ALL ABOUT DOGS and CATS Resource Center for Canine & Feline Lovers
Dog Activities - Agility, Sporting and Playing
Exercise Gone to the Dogs
By Jodi Bryson
Studies show that working out with a friend increases
the odds that you'll stick with a fitness regimen. And
who's one of your best buddies, one that could probably
use a good workout, too? That's right, your trusted
canine companion, the one that that eagerly anticipates
spending quality time with you. We all know how easy it
is to ignore the willful inner voice that wants you to hit
the gym, but it's not so easy to ignore your dog's sweet
furry face, pleading whimpers and wagging tail.
Nationwide, there are many dog gyms, spas and physical therapy facilities, as well as dog-
specific classes at typically humans-only sports gyms. "Many of the workouts are designed for
the dog only, or are rehabilitative for dogs that are in physical therapy, such as the treadmill or
water aerobics," says Gail Fisher, a long-time professional trainer and founder of All Dogs Gym
and Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire. "You're there and helping the dog, but it's not
necessarily an aerobic workout for you. To exercise with your dog, you have to choose activities
that take into account your dog's endurance level, age and temperament. Overweight dogs
need to start slow and build endurance. Puppies under twelve-to-fourteen months of age of all
breeds should also start with slower or shorter-timed activities."
Dog yoga, which comes in many names, such as Crunch Fitness' "Ruff Yoga," typically takes
place outdoors and consists of a series of partner moves involving you and your dog. For
example, there is tandem stretching of legs and the neck, as well as loosening of the hip flexors
through massage-like poses. Your dog does the well-known yoga pose "downward facing dog"
every day. That's the pose where the rear is in the air and the front paws/arms are
outstretched in front. You can search for a class near you and, once you learn the many varied
poses, you and your dog can simply step outside to somewhere flat and, preferably, grassy.
Yoga can help the two of you to loosen joints and relieve stress.
"If your dog is not a dog that likes to be touched a lot, you may get a bite attempting yoga
poses with it," says Fisher. "And remember that the activity is new to the dog, so be gentle, and
go slow, and be aware that not all temperaments will allow you to stretch and hold on to them."
Dancing with dogs is actually a competitive sport, but you don't have to get pro-level serious to
enjoy a little booty-shakin' with your pooch. "It's a series of moves you do with your dog,
gradually building the number of the dog's moves," says Fisher. You can find a class, or just
move the furniture in your living room. You start by incorporating the "tricks" your dog already
knows, and build from there. "You're working out to music, and your dog should learn to weave
through your legs, spin around, and even learn to back up with you. I've seen dog dancing with
really fit people and their lean Dobermans as well as heavy people with tiny lapdogs, and
everything in between." Don't forget to have small, chewable treats on hand to reward your dog
"I doubt that the dog understands a 'beat' and is actually moving to the music," says Fisher.
"The value is in the company and the relationship -- you're bonding and dancing; you're a team."
Cross-Country Skiing (Skjoring)
To cross-country ski with your fit, large breed dog, you'll need a pair of cross country skis, as
well as a harness and double leash for your pet. The dog is actually going to be pulling you on
your skis, so skjoring is not for medium or small dogs, not to mention canines that are older or
are not physically up to the task. "I used to go skjoring with my mastiff, and it was terrific fun.
Your arms and mid body get a great workout, and the dog is, of course, doing a lot of work. It's
"Check with your vet to make sure your dog is capable of skjoring," says Fisher. "It's not for
every dog." Examine the coat under the harness to make sure there is no raw rubbing, and
check your dog's paw pads to ensure ice and other terrain do not take a negative toll. Some pet
stores sell dog booties, such as Ultra Paws, which can help to protect your pup's paws.
For larger breeds, and for dogs bred for endurance such as German Shepherds, a bike can
provide a fabulous double workout. "You want something with wider tires, mostly for balance
while you negotiate the dog," advises Fisher. "This activity requires training because you can't
bike safely if your dog bolts on you. There are also devices you can get for a bike so a dog
doesn't get under the tires or too close to the spokes." One such gadget, the Springer dog
jogger, prevents leashes from getting tangled in the tires and has a special safety release
feature that enables you to quickly separate your dog from the bike. Start with shorter
distances, preferably in low-traffic, low-pedestrian areas. Talk to your dog and be in control. And
if you can, work to bike with your dog off-leash, running next to you.
"Young dogs can't be on pavement for very long," explains Fisher. "Their ligaments and joints
are not fully developed, and the impact of the pavement is not healthy for them at all. Also be
aware of a mature or senior dog's endurance levels, as well as the temperature."
"Hiking isn't a new activity, but I'm always surprised at how many people don't view it as a great
workout, because it's maybe the best one for dogs and owners both," says Fisher. "I can't
suggest dog-owner activities and not talk about hiking. I think this is the ideal dog-owner
workout because you're walking in natural terrain, and (at some places) you can take the dog
off leash and let the dog be a dog. It allows the dog to sniff to its heart's content, run and
explore -- that's exactly what you want your dog to do." Fisher explains that even if you've
never gone hiking or worked out with your dog, you can go for super short hikes, and gradually
increase the time and distance.
Check in advance to determine whether your desired trail allows dogs to be off leash. Also, don't
hike with puppies. "If you're going to take a long hike, your dog needs to be at least 12 to 14
months old," says Fisher. "Likewise for very small dogs. Puppies and tiny dogs can't handle long
distances." Take things slow and bring extra water when temperatures are over 85 degrees.
Says Fisher: "Dogs can't sweat like we do, and need more water breaks."
About the Author
Jodi Bryson grew up on a ranch in Northern California where her family raised
Quarter horses, dogs, cats, cows and peacocks. She now lives in San Francisco with
her 11-year-old red Doberman, Sadie Lou.