I love dogs. When I was 4 my family got a brand new puppy for Christmas (a Westie) and that is one of my earliest and fondest memories. I had her for 17 years, I even took her to college with me. Once I had my own family and my boys were growing up I wanted them to have the same great experience that I had, so a little over a year ago we adopted a 4 month old puppy named Pongo and since then I have been reminded of the joys of dog ownership. Of course half of my brain is always thinking about training and working out, and it struck me that we can take a lot of basic principles that apply to dogs and apply them to people. We are both animals at a fundamental level after all. Hence the title of this post. I am not suggesting you literally throw your clients in a crate (although if they skip 3 sessions in a row then maybe…). The guidelines presented here generally fall under either nutrition or exercise related themes.
If a dog is overweight, what do we do? It is pretty simple right? We feed it less total food and we try to eliminate the people food and the excessive treats. And guess what, that usually works pretty well. We don’t have to over complicate this subject. It is less important to debate exactly what kind of food you are feeding your dog, and more important to reduce the quantity of what it is eating. You don’t go up to a dog owner and say “your dog is heavy because it is eating Alpo, it should be eating Blue Buffalo instead.” Instead we would focus on the overall quantity of food. Humans love to debate the minutia, and maybe if you are stepping up on stage for a bodybuilding show those finer details become more important. But for the client just looking to lose weight, eating noticeably less of whatever they are already eating is a very good start.
All dog owners know (or at least they should) that you don’t give dogs unlimited access to food, particularly if you are trying to reduce their weight. Instead you feed your dog at certain times. Breakfast and dinner seem to be the most common arrangement but dogs are quite flexible and can adapt to eating once, twice, or three or more times a day. But when it is not feeding time, the dog doesn’t get any food. Suggesting clients follow this rule can be very helpful – you eat when it is ‘feeding’ time, there is no eating when it is not. Pick a number of meals per day that you can stick with and try to develop a routine for it. My dog gets 1 scoop of food in the morning and 2 scoops of food in the evening and that seems to work well for him. Humans often require a little more variety but a negative of too much variety is that it makes it tougher to monitor how much one is eating. Find a doable breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a small snack and try to stick to that pattern for a while.
Most dog owners know the importance of exercise for their pooch (especially the younger ones) but I think this can shine light on a key point as it relates to humans. With a dog if you are unable to exercise or play with it for an extended period of time, you may notice their behavior becomes less than desirable. Often times they will create ‘play’ and it may be of a more destructive variety like chewing your couch or a chair or excessive barking or whatever. Then when you exercise them it kind of resets their behavior and they are back to their normal selves, at least for a while. The point I want to stress is the same thing will happen to humans. Everybody knows exercise is “good” but what people fail to realize is that not exercising isn’t just “normal”, it is bad for you both mentally and physically. People also need to be physiologically reset in that way that only exercise can. Our destructive behaviors may not be as easy to spot as a chewed up couch, but they might actually be more harmful in the long run to both ourselves and to society. And often it doesn’t take much exercise to hit this reset button. With my dog just a few minutes of a vigorous game of tag or fetch will get him back to normal and likely just 10-20 minutes of some good exercise for your clients will do the same thing. People that exercise very regularly tend to be more in tune with this idea. They will sense that not exercising is affecting their mood and their general outlook. But people that don’t exercise regularly may be shocked to find how different they feel about life once they starting incorporating regular physical activity.
Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer) suggests that love, exercise, and discipline are the 3 key elements to focus on when working with dogs. I would offer that those same 3 themes can provide guidance as to how a personal trainer might interact with their clients. Treat people with love and respect, help them incorporate discipline and exercise into their lifestyle, and you may have yourself one happy puppy.