TWICE a week, I drag myself to the gym and before I leave the house I put my dog Tilly in the kitchen. She always looks forlorn as I close the dog gate, so when I heard about dog agility classes I thought it would be good exercise for us both.
In fact, I'm on a mission to exercise more with my dog. This mission is how I found myself standing in a field with my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and dog trainer Tina Shaw.
Tina has been running the agility and flyball club Springers, in West Yorkshire, with her partner Ben Naylor since 1995. They have 60 two-legged members and 80 dogs of all shapes and sizes.
"I've been training dogs for 35 years and agility training is a brilliant form of exercise," says Tina. "The dogs love it too."
Can Tilly hurdle?
Tina leads Tilly and me to the first obstacle - the hurdles. Tina has placed the hurdles low to the ground.
I stand by the first pole and put a treat to Tilly's nose. As I move the biscuit away Tilly follows it eagerly and jumps over the bar.
I bend down and make a fuss of her. The next time I say: "Tilly jump," she does - quickly.
Within a few minutes Tilly is jumping all the hurdles on command. I'm running alongside her jumping them too - and trying to keep up.
Dog Agility V the Gym?
Exercising with Tilly isn't that far removed from a gym workout. We do the jumps several times and I feel the same as when I'm doing Jumping Jacks at aerobics.
Next it's the tunnel. I have to bend down and open up the flap of the tunnel mouth. Once Tilly is inside I run to the end and call her; this obstacle involves lots of squats and lunges.
I check the time and note that we've be running around for 35 minutes. Granted, I'm not as tired as I am at the gym but this session is more strenuous than a power walk on the treadmill and more fun.
Like footballers at half time, Tilly and I have a quick drink of water then it's back on the field. When we come to the last section of the training we face our biggest challenge - the weave poles.
"These poles take weeks to learn," says Tina. But Tilly picks it up quickly and is weaving in and out in no time. Clever dog.
This part of the course involves lots of twisting and turning for us both - great for our waists. All the major muscles of my body are being worked as I run, jump, bend and twist and turn.
As we finish I can see Tilly is happy because she's wagging her tail. I've had fun too.
It's the end of the 60-minute session and I say my goodbyes. Tilly naps in the car but I have to wait until I'm home before I can collapse on the sofa.
The Hotlist of Dog-Friendly Exercises
Later, intrigued I investigate different ways of getting fit with your dog and how many calories these activities burn in an hour. Here's the hotlist (based on my own weight and height):
* Cycling: 240 cals
* Jogging: 200 cals
* Dog Agility: 170 cals
* Power Walking: 147 cals
* Walking (moderate pace): 81 cals
* Doga (dog yoga): 64 cals
My research shows that a dog agility class is an effective cardiovascular workout that builds up endurance and strengthens heart and lungs which leads to improved overall fitness - for both human and dog.
However, top of the list for dog-friendly workouts is cycling. But Tilly isn't keen on this activity, nor does she like doga (yoga you do with your dog). Her favourite exercise, which is mine too, is definitely walking.
But how do I know if my pooch is getting enough exercise? I love apps and on the off-chance I check online and find the free Pedigree Tracks App. I download it and put in Tilly's personal details to create her profile and we start to log our walks.
Normally, we only walk about 30 minutes a day, sometimes 20-minutes if I'm pushed for time. But because of the app I find that I am walking Tilly for 45-minutes a day, with a longer walk at the week-end, she's only a toy dog so more wouldn't be suitable.
The app also lets me log indoor play and garden play, it's amazing how much activity adds up and soon we're doing more than enough to keep her (and me) in tip top condition. I can also use the app to check if I'm feeding her too much, handy as Tilly is a little bit portly around the middle!