, don’t push him too hard.

There are many volksmarchers  who usually go with their dogs, and here is  a very detailed blog with photos about this wonderful,  never-ending experience.

And make sure you check out this Paraglide newsletter reporting on the Third Annual Fort Bragg Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Volksmarch, when over 200 dogs happily joined their owners

Your dog can rescue you only if you show up

Don’t rely on other people to build a weight wagging habit. Your dog can only rescue you if you show up and build a habit.

You are the pack leader

Feeling better and looking good should help motivate you to keep up your commitment, as should the bond you build with your dog. Remember that you are fitness partners but it is you who is (quite literally!) the leader. Your dog will be a faithful and enthusiastic training partner, but he can’t do it without you. Make a simple commitment for both your sakes and start enjoying a healthier lifestyle one step at a me.

People start to walk for all sorts of reasons. They know that it’s healthy and they need to stay active. Unfortunately, how hard we work, our effort and energy is measured by our motivation. When we’re doing things for ourselves, to be healthy and fit, we can easily slide.

Your dog can rescue you

Dogs motivate us to walk

But when we’re asked to perform for someone else, when the motivation is external, we rise to the occasion. We even go above and beyond. Studies show that people are much more likely to stick to a walking program with a dog than with a friend or any other human. Volunteers who walked shelter dogs and had to ride a bus to get to the shelter were the most compliant with the walking program.

That’s because dogs don’t read text messages or understand excuses. They just miss you when you don’t show up. When you’re deciding to walk your dog, don’t think about it as something you’re only doing for yourself or only for your four-legged friend. The relationship helps the both of you.

Benefits for both of you

Here’s a startling statistic: More than 50% of dogs are overweight. Like people, they’re overfed and under-exercised. When you take a dog out on a walk, you’re participating in their natural instincts to explore. It stimulates their brains and keeps them happy. Walks keep the dog calm and help them bond with you.

Rather than simply letting your furry friend out into the yard, take a stroll together through the neighborhood. You’ll get benefit from the physical activity, true, but you’ll also have the knowledge that you’re doing a good thing for your pet. The happiness of your pet is a great reason to get moving.

But remember, when you walk your dog, as much you’re helping them stay active and fit, you’re doing to the same for yourself. The same benefits your dog gets from walk, you get. Regular walks will reduce stress, inflammation, burn calories and lower cholesterol levels.

Walking helps maintain weight loss over the long term and reduces the risk of diabetes by a third. All that from walking and spending time outside with a perfect support system. The dog is always going to help you stay fit as long as they get to have some of the fun.

What can be learned from the Winter Warlock

Winter WarlockOne of my most cherished childhood memories was the annual airing of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This lively retelling of the history of Santa included a message that has stayed with me all my life. When the young Kris Kringle transforms the Winter Warlock into a thoughtful wizard with a gift of kindness, Winter expresses a desire to change his behavior permanently, but, like many of us, he fears this is too difficult.

Until very recently, neuroscientists believed that the adult brain was fixed and unchangeable. But today’s scientific buzzword is neuroplasticity. ‘Neuro’ means brain, and ‘plastic’ means changeable—neuroplasticity is just a fancy word for brainchanging. Neuroscientists might have thought Brain-Changing was difficult or impossible, but many ordinary people disagreed; they were just waiting for the science to catch up.

Kris Kringle’s advice to the winter warlock about the possibility and path of behavior change has stuck with me all of my life: big changes start with little changes. I could write a lot about the process of habit change, but I doubt I would do a better job than the song I remember so well…

Winter Warlock_Poem_Weight Waggers

Changing habits is more than changing your mind. The brain and nervous system is similar to a network of electrical circuits and cables. Neuroplasticity, or Brain=Changing literally “rewires” your brain. When we start a new behavior, the wire is thin and patchy. The connection is as slow as an old AOL dial up. But the more we practice a certain behavior the stronger and faster the connection becomes.

When we are born, the brain is a bit like a new computer. The hard drive is almost empty, except for a few essential software programs. After a while, the hard drive gets full and cluttered. In order to “enter new data,” something has to go. The adult brain is similar—new behaviors only get incorporated if they are important enough to earn some valuable brain real estate.

The Brain-Changing Formula of mindfulness, movement and mood are what alert your brain to the desirability of the new behavior. When we are mindful and pay attention, so does our brain. A treadmill is not mindful.

The brain values movement more than anything. It isn’t enough to think about something, or gather information from Google. We have to actually, physically move our body… even if it is something as simple as writing, or talking, or walking.

Finally, mood is crucial. Our brain puts priority on extremes. We learn much more effectively and efficiently when we are happy and calm. The brain interprets our constant mental state of stress and scrambling as a bar to new learning; it needs to take care of immediate and potentially threatening problems before devoting the valuable resources of building blocks and fuel towards learning something new or developing a new habit.

Healthy habits don’t happen overnight. But you can do a lot to facilitate the process. Start by STARTING.

Mark Twain once said “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

What better way to lighten the mood than to walk with your dog? You will BOTH benefit. And remember the song: “Just put one foot in front of the other…”  It’s a step in the right

It doesn’t take magic to train your dog

train your dogSeveral years ago, on a very cold winter night in Chicago, as I was driving down the alley behind my house, a little dog limped out in front of my car and stared at me as if to say “please stop, I need some help”. I did. I got out of my car and as soon as I called him, he came limping into my arms.

He had no tags, his paws were red and raw and his hair was matted. He clearly had been outside in the freezing weather for a long time. I brought him inside our lobby to warm up and called my partner to come downstairs.

My partner (NOT a dog person at the time) came downstairs. He was in the middle of making dinner and was clearly irritated that I brought in a stray off the street. He didn’t want me to bring the dog upstairs since he had just cleaned the house, and said he would come down instead. As soon as he came off the elevator and they made eye contact, everything changed. It was literally love at first sight.

We called the police to see if anyone had reported a missing dog. The dispatcher said that they would send Animal Control to come and pick him up. In the ten minutes it took for Animal Control to arrive, we both bonded with this little guy. When the officer arrived, he explained that he would have to take the dog to the local shelter where they would keep him in a crate for up to a week, and if no one claimed him, he would most likely be euthanized.

After all he’d been through, we couldn’t let this little guy go to a shelter, so we asked the officer if we could take him in until they or we found his owner. He seemed very relieved that we offered and said “yes.”

The next day, we put up notices and contacted the surrounding Animal Hospitals, etc. Well, to make a long story short, no one ever claimed him and so we decided to adopt him. We named him Harvey, after the street that I found him on.

Okay, so now we had this dog. He was a really sweet guy but a bit of a mess. Once we got all of his mats out (a feat that took several weeks,) cleared up his frost bite and ear infection, we could see what he really looked like. We determined (with the help of our vet) that he was some kind of a terrier/poodle mix. Also, now that he was feeling better, we found that he was completely untrained and on the wild side with no social skills what-so-ever!

Our next goal was to train him, or at the very least, teach him how to walk on a leash without pulling us every which way and chasing and barking at every dog, cat, squirrel or bunny that neared our path. The Catch-22 was that the only thing we knew to do to burn off his endless energy was to walk him for hours at a time. It became frustrating and exhausting.

We sought out professional advice and joined a volunteer group that donated their time training shelter dogs so that they could be adopted easier. Even some of the volunteers would roll their eyes when we brought Harvey to class, as he had a very short attention span and seemed much more interested in sniffing and playing with the other dogs than in training.

After a lot of hard work, patience, and of course, positive reinforcement, Harvey has become a wonderful addition to the family. Everyone says how “lucky” we are to have such a well trained and well mannered dog. While I feel incredibly “lucky” to have found Harvey that cold winter night, “luck” had very little to do with him being so well behaved. It took a lot of time, work and patience to make him the dog that he is today. But as we all know, anything worthwhile takes time.

We are “lucky” in the sense that life has become more fulfilling. Priorities have shifted. We spend more time outside and with each other. My partner has become more patient and tolerant toward me, Harvey and himself have let go of a futile need for “perfection.” We have a four-legged common bond that has filled our lives with joy, and a deeper sense of what’s important in life.

Harvey has also opened us up to friendships with other dog lovers and people like you who we otherwise would have never met. In a way, he’s socialized us!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] Written by Michael Ehlers[/author_info] [/author]

Eating skills not dieting skills – Avoid snacks to control weight

Dr. Theresa, her dog Seanchai, and Puppet Pal, George, discuss the importance of avoiding snacks to control weight for dogs and people.

More testimonials 2

[testimonial author=”Mimi Pollow” ]

My favorite walking companion for the last eleven years has been my dog Silas. He is a peke-a-poo. His first volksmarch was at the Northern Virginia Volksmarchers event in early May 1996. He was only three months old and was carried for half the walk. This was also the first walk he ever worked at.

I was working at a checkpoint. Silas was sleeping on the chair next to me. Every time someone came up, I would stand up to stamp their start card (a personal idiosyncrasy) and Silas would do so too. He was only three months old, had just done a 5 KM walk, and needed his sleep. I began holding him in my arms on his back, just like a baby, so he could sleep while I worked the checkpoint. He slept through our whole shift.

[testimonial author=”Kevin Shaw”]

At the Piedmont Pacers walk, at the Linganore Winery near Mt Airy MD about a year ago, Peaches did her famous 1/2 hour swim in this pond near the finish (It was quite a hot day, and I wanted the pooches to cool off). However, Peaches cooled off fast, then decided all the ducks and geese would be a lot of fun to swim after. Peaches covered every square foot of that pond, chasing the waterfowl. But she would get close, and they would just fly away!

This female walker worried about Peaches, and shamed me into trying to swim after her. She was going to do it if I didn’t! She thought I couldn’t swim. Just as I was about to enter the water, Peaches calmly swam over to shore near me. So I grabbed her and brought her to shore. My friend Marty had tried to find a boat at the start point, but to no avail. Peaches at times was breathing quite hard, and sounded like one of the waterfowl she was chasing, honking away! She also would honk hard when she would get so close to the birds, and they would fly away, and Peaches would get so exasperated! I believe I posted about this walk on the walklist and may be in your archives somewhere.

[testimonial author=”Lucy Krupp”]

My husband’s Maltese (a male named “Angel” who believes himself a Doberman) will follow my husband Marv anywhere. He has been on about 8 10k volksmarches. The only way this is possible is for me to hold his leash and walk several yards behind Marv. As long as Marv moves, the dog moves.

We always carry a water dish. The very first walk he did was a city walk with the Mid-Florida Milers. It was all concrete, and Angel didn’t seem to tire, but when we got home, he was too stiff to walk up two steps into the house. He slept almost nonstop for two days. We don’t take him on city walks anymore. The best walk for him was in Helen, Ga. It was all soft pine needles.

[testimonial author=”Marilyn McCarthy”]

My dog is a black dog and the sun really bothers him. I tried to make a cover for him out of a

t-shirt, but it didn’t work. He is resourceful in looking for shade when we are doing walks. Several people in our volksmarch club remember times when he would always be heading for shade on walks. I ended up carrying him several times on a walk in Page/Strawberry AZ because it was hot and hilly and he did want to budge.

Most of the time he is a real trooper and has been a great companion, since most of the time, it is just the two of us doing the walks. When I travel to walks, we camp out in the back of my truck which has a camper shell. I specifically bought the truck so that we could take road trips and he could sleep with me in the truck. It has worked out great.

[testimonial author=”Robin Rosenstock”]

Sherpa, my German Shepard, and I started walking while living in Germany about 7 years ago. When we first started walking, true to his heritage, if he thought we should be going faster, he started herding us along by circling the group.

Since he was on a leash, we all became very good at hopping over the leash as it came around! He did learn to become a better group walker eventually.

More testimonials 1

[testimonial author=”Dennis Overcash” ]

I have walked with two of our dogs. Our English Cocker named Pooch had always walked really well with us – pulling us everywhere along the trail even in the right direction occasionally. We took him to the Global event at Keesler AFB in 1994. As we rounded the last corner and within sight of the start point, he had had enough. He sat down in the shade of a wall and refused to move. There we sat with the dog for what seemed to be an eternity, probably about 20 minutes with the finish only a few hundred yards ahead. An English Cocker by the way weighs in at around 40 pounds and what he wants to do he does.

Our little Beagle mix called Droopy is a good walker, however he has one walking habit that he does faithfully. He passes all fields and unimproved areas with little notice. Just entering civilization again he’ll then find a nice manicured lawn and have his bowel movement. It is never in the places that would make no difference. He waits until the most inconvenient times. We don’t usually plan very well for this, but after leaving the start point we generally are able to find enough trash (paper cups etc. on the sidewalks etc to pick up after him).

[testimonial author=”Cynthia Abrahamson” ]

I have a 5-year-old Springer Spaniel-Border Collie mix who loves to volksmarch or do any other human activity. She has been volksmarching her entire life throughout the Northwest, primarily Washington, and has done over 200 volksmarches.

I would hate to see her weight if she didn’t walk. We typically do 1 v.m. every weekend with occasional multi-event weekends. She has been to the Portland convention, British Columbia, Oregon coast, and even participated in the Vancouver IML 10 km. When you ask her if she wants to do a volksmarch, she wags her tail and gets into the truck hours before we actually depart. She is as addicted to the walks as her owners.

[testimonial author=”Patti Erickson”]

We were walking up on the Billy Goat Trail off the C&O Canal Towpath in the D.C. area in Maryland. It was a bright, sunny winter’s day and there was no one within hearing. I decided to let her off lead to run around as she so loves to do. (This is not recommended and almost all parks require dogs to be on a leash at all times.)

So, she was running around exuberantly, up and down the hollows of the hills rising up from the banks of the Potomac River, which had ice on it out to about 10 yards from shore. She saw a bird out on the ice and took a flying leap onto what appeared to her to be solid ground. But the poor thing plopped right through the leaves and twigs which were disguising the small area of melted ice, into the frigid Potomac water! She was off lead, so I couldn’t assist her. Luckily, she got a foothold on the mud and bounded back up the hill to me with the most pathetic, surprised, wet-doggy look! I felt like an idiot, which I was!

The moral of the story is: Think! And obey the leash rules, even when there’s nobody around that the dog might bother!

[testimonial author=”Carol Koch”]

I have a spouse who is not particularly interested in walking; and while I have a few friends who enjoy it, getting together or walking at the same pace seems to be a problem. Sam is always willing to go, matches my pace, loves it, and is good company. What more can you ask in a walking buddy?