Health

Saturday 23 August 2014

Need a personal trainer for the great outdoors? – get a dog

A dog can double up as a personal trainer. Photo: Getty Images.
A dog can double up as a personal trainer. Photo: Getty Images.

A few years ago I saw a picture of a dog on a wall with a caption underneath that simply said, 'My personal trainer!' If you have a dog, then you simply have to walk or jog. Your dog will insist on it. Your dog is your personal trainer.

Dogs know when they need their exercise and won't let up until you take them for their 'walkies'. If you've ever had a dog, you'll know that when they want exercise, they get it. They can be very, very persuasive.

Years ago, when we lived in Monkstown in Dublin, my family got a white golden retriever called Gina. Gina made sure we walked Dún Laoghaire pier every day for about 10 years.

I remember one Sunday taking Gina for a walk up Killiney Hill with Annette, the children and their Uncle Warren. That night I sent an email to a friend:

"It's a summer's day in July and we are walking our Gina with eyes and nose black as coal up the nature trails around Killiney Hill. We see her dart, and dance and run hither and thither into the grass and over the ferns, hopping, sniffing and tearing off for new discoveries in the undergrowth. So different and exciting for her from the stony hard pier. So full of interest and adventure. She is so joyful and dog-happy.

"We drink in the exquisite views 'from swerve of shore to bend of bay,' as Joyce would say, and all the time she was mooching and pooching in the long grass.

"'Her emotions are all upfront', says Warren. And I think that she could teach us wonder, awe and amazement at the simply Kavanagh-like weeds and trees and rocks.

"A new day. A new beginning. A new adventure."

Then we moved to Bray. That first Saturday, before anything else, we had to take Gina for a walk. That was the day we discovered the famous Bray cliff walk.

Again, I emailed our friend: "On this summer's sky-blue day, we take off through Bray. We find a pathway, a trail, high up on the hill overlooking the sea. It is a glorious day with the hum and buzzing of bees among the wild flowers. Gina is running along snapping at butterflies with her back doing the Gina-wobble.

'Down below the sea is a Mediterranean blue. We can look down to our left and see flying seagulls against the blue sea backdrop. On and on the path is winding, hugging the cliff. On and on we go through this stunning coastal scenery. The green hills are rising to our right. Full of ferns, fuchsia and flowers. An environmentalist's delight. An ecologist's paradise.

"There are young berries on the leafy briars waiting for autumn. Now and then the occasional smiling walker with a friendly greeting. The sea air is fresh and crisp. You could bottle it and sell it in Beijing or some polluted city.

"We come across a thick log of a tree near the pathway where we sit down to enjoy the view. Gina is pooped or else just grabbing the opportunity to flake out in the shade with her four legs to the east. We walk back to Bray. Gina drinks from a mountain stream and then swims in the sea while we have cold drinks to celebrate our discovery."

If you need a personal fitness trainer you can go to your local gym, or now that spring is in the air (nominally at least), you might just think of enjoying nature's outdoor gym by getting a dog.

Declan Coyle is a director of Andec Communications. His motivational techniques have been used by several All-Ireland winning teams. declan@andec.ie

Irish Independent

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