We all love our dogs like family and would love to be able to include them in all parts of our lives. While we (sadly) can’t bring our dogs everywhere, we can include them in another activity many of us do daily: exercising! Like us, our dogs need daily exercise including long walks and playtime. But I’m here to tell you to spruce up your fitness routine, and invite your dog along with your outdoor fitness routine. It’ll give you both added health benefits and tighten your bond!
Health Benefits of Having a Dog
Research shows dog owners are more likely to be fitter, healthier, and work out regularly when compared to non-dog owners. Not only do dogs require attention and exercise through walks or other means, but interacting with dogs increases endorphins, which reduces stress hormones and promotes energy during workouts.
Another study from Michigan State University also found that people who have dogs are significantly more likely to get the recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise than people without pets or those who have other types of pets (sorry, cat owners). Dog owners are also reported to feel more confident in being able to fit in exercise into their busy, daily routines despite commitments.
Health Benefits For Your Dog
Dogs make great exercise companions because of their endless energy, but there are certainly some benefits for them. If you’ve ever seen your young or high-energy breed turn to destructive behavior, it could mean your simple walks aren’t enough to help them use up all their energy. So when you exercise with your dog, you’ll provide them with stimulation through different experiences and scenery; remember, your dog likely spends most of his time at home or in the yard so it’s great to try to stimulate them through a variety of different activities. These include going to dog park or a beach or a car ride, but the easiest way to do this is by including your pup in your own workouts!
And if those aren’t reasons enough, just think: your pup will never cancel on you last minute, complain about it being too cold out, or tell you they can’t exercise because they’re preoccupied with other things. He’ll come with you wherever you go, and be the most reliable exercise partner you’ve ever had!
Tips for Exercising with Your Dog
I’ve taken my own pup out for runs, and I can tell you some tips that have helped me make the experience better for the both of us. First, just as you would consult your doctor before exercising, check with your vet to make sure your pup is healthy enough to exercise.
Also consider that you may want to invest in some outdoor training gear, depending on the activities you’re going for. If you’re thinking of running or hiking, you’ll want a hands-free leash you can attach to your hip and a harness so he runs safely at your side.
Now, start thinking about the activities you both can do together. Here are some suggestions!
Many of us take our dogs out for a walk just to give them time to “do their business” and come right back inside. An easy adaptation to this routine you already have is speeding up that walk. A brisk walk is great! Not only can it be relaxing and help you to enjoy the outdoors, but there are health benefits from lowering your blood pressure, increasing your bone density, and lowering the risk of depression. Slowly increase how far and how fast you walk in order to promote more health benefits.
Running can be fantastic exercise for dogs! If your dog’s old enough (it’s generally recommended dogs under 18 months should avoid distance running due to their bone growth), start training them the same way you would: start slow and build mileage slowly. Start running for 10 minutes, and add 5-10 minutes every week until you reach the time or distance you have in mind. Monitor your pups response to running when increasing mileage—don’t push too much too soon or injuries could result.
You’ll also have to teach your dog to run next to you, and with practice he will learn how to run at pace with you. If you have a flat-faced breed, keep your runs shorter since it is harder for these types of dogs to take in air. If your pup really takes to running, there are also some road races that allow you to run with your little buddy!
One of the best total-body workouts for humans, swimming is also great for dogs. Because of the low impact nature of swimming, it’s a great exercise for people or dogs with arthritis or joint issues while providing cardiovascular benefits. If your pup is hesitant to jump into the pool, slowly introduce him to the water using treats or toys in order to create positive associations. Your dog can also wear a life jacket if needed!
Paddle-boarding and Kayaking
If you live near water, there are so many great activities in which you can include your dog! Stand-up paddle-boarding isn’t just for humans; most dogs can ride on the noise of the board. Start on a calm day so your dog can get used to being on the board, and you can paddle on your knees to better balance the board as your dog gets used to it.
Your dog can also hang out on your kayak as you paddle, which is another great sunny day activity. First get your dog used to hopping into the kayak on land, then take it to shallow water before heading out to deeper water. Use treats and toys to coax them in. The first few trips should be in calm water and should be relaxing so your pup gets used to being in the kayak. Definitely invest in a life jacket for your dog in case he wants to take a quick swim.
Cycling or Rollerblading
For a dog with a ton of energy, training him to run next to you as you cycle or rollerblade is an excellent way for both of you to get exercise. On the bike, start off having him walk next to the bike as you walk with him. Then, cycle slowly and on flat surfaces for the first several sessions before increasing the distance or speed. You may also want to consider using a bike attachment for his leash, especially if he tends to pull or get distracted by squirrels.
Hiking can be one of the best exercise and sensory experiences for your dog. Dogs love to explore new smells, terrain, and see other animals, which makes hiking one of the best ways to be active with your pup. In order to elevate your heart rate, you’ll need to hike briskly and/or include some inclines in order to get a cardiovascular benefit. Some pups like to climb up rock formations or over fallen trees which gives you both the chance to climb and strengthen your bodies. If you live in an area where there are ticks, consider a tick collar or insect repellant in addition to protecting your pup with a Lyme vaccination and flea/tick prevention. Both of you should also be checked for ticks after any hiking outing!
Some dogs just love running up and down stairs, which is great for you, too! Stair running not only provides a cardiovascular benefit to both human and canine, but also strengthens your hamstrings, quads, and glutes on each step for a lean lower body.
Soccer and Fetch
Games like soccer and fetch are in their DNA. Make fetch an exercise for you by trying to race your dog to the ball, chase each other around, or by doing some exercises while waiting for your dog to return the ball. Some dogs are also able to learn how to “dribble” or “kick” a ball using their nose or paws to play doggie-soccer.
Cross-country Skiing and Snow-shoeing
I know it’s almost summer, but remember that the winter-time is also a great time for dogs! Especially for dogs who love colder weather and snow, taking them with you as you snow-shoe or next to you as you cross-country ski is a great way for both of you to spend time outside while exercising. Be sure to bundle up your dog with a coat or booties if they tend to get snow caught in their paw pads easily.
Boot Camp Classes
Dog-friendly boot camp classes are popping up across the country. In San Diego, there’s a class where you can sprint with your dog, and perform strength exercises while your pup practices obedience commands.
Precautions for Your Pup
A few more considerations for your pup’s health and safety before exercising:
- Be careful to keep your dog cool in warm and humid weather. Skip that outdoor workout if it’s too hot. Dogs don’t sweat like we do!
- In cold weather, be sure your pup has a coat (if needed) and booties if he tends to collect snow in his paw pads or if walking on salt.
- Before starting a workout, it might be best to allow your dog to do his “business” before you get started so you won’t have to stop your workout for when nature calls.
- Bring water for your dog during exercise, and take breaks as needed to give him hydration.
- If you are running and your dog is falling behind or panting hard, give him a break and some water.
- Safety first! Just like you would for yourself, use reflective gear (they sell reflective collars and coats) if exercising when it is dark outside.
Do you regularly exercise with your dog? What tips or activities would you add? We’d love to see some photos in the comments!