Workouts can give pets better quality of life

Maxwell being a good boy on the stability ball

Somehow along the way I managed to bring two rescue dogs into my life. They have become my posse, following me everywhere I go, even when I’m at work. They watch people lifting weights, running on the treadmill, and they even lie next to the stage when I’m teaching Zumba. They’re no strangers to the workout scene.

But one of these pups is getting old — Maxwell is going to be 11 in March, and although he’s healthy, he is also noticeably aging. In addition to his graying boxer mug, he has developed degenerative myelopathy, an incurable progressive disease of his spinal cord. He’s basically losing control of his back end, a slow process, but it’s getting markedly worse, and he’s lost a lot of muscle in his rear legs and hips. To top if off, he has pretty serious arthritis in his “good” (i.e., less affected by the disease) hip.

But even so, there’s still a lot of life in the old boy: Maxwell loves to ride in the car, cuddle, and flirt with women (he’s a ladies’ dog, through and through).

After a lot of prodding from one of my personal training clients (thank you!), I ended up taking Max to the vet for rehab. I was wary and worried that it was a waste of time and money, but I’m no longer. It’s kind of strange how skeptical I was about this whole business, especially since I spend my days helping people build muscle and get stronger and fitter.

Since working on building his stamina and muscles, Max’s quality of life is much improved. It’s true his disease will continue to progress, something I witness weekly, but since working with Heather at Veazie Veterinary’s rehab and wellness center, he’s a happier dog.

During his workouts, he walks on the underwater treadmill, which allows his body to be more buoyant so there’s not so much pressure on his joints, but also provides resistance to build leg, hip and core muscles. He uses the wobble board, walks the agility ladder, and even gets on the dreaded stability ball (which isn’t a ball, really, but more like a giant inflated peanut). He sits down and gets up (squats!) over and over again. And he gets to eat lots and lots of bits and pieces of treats in the process, slobbering his boxer slobber all over the place.

And the other thing is, it’s always fun to go there, to see him get better at his skills, and to see his thought processes at work. I’m not going to have him forever, and it’s good to know there’s a way to make the most of the time that’s left. Look at him having fun and feeling proud of himself!

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at