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Pam Regan

Across the country, dog owners are making their dog’s fitness more and more of a priority. Whether they’re going solo or in a group, dog owners are taking part in AKC FIT DOG challenges to keep themselves and their dogs in shape. One such group is members of the Southwest Obedience Club of Los Angeles, who found their love of fitness together — almost by accident.

On one group walk, the members had only planned on walking for a mile. To the owners’ surprise and the dogs’ joy, the trek continued for nearly four miles. “We were so busy enjoying each other’s company that we breezed past the turnaround sign,” says AKC FIT DOG club coordinator Dr. Pam Regan of the Southwest Obedience Club of Los Angeles. “With a sense of community spirit and togetherness, we love being out in nature with our dogs.”

One such member is Connie Koehler of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, who has been one of the attendees frequenting AKC FIT DOG events for the past three years. She has taken her two Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers — 9-year-old “Patsy,” GCH CH Connemar She Moves in Mysterious Ways RI CGCA TKN and 5-year-old “Casey,” GCH CH Connemar Bonney Spring Training RN FDC CGCU TKN ATT — to the virtual AKC FIT DOG Turkey Trot with Regan’s group. As part of the FIT DOG program, this event runs from October through the end of November, and can be done as a run or walk at any pace.

Cathy Crnkovich

Finding Friends Through Fitness

Now, these long walks are part of the club’s traditions. Taking part in one of their biggest events, two dozen AKC FIT DOG members met in February 2023 to walk their dogs in the Bob Long Memorial Mutt Run in Long Beach, California, supporting Long Beach Animal Services. Participating in these events does more than just help dogs and their owners stay fit. The proceeds from the AKC FIT DOG Turkey Trot, for example, help support programs for AKC Juniors, and members received an AKC FIT DOG magnet.

“When you walk a 5K [3.1 miles] with friends and their dogs, the time passes quickly,” says Koehler. “Not only do I enjoy getting out with my dogs, but contributing to the dog fancy is a bonus.”

Other Southwest Obedience Club participants in the Turkey Trot included Marla Frankel’s Border Terrier “Maya” and her All-American Dog “Bella,” Cathy Crnkovich’s Welsh Springer Spaniel “Bodie,” and “Cali,” and Jennifer Darcy’s Golden Retriever. Two more Welsh Springer Spaniels, “Cole” and “Poppy” with Jana Cooley, joined the group, as did Gwen Powell’s English Cocker Spaniels “Floyd” and “Pink.” Golden Retriever “Indy” kept pace alongside owner Donna Lee.

Pam Regan

Regan brought “Kip,” her Belgian Tervuren. At the same time, Patty Kohn’s two Cocker Spaniels, “Jake” and “Murphy,” were joined by “Luke,” another Cocker Spaniel owned by Sandra Willis, “Penny,” Fran Soloman’s Australian Shepherd, and Gayle Caves walked “Violet,” her English Springer Spaniel.

When not joining a community event, the AKC FIT DOG group gathers with their dogs on Saturdays at a local park for leisurely walks. Beyond burning a few calories and relieving some canine energy, these owners like keeping their dogs physically active and enjoying the outdoors at the same time. Not a marathon or a sprint, FIT DOG sessions are noncompetitive walks at a slow and gentle pace that promote health and fitness for dogs and humans.

Gaining Titles Through Exercise

The AKC FIT DOG program began in 2018 to encourage people to be more active with their dogs. Incorporated in 1953, The Southwest Obedience Club became an AKC FIT DOG club in January 2019. FIT DOG helps owners improve and maintain their dogs’ health and fitness through structured and individual fitness plans. For dogs and owners, walking is the most common exercise experts recommend to improve fitness. It’s a safe activity that can improve muscular strength, circulation, and memory, and lead to weight loss. It also helps to increase energy, improve sleep, and reduce stress.

Dogs can earn points that add up to three AKC titles—Bronze (FITB), Silver (FITS), and Gold (FITG). In addition to walking or hiking, owners earn titles by participating in activities such as parkour, swimming, agility, Diving Dogs, FAST CAT, AKC Rally, or obedience.

Monica Silva

Owners can keep track of the distance walked or run by using a fitness tracker like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch, a dog fitness tracker like a FitBark or FiSmart Dog Collar, or a health or running app. “Documenting your activity in FIT DOG is on the honor system,” Regan says. “You don’t have to be a big obedience champion; anyone can participate without joining a club. Just pack a poop bag or two, wear some comfortable shoes, and take your well-behaved dog out in the community.”

When a dozen dogs head down the sidewalk, it’s a scene stealer. “It never fails that when people see us, they stop, stare, wave, and smile at us,” Regan says. “Who doesn’t like a bunch of canines on the move?”

On another outing, the Southwest walkers noticed a little white dog had followed close behind. “We knew he belonged to a homeless man living in his car, so we returned the dog back to him,” Regan recalls.

Sometimes, the dogs receive surprises, too. “One day, a squirrel suddenly fell off a power line and plopped on the ground in front of us,” Regan recalls. “Some dogs ignored the creature, but others were beyond excited. Now they look skyward a lot.”

Getting Started in FIT DOG

To earn a Bronze title, dogs must be at least six months old. Regan remembers when her 10-week-old dog “Kip” and Lee’s 16-week-old dog “Indy” made their debut in FIT DOG. “They began their FIT DOG activities early as stroller buddies before receiving their vaccinations,” Regan says. “As they aged out of the stroller, they graduated to working on and achieving the Bronze and Silver titles.

Kip and Indy participated in club group and community-sponsored walks, completed an AKC FIT DOG course, and earned AKC Rally Novice titles. In 2023, they achieved FIT DOG Gold titles, the highest FIT DOG title AKC offers.

Monica Silva

Soon after joining the Southwest Obedience Club and FIT DOG, Crnkovich jumped into walking Bodie with the group outdoors. “I was hooked on training, and we like doing everything,” Crnkovich says. “As soon as I drive up to the park, he gets so excited. He wags his tail like crazy, and he can’t wait to get out of the car. He has his friends, and I have mine.”

“At the end of the day, FIT DOG is all about doing more with your dog than tossing the ball a few times in the yard,” Regan says. “You’re building a bond with your dog that lasts forever.”