Dogs need a lot of exercise — as the saying goes, “A tired dog is an obedient dog.” But with our busy lives, it can be a challenge to carve out as much time for fitness as we’d like, both for our dogs and ourselves.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to sneak in exercise with our dogs that have weight-loss benefits and also strengthen the bond with our pups. Diane Silver, creator of the blog, To Dog With Love, and a trainer who teaches tricks, agility and fitness classes for dogs in Atlanta, Ga., says dogs are great motivators since they typically want to “get up and get going.”
“You get home from work, you’re tired and you don’t feel like doing anything but your dog’s there waiting for you,” she says. “Don’t just let them out into the yard.” Instead, Silver suggests the following ideas for getting fit with Fido in ways that will provide you both with physical and mental stimulation:
1. Play “active fetch.” Even if just for 10 minutes, Silver suggests going outside and throwing a ball or disk and then running toward it yourself to race your dog to the toy. Alternately, you can throw the toy and then run the other direction, which will get your dog to chase you.
2. Combine tricks with fitness. For instance, do walking lunges down the hallway while your dog weaves through your legs (note: she advises this is probably better with small dogs like her Havanese, Rocco, and not larger dogs like my 90-lb. Lab mix). Or try a standing lunge: stand with your legs spread apart, then bend a knee to lunge to the side while your dog does a figure-8 though your legs. “Nobody likes doing lunges, but if you’re lunging while your dog is weaving through your legs, it will take your mind off the pain,” she says.
Training Tip: Use positive reinforcement with treats like Zuke’s Mini Naturals, which have less than three calories so they’re perfect for training. When your dog starts to go through your legs, reward them to encourage them to learn the game.
3. Take an exercise class with your dog. Silver says K9 Fit Clubs offer special classes around the country for pets and their people. A sample exercise is a “wall sit,” in which you have your back against a wall and pretend to sit in a chair. Little dogs can jump in your lap, and bigger dogs can put their front paws on your legs. It helps strengthen the dogs’ rear ends and creates more of a challenge for the human.
Training Tip: Teach your dog the command “paws” so they learn to put their paws where you ask them to.
4. Use equipment like a K9FITBone™ at home. While your dog stands with his front paws on the balance disk, you can hold a plank position (such as a push-up pose) on the other end of the disk, she suggests.
Training Tip: “Keep the training sessions short,” Silver advises. “Always leave your dog wanting more.”
5. Take a hike. “It’s not only great exercise, but it clears your head. It makes a really fun weekend activity you can do with your dog.” Silver suggests hiking with friends who also have dogs, or joining a meet-up group in your city, which has the added benefit of someone else planning the activity so all you have to do is show up.
6. Add intensity to a walk with interval training. Run to, say, a stop sign and then walk until you hit another mark and run again. “It increases intensity for you and your dog.”
Training Tip: Both you and your dog should stretch before exercising. For instance, while your pup is standing, very gently stretch her head toward her tail and repeat on the other side, or hold two opposing legs up in the air so she has to balance. “It’s good conditioning so they aren’t favoring one leg over another.”
7. Try a dog sport. Silver and Rocco compete in agility, which gives them both a good workout by testing coordination. Other canine sports with clubs and/or classes include dock jumping, flyball, lure coursing, skijoring and nosework. “Or if you don’t want to commit to a class, try a fun weekend activity like kayaking or stand up paddleboarding.” For water sports, Silver says your dog can wear a life vest and swim beside you.
Just as people should check with their doctors before starting a new fitness regimen, Silver says to check with your veterinarian before trying something new with your dog. She hopes pet parents explore fitness options to decrease the “epidemic” of overweight people and dogs in this country, but also because getting fit with a canine pal is such a win/win.
“It’s all about the activities and fun that we can do with our dogs,” Silver says. “It’s an incredible way to strengthen the bond between you and your dog.”