Adopting a puppy transforms fitness and sanity

Before we adopted our dog last year, the only exercise I did was inside a gym. The temperature was controlled, the machines were familiar, and I had an app on my phone that told me everything I needed to do. It was a simple process and whilst I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it that much, I got used to it.

And then last July we visited the RSPCA and met a six-month-old Bull Mastiff x Boxer puppy called Boof. He was big then and he’s even bigger now; he weighs 44kgs. He’s strong and has very long legs. Sometimes when he’s really excited, he’ll stand on his back legs and rest his front paws on my shoulders — I’m 175cm. When he stretches out, he takes up the length of our couch.

A dog that big has a lot of energy for exercise. Everything we do is in an effort to tire him out; we pour his dry food into a Kong Wobbler so that it disperses when it rolls and therefore requires him to push it around the house with his nose; he is walked at least once per day, and twice on weekend days; at the end of our street is a large fenced field that we let him off leash in at least once a week; and when we’re home we open the living room door so he can repeatedly run from the back of the yard to the living room wall. But what all of us enjoy the most are our regular bush-walks and day hikes around Sydney.

Walking your dog regularly has numerous health benefits for humans, including stronger muscles and bones, improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, and a decrease in stress levels. Studies also show that owning a dog can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

I’d be lying if I said my relationship with exercise — particularly outdoor exercise — didn’t change after adopting Boof. Walking, or even running, in our neighbourhood used to bore me, and bush-walks are never as fun (or as safe) when you’re on your own. But in the past year I’ve felt the benefits of night-time walks with the dog after a long day at work, or weekend coastal hikes when it’s 30 degrees and the water is perfect for a swim. Exercising outdoors — with or without a pet — improves concentration, mood, stress reduction and mental health. Studies also prove that exercising in natural environments results in increased energy, revitalisation, engagement, and contributes to a decrease in tension, confusion, anger and depression.

I’m always on the lookout for new, dog-friendly locations to venture. I’ve probably read hundreds of websites that suggest places you can walk your dog and I’ll admit, it’s as much for Boof as it is for me. I’ve found it to be a much more enjoyable type of exercise than what I was used to at the gym.

Whilst I wouldn’t say adopting a gigantic dog — we like to say ‘small pony’ — has been an easy task, he’s certainly taught us things about ourselves, our patience, and our routine that I hadn’t realised before. He’s also turned us into a much more active household. We’re outdoors more, we’re exploring Sydney more, and we make the most of the summer months now than we ever did before. Dogs are lot of work, but the benefits they bring to your life make it all worth it.

October 1-7 is National Walk Your Dog Week. If you live in Sydney and you’re looking for a day trip with your four-legged friend, below are our 5 favourites.

This has to be our favourite and most frequently visited walk. The Bidjigal Reserve is in Sydney’s West and is home to three different bush-walks of varying lengths — 1.7km loop, 4km loop and 8km one-way. We’ve done the two shorter walks multiple times; each of these walks zig zag through the bush and down through streams and creeks.

Most Sydney locals will be familiar of this 6km walk. We’ve only done this once and that’s because it’s incredibly busy. Some parts of the walk are narrow paths and Boof tends to get in the way. We prefer quieter walks, but this is still a good one to keep on the list if you haven’t tried it yet.

This is really more of a casual boardwalk and a nice Sunday afternoon venture if you’re in the mood. It’s easy and flat so it’s great if you’re not feeling overly energetic. There are great cafes and restaurants around if you want to grab a coffee or food. If you’re driving, park around Wentworth Point and head across Bennelong Bridge to Rhodes.

Starting from Spit Bridge, it’s approximately 3km until you reach the Clontarf dog beach. It’s very secluded and the water is pretty shallow — there aren’t too many waves forming so it’s perfect even for anxious dogs. It gets incredibly popular on warm weekend days, so good to start your walk early.

This is a 5.5km circuit walk in Blackheath. Alternatively, there is a 1.24km waterfall loop track if you think your dog isn’t quite up to the longer walk. It can get slippery if there’s been rain and the surface is very uneven so be careful of ankles and injury.