Living life with a service dog can feel suffocating at times. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love Rally. I fully and completely owe my sanity and health to the four-legged, shedding, snoring buddy. He saves my butt on a regular basis, but it can be frustrating to always have to be leashed to him. Having a service dog makes it rather difficult to do some normal things that I never took for granted before getting Rally; such as going to a water park, riding a roller costar, running on a tread mill, or doing the waltz.
Luckily for Rally, when it comes to water parks and roller costars, I’m willing to take a grudging pass, and my waltz is a failure anyways, but my exercise is something that I can’t-and won’t-live without. I love to run, but Rally has a bad hip, so after the first lap around the block he was about as enthused as a cat racing towards a bath. The treadmill was my compromise-I could run and he could sit. So, the gym was an environment that Rally would have to learn to grow comfortable in.
Gyms are a strange environment for canines. They are loud, smelly, full of strange objects that move rapidly and bounce quickly.If you would like to take your service dog to the gym, make certain that your dog is unflappable around loud noises; stomp by his head and clap your hands over his ears. Make sure that you can step around and by his body and over his paws. You should be able to leave him in a corner for extended periods of time, moving out of sight line, then return. Dogs are an unusual sight in a gym; make sure you know your rights and be prepared to explain them in a calm, reasonable tone. Call your gym ahead of time and explain that you have a service dog. Ask which areas of your gym would be off limits; sauna, pool etc. Confirm with them the use of any access devices, such as wheel chair lifts or special cranes that you might require.
Once you are certain that your dog is prepared, then you should prepare for your dog. I bring Rally’s vest, and depending on the length of my stay, I bring his pad, a bowl for water and some treats for rewarding his prolonged stay.
Some additional training that your dog might receive for the gym would be teaching them how certain pieces of equipment works-in my case, the treadmill. In a canine’s world, physics works in very simple ways; you run, I run. You walk, I walk. The treadmill, a machine where I run and you somehow magically remain still, was a tough idea for Rally to wrap his pointy brain around.
On the day that I taught Rally this notion, he settled into a corner and I got onto the treadmill. I was uncertain how he would react once I turned the treadmill on and started running, so I turned it on a very slow walk. He immediately jumped straight up and started keeping pace with me-straight into the wall. He was very confused when I stayed in one spot and he went into the solid wall!
When I could contain my laughter I placed him back in a down stay and resumed my walk. He watched me closely, eyes bugging out, then shook his head and curled back up, chin close to the whirling machine. I turned the treadmill up to a trot and again he got to his feet, determined not to be left behind, and nearly rammed his head against the wall yet again.
By now he was getting a little wiser and I was having to cling to the side of the treadmill to hold myself up, I was laughing so hard. He settling back down, wearily, and I turned to machine up to a brisk jog. He twitched but held himself still. I began to run. He yawned and stared at me. I began to sprint. He closed his eyes and sighed. The lesson had been learned.
Yesterday, we were at the gym and a young beagle pup was being taught by his master how to remain calm at the gym. Rally and I watched out of the corner of our eye as the young pup lay down besides the treadmill and his master climbed on.
“You might want to start out at a walk.” I suggested.
“Jack knows what he’s doing.” The young pup’s master assured me, and started his engines at a sprint.
The beagle bolted upright, paws churning air before his feet even touched rubber. The guy grabbed for the leash, but the dog was already racing forwards, and slammed headfirst into the wall between our two treadmills where he sat down abruptly, dazed.
Rally yawned. The guy and I exchanged glances.
“I should probably start at a walk.” He mumbled.
“Yeah.” I nodded as he picked the pup back up. “At a walk.”