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Listening carefully, Rudy focuses on the BOCU® Balance Trainer in front of him. The device is a convex semi-sphere made of soft, pliable rubber. Balancing on the dome-shaped object demands strength and concentration. Rudy steps onto it, distributes his weight evenly, engages his muscles and holds his pose.

BOCU workout objects are common in gyms and fitness classes for people.

Rudy, however, is a dog.

Once a week, Rudy and his owner, Michelle Ferretti, a special education teacher at Leechburg Middle and High School, make the 90-minute round-trip drive to Family Dog Obedience in Butler, Pennsylvania. This is where they participate in “Fit Fido,” one of a variety of courses offered by Family Dog Obedience owner and trainer, Val Kline.

FUNctional fitness

During his Fit Fido classes Rudy engages in a number of exercises such as balancing on squashy discs, trotting through ladders and stepping on “paw pods.” Although some agility is incorporated into the fitness program, Fit Fido is not an agility class in which a dog completes an obstacle course. Fit Fido emphasizes holistic canine fitness.

When it comes to favorite activities to share with a dog, Ferretti lists Fit Fido near the top. She is sure the feeling is mutual for Rudy. When asked why she enjoys the class so much, Ferretti emphasizes the bonding and health benefits.

“I have a lot of commitments,” Ferretti says. “Never does a night roll around for dog school that we don’t want to do this.”

Doggie devotion

Ferretti adopted Rudy, a lab mix, from a shelter when he was a small puppy and immediately enrolled him in Kline’s Basic Manners class. Rudy was obedient, but with his long legs and puppy energy lacked coordination. Ferretti, dedicated to his well-being and training, graduated Rudy into Fit Fido after he successfully completed Basic Manners.

By the time Rudy was five months old and well into his first Fit Fido class, Ferretti says she witnessed a transformation.

“When Rudy sees the equipment, he goes in the zone,” she says. “He knows it’s work, but it’s fun. He’s moving with conscious, deliberate focus. He has learned body awareness.”

Happy whole health

Just like people, dogs require physical and mental stimulation. Fit Fido satisfies both. It stretches muscles while increasing balance, strength and endurance. To engage in the physical demands, Rudy must follow the obedience commands, which requires concentration. In essence, it is structured playtime. And because Ferretti is the one issuing the commands, Rudy is also sharpening his ability to focus and listen to her. Communication is a valuable skill in any human-dog relationship.

The benefits become especially apparent outside of class. Because Rudy listens so well and is in such great shape, he and Ferretti have a lot of fun together. Ferretti leads a very active lifestyle and can share that with Rudy. Whether out for a walk, hike or run, Rudy can keep up with her. She feels good knowing this exercise class decreases his risk of injury, and as he grows older his mobility will make him less prone to arthritis.

“It’s just like with people,” Ferretti says.

Because Rudy leads an active lifestyle with his owner, he enjoys more outlets for his energy, which in turn, makes him even happier. In addition to their outdoor adventures, Ferretti has also purchased some of the Fit Fido equipment, so when they’re stuck inside during the winter, she can make sure Rudy has a productive outlet for his energy.

Rudy loves all of it. Ferretti recounted a story of visiting a friend who had a BOCU Balance Trainer in the living room. Uninstructed, Rudy went and stood on it to ask for a treat.

The Fit Fido classes are a stress release for Ferretti, too. She is the only Leechburg teacher who participates but she enjoys the social element of being around other dog owners and their dogs.

“It’s a nice way to meet other people and bond over your shared love for your pet,” Ferretti says. “I stand in front of kids all day. With my dog, he is teaching me. I’m learning how to enjoy an activity and be goofy. It’s a mental health diversion with my best friend.”

You can learn more about canine fitness at or search for a Fit Fido class at a dog-training center near you.

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