R ipley the chocolate Lab is doing push-ups. He pants in the cold autumn air as he sits, then lies down, then leaps up at the promise of a treat from his owner.
“Make sure you get at least 10 push-ups in,” certified personal trainer Mike Harb calls to the three dogs and three owners working out at Thorndike Field in Arlington last Saturday .
This was the last weekend of Harb’s first Fit Doggie and Me class, a new program where humans and their canine companions can exercise and train together. The next session starts this weekend and runs for six weeks.
Participants can sign up for either Saturday classes or Sunday classes; registration for the Arlington Recreation Department program costs $293, or $288 for town residents. For the first session, two participants signed up for Saturday classes and two signed up for Sunday.
Harb, who lives in Cambridge and works at Gold’s Gym in Arlington, said he first conceived of a training group for dogs and people six years ago. He said many of his clients at the gym told him they had no time to exercise after work because they were too busy cooking dinner and walking the dog.
“I asked them, ‘Why not run with the dog?’ Several times the response was, that’d be good because the dog’s getting kinda fat,” Harb said.
He went to the town for permission to start the program at a public park, and Arlington officials were so enthusiastic that they offered to run it through the Recreation Department.
‘It’s hard to find things you can do together.’
Its director, Joe Connelly, said he jumped at the idea because it combined several popular programs that his department already offers.
“This really seemed to be a nice mix of programs that we’d been running, between programs for adults and programs for dogs,” Connelly said. “We thought it would be a really popular program. It hasn’t quite caught on yet, but we’re going to stick with it a little bit. By the springtime when the word gets out, I’m quite sure it’s going be very popular.”
Each one-hour class starts with a 10- to 15-minute talk from a local business, such as a veterinarian, a dog day care provider, or a dietician who provides nutritional advice. Dog trainers Joy Wrolson and Bette Yip, owner of Picture Perfect Pets in Arlington, also attend the classes, and Yip helped Harb design the training program. Both the owners and their pets are guided through workout regimens.
At the classes, dog owners dodge through weave poles, both alone and with their dogs. They do push-ups, sprints, lunges and other exercises while the dogs weave through their legs.
Three dogs and owners attended the class on Saturday, bolstered by Sunday participants making up for a session canceled by bad weather.
One of the students, Diane Healy of Needham, said she decided to sign up with her dog because Aster is the first puppy she’s had in 12 years, and she wanted an outlet for his energy. She also said Aster, who’s part poodle, part Shih Tzu, loves playing with other dogs.
“He really is a dog that belongs in a pack,” she said.
Healy said Aster now does his exercises from class while out on a walk with her. She also said the class has taught him to follow other dogs politely and to “mind his manners.”
Ripley’s workout partner, Somerville resident Kate Castle, said her pet has also learned good behavior and exercises from the class. Castle said she signed up for the class because after she got Ripley, she didn’t have as much time to go to the gym, and she felt guilty about leaving him alone.
“It’s hard to find things you can do together,” Castle said.
Harb, who hopes to expand his class to Cambridge and Charlestown, said that’s exactly why he decided to start the program.
“People love their dogs. People treat their dogs like kids,” Harb said.
“People want to spend time with their dogs.”
For more information on the classes in Arlington or to sign up for the next session, visit www.arlingtonrec.com.Reach Emily Cantaneo at firstname.lastname@example.org.