Work Your Tail Off

Zoom Room keeps dogs active in their golden years with Pup-lates exercises


Rockville Zoom Room owner Steve Mulder, above, holds a FitPAWS disc steady while client Mary Bonventre helps her dog Gromit stand. The 15-year-old dog has an easier time with a series of low jumps, below.

Zoom Room seems like the sort of place that would offer Pilates.

Customers entering the spotless studio that opened last month in Rockville are tempted with a display of organic nibbles. There’s a lot of funny-looking equipment set up. And when Mary Bonventre, 30, walked in Thursday night, owner Steve Mulder greeted her by asking, “How’s the leg today?”

But because Zoom Room is actually the sort of place that offers Pup-lates — a strength and balance-building class for dogs — the question wasn’t about Bonventre. It was about Gromit, her 15-year-old springer spaniel, who answered by falling splat on the ground.

“Think of Pup-lates as low-impact aerobics that works on strengthening the core,” says Mulder, a former lobbyist who’s now pushing Zoom Room, a doggie gym from L.A. that’s spawned franchises across the U.S. At Mulder’s location (11771 Rockville Pike; 301-825-9113, Zoomroomonline.com), the first in the D.C. area, pets and their owners can join an agility league, take urban herding workshops and boogie at Doggie Disco parties.

All of it provides exercise for dogs — and humans, who have to scramble to stay within 2 feet of their furry friends at all times. But only Pup-lates offers a way to keep pooches moving even after they’re retired from the dog park.

“This improves the life of an older dog who doesn’t get out,” Mulder says.

He’s basically describing Gromit, whose behind constantly quivers as a result of arthritis and hip dysplasia. Not long ago, Bonventre says, Gromit would zigzag around for six miles and still have pep to spare.

“Once she loses her mobility, she won’t be happy anymore,” Bonventre explained at class Thursday. “The vet said to exercise her and go on walks. But she doesn’t want to go on walks. We need to motivate her.”

That job fell mostly to Bonventre, as Mulder doesn’t handle the dogs directly. Instead, he supervised and suggested exercises, starting with weaving around a series of poles.

Next up came A-Frame, two ramps that connect at a peak. Athletic dogs scamper up and down the structure at its steepest setting, but Gromit needed coaxing to use her hind legs to just barely climb.

“She hates it. It feels like work,” said Bonventre, as she used tiny treats to keep Gromit going.

After a quick break, Mulder pulled out a blue inflated disc that looks like human gym equipment.

Gromit looked dubious about placing her paws on the unsteady surface, but with bits of cheese so tantalizingly close, she was willing to experiment for a few seconds.

With enough practice, Mulder explains, she’ll be balancing on all four legs. So who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Pup-lates is held at 5 p.m. Mondays and 6 p.m. Thursdays. Price varies according to the package, starting at five classes for $150.

Perfect Partner

Owner Steve Mulder takes the Zoom Room tagline (“We don’t train dogs. We train the people who love them.”) seriously during the Canine Cross-Training classes, which give dog owners a burst of high-intensity cardio while they’re playing with their pets. They jump over hurdles together and partner up for sit-ups (at the top of each rep, humans kiss their pooches). Customers can also book private gym time ($20/half hour), which 41-year-old Stefanie Lehmann says is just as much a workout for her as it is for Lula, her 3-year-old Cavachon.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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