Your favorite canine just might be the key to keeping you fit. Learn how to turn running, hiking and swimming with your pup into a bonding activity.
Whether you’re a long-time dog owner or a pandemic-puppy parent, you know the power of pets to keep you sane and happy. What’s more, your dog can also keep you fit. “Dogs can help motivate you to get out of your house and exercise,”
Working out with dogs is a great way to bond with them while improving dog obedience. “It’s really fun to work out with your dog,”
Going for walks is just the beginning. Dogs can participate in a range of activities, says personal trainer, whose San Diego company, Leash Your Fitness, incorporates dogs into hiking, surfing, kayaking, camping, yoga, trail running, strength training and boot camp classes. “Just start slow with a new activity and build up, and don’t get frustrated if your dog can’t do it right off the bat,”. “It takes patience and work.”
GETTING STARTED WITH YOUR DOG
Make sure your dog is cleared by your vet for any activity you embark on and be sure to watch your pet for signs of discomfort, pain or fatigue, a Santa Monica, California-based exercise instructor and dog trainer who offers fitness classes for humans and dogs at her company, Feet & Paws.
For outdoor adventures, pack food, water and sunscreen if your dog is light coated or hairless; take frequent breaks to rest, refuel and rehydrate; and give your dog time to warm up and cool down before and after strenuous exercises, especially in extreme weather. As long as you and your dog are both “healthy and able to perform the exercises pain-free and with good form, you have a wonderful workout buddy,” says James. If you’re wondering which activities to try together, start with this list.
HIKING WITH YOUR DOG
Hitting the trail with your four-legged friend can provide a powerful cardio workout. Before you lace up, make sure dogs are allowed where you’re headed and research whether leashing is required. Even if it’s not, unless your dog is super well-trained, a leash will prevent pup from inadvertently upsetting other hikers, chasing after wildlife and damaging off-trail habitat. (A standard 6-foot leash is best for control, Celapino says.) Make sure your dog’s flea and tick meds are up to date (pre-treat him before hitting the trails if not). After your hike, check your dog’s paws to make sure nothing has gotten stuck in them. And clean up after your dog, either burying or packing out waste in plastic bags.
MAKE YOUR DOG A RUNNING PARTNER
When you grab your shoes and head out to pound the pavement, you may want to grab that leash, too. Dogs can “help you keep your pace and push you to do a little more than you normally would” when you run, says Teitelman. Some dog breeds are more suited to long-distance running than others. If you have a brachycephalic (short-snouted) dog, such as a pug or bulldog, or a puppy whose bones are still growing, stick to short sprints around the backyard or park. For dogs that enjoy longer runs, start with a long leash walk or a brief run around the block and add distance gradually. Take care not to push your dog past his comfort level. “You wouldn’t just go run a marathon,” Calepino says. “You have to build up to it.”
BIKING WITH YOUR PUPPY
The right equipment can make biking with your dog safe and fun. In most cases, you’ll want an attachment that leashes him safely to your bike seat so he can run alongside as you pedal. Don’t hold the leash in your hands while holding the handlebars; that increases the danger of being pulled off-course and losing control. It goes without saying that you’ll want to avoid busy roads and adjust your pace to what is comfortable for your dog. If it’s slower than you want, change gears to make it harder on yourself. Don’t forget to praise your pooch for being a great biking companion.
HOW TO SWIM WITH YOUR DOG
Not all dog breeds take to the water with equal ease. Long-bodied, short-legged dogs like dachshunds may struggle. If your dog is reluctant, don’t push it. Still, with proper training and gentle encouragement, many dogs can keep you company in the water. Start in shallow water, where your dog can feel the bottom, and stay close. Gradually encourage your dog to go deeper. For peace of mind, train your dog to swim using a canine life vest with a handle so you can maintain control of the situation.
PADDLE BOARDING AND CANINE-FRIENDLY WATER SPORTS
If your dog likes to swim and responds to commands, paddle boarding or kayaking is a great way to work out and bond. Choose equipment that provides enough room, stability and traction for your pup (and use that canine life vest with a handle). Introduce your dog to the paddleboard gradually: First practice standing together on the board on solid ground, then ease him into the water with you bit by bit, rewarding him with treats, encouragement and praise.
TAKE YOUR DOG TO DOGA, PILATES AND STRENGTH TRAINING
Fitness teachers have found creative ways to incorporate pooches into everything from squats and lunges to downward facing dogs (naturally) and warrior poses. While finding a doga class might be the easiest way to explore yoga with your dog, you can also give it a try on your own. Teitelman suggests starting by sitting quietly and meditating for five minutes with your dog nearby. “It’s about you and your dog connecting through shared energy and being in the present moment together,” she says.
HOW TO SKI WITH YOUR PET
Skijoring is having a moment. This snowy sport—in which you don cross-country skis and your dog pulls you along on a towline attached to a harness—is great exercise for both humans and canines. But take note: Even if you have all the right gear and are ready to do the training, not all dogs are suited to this serious winter workout. “You want dogs that are good with cold weather,” says Calepino. When you head out for skijoring, “you wouldn’t take a beach dog.”
The bottom line is that being active together brings physical and emotional benefits to people and the pets they love, says James. “Dogs want and need stimulation. They enjoy learning and earning treats,” she stresses. And don’t believe what you’ve heard: “You can teach an old dog new tricks—and help increase the number of healthy years you have together with exercise.”