Founder of Leash Your Fitness
From hikes to runs and road trips to aquatic adventures, personal trainer Dawn Celapino is never without her trusted canine companion. Dawn created Leash Your Fitness to share her passion with other animal lovers, and teach them to incorporate their cherished dogs into a healthy lifestyle. In our Animal People interview, she tells us about Jack, the dog who started it all, and what she's learned from her fur-friendly adventures.
Have animals always been a big part of your life?
I grew up on a large property in Pennsylvania and I've always had dogs. Back then, it was a lot different than it is now. We had outside dogs and I don't ever remember having a leash; we just always had the dogs out running. They were part of the family, just in a different way. When I moved to San Diego in 1995, I had to leave my dog, Addy, behind in Pennsylvania with my mom. She was really big (half rottweiler, half German shepherd) and I was driving across the country in my Honda Civic with no place to live. Addy was my baby and she went with me everywhere. I had her from the time I was about 15 and it was a sad day when she passed away.
I didn't have a dog from 1995 until 2005, because my dad was sick and I kept flying back and forth to Pennsylvania. He passed away in 2005, and that's when I got my dog, Jack, and named him after my dad.
How did Jack change your life?
Jack was my first small dog. We'd always had big dogs — rottweilers or German shepherds or collies. When I moved, I did a lot of research on breeds because I was mountain biking and doing a lot of hiking and trail running, so I wanted a dog who could keep up with me and be active. The Cairn terrier fit the bill, so that's why I got Jack. I got so attached to him that I didn't want to leave him at home. When I worked out, I always took him with me and I thought if I feel this way then other people must feel this way as well. So in 2009, I started my business, Leash Your Fitness.
Jack and I also traveled the country for ten weeks, and I actually wrote a book about it, Jack's Journey USA: One Dog's Journey to Inspire YOUR Life. The trip was life-changing. We traveled from San Diego all the way up to Maine and back, and we taught fitness classes and met people from all over the country. It was just super special and I wanted to document our magical experience with a book.
How did your workouts with Jack inspire Leash Your Fitness?
When I started, I had no clue what I was doing because nobody was really doing this. I was a personal trainer and I was working in a lot of corporate settings that wouldn't let me bring Jack, so one by one, I quit all my jobs and started taking all my personal training clients outside. I told them to bring their dogs and we would figure out a way to incorporate them in their workouts. I kind of made up the classes as I went and figured out what worked. I wanted to go hiking, so I thought I'd just take everybody hiking with me and group hikes started. Then, I wanted to go camping, so I figured I'd take everybody camping with me. It just progressed from things that I wanted to do. We've done kayaking, hiking, camping and paddle boarding. Prior to COVID, we were doing a lot more of that as a group.
Jack got sick with a brain tumor in October of 2016 and his health started deteriorating. It was harder to do stuff with him, and if I couldn't do something with him, I just wasn't going do it. So we started doing easier hikes and a lot of dog yoga. We actually set the world record with San Diego Humane Society in 2015 for the world's largest dog yoga class with 250 participants.
What does it mean to be able to share your passion for dogs and exercise with others?
It's been really rewarding because we've introduced people to things that they never thought they could do with their dogs. We introduced people to going out to eat with their dogs, and taught people how to paddle board and so many different activities. We've taken aggressive dogs and given them confidence. It's really helped show people that if your dog is acting up it's probably because you're not paying enough attention to them and they need some training. You can take what you're learning in your six-week-old puppy class and apply it to everyday life. I didn't know it was going to help the dogs as much as it did, but it has helped people and their dogs. It's been really cool.
What is unique about the Leash Your Fitness experience?
A lot of people come to my classes because they would not go to a gym. People are intimidated by working out, but the thing they have in common is their dogs. In my classes, the attention is off people and all on the dogs. A lot of people like this, especially when they're by themselves, because it can be super intimidating. Dogs become the icebreaker. There have been a lot of situations where we've helped people not only get fit and change their life, but gain confidence — and their dogs gain confidence through doing new activities. We move the classes around San Diego, so we introduce people to new areas and the dogs are introduced to new places so they're not walking around the same block all the time. It's been really fun.
What advice do you have for dog owners who want to become more active with their pups?
Just start slow. You don't go from not running to running a marathon, so you have to do the same with your dog. Start them slow, whether it's kayaking, running, hiking or whatever. Get them used to an activity and see if they like it. Make sure you take plenty of water, and treats always help. You want them to enjoy the activity, and they can do just about everything you can do!
There's always something. Even if you have an old dog, yoga is good for them. Just make sure that you pick the right activity levels for your dog. You're not going to take a bulldog or a pug out to run a marathon, and you're not doing to do dog yoga with a Belgian malinois. You have to make sure that you have the right dog for your activity level when you're adopting.
Who is your canine adventure companion these days?
After Jack passed, I fostered dogs for a while and that was fun. Now, I have Hank and he just cracks me up all the time. Hank is another Cairn terrier, and he's completely different than Jack. Jack hated to be touched and didn't like to give kisses or be hugged. People would think he was so cute and try to pet him, and he'd be like, "Don't touch me!" He was perfect for me because I would do all my training outside in parks, so I never had to worry about him running up to anybody. Hank is the complete opposite — he is a love bug! Every time someone walks by my condo, he wants to "talk" to them. He wants to give me kisses all the time. Jack was 14 when he passed, and it's hard to remember what he was like as a puppy. Now Hank is a super playful puppy and I have to remember that Jack was once like that. Hank doesn't like playing with balls, but Jack was obsessed with balls. Jack loved to go swimming, and Hank will go swimming, but he doesn't freak out near water like Jack would. It's just interesting how different and unique they are.
How do dogs impact your daily life?
It definitely helps your mood — you can't be around your dog and be in a bad mood. It's an unconditional love that you have for your dog and that they have for you. Yeah, your dog can do stuff that makes you mad, but they'll turn around and give you so much love that you can't be in a bad mood. My dog makes me get outside every single day and take walks or go on a little hike. I think it's super important, especially right now, people get outside.
Is there a lesson you've learn from your relationships with dogs?
I think we need to give dogs more trust. When I first got Hank as a puppy, I was used to having Jack, and I was getting really irritated because he wasn't doing what Jack did and what I was used to. With patience and some training, he's doing great, and we can now travel, hike and do so much together. It took a lot of work on my part, but you have to do the work up front to enjoy the outcome. It really makes me sad when people don't do that, because their dogs are barking or acting out and they're frustrated. You need to put in the work. It's like having a kid and never teaching them how to read or write, and then wondering why they have no structure. If you want a dog and you're going to invest in that relationship, you have to realize that they're a living creature who you need to spend quality time with.
Learn more about Leash Your Fitness at leashyourfitness.com.
Published: December 27, 2021