If you were separated from your gym buddy thanks to social distancing, you might be longing for the motivation that only a workout partner can provide. But if you have a dog, surely they can step in: Studies show that dog owners are already four times more likely to meet general fitness guidelines (primarily because they walk more) than people who are severely missing out on the beauty of canine companionship. If you want to take workouts with your dog beyond walking, there are other activities you can try — but you need to learn how to exercise with your dog first.
For instance, before you go full drill instructor on your pup, or even expect them to work out with you at all, you should have them somewhat trained. Otherwise, something like this could happen:
You should also keep in mind that not all dogs are equipped to work out with humans. For example, brachycephalic dogs (those with short muzzles), like bulldogs or pugs, should only sprint for short distances and would have an awful time on long-distance runs. Likewise, puppies should avoid too much running, as their bones are still in the process of developing. In general, you should wait until your dog is about 18 months old before taking them on long-distance runs.
Even among breeds that typically enjoy running, there are, of course, dogs that have a much better time relaxing on the couch. Remember, every dog has its own personality, and some may be less interested in exercising than others. In other words, you may have a dog that simply will not exercise with you.
Running With Your Dog
That said, if your dog seems interested in being your workout buddy, running is absolutely a good place to start. First, though, you and your dog should master loose-leash walking before you even think about training them to run beside you. (A dog that pulls on a leash is frustrating on walks, but could launch you into oblivion on runs.) You can do this by using treats and praise to reinforce your dog when they keep the leash slack, as well as when they stay on one side of you, which will be essential to avoid tripping or tangling your legs in their leash when you eventually start running. When you do get to running with your dog, it can also be helpful to start slowly, both to avoid overstimulating your dog (causing them to lunge forward at incredible speeds) and to build up their endurance.
If you want to try something a little more creative, you could attempt to sort of use your dog as a weight for basic exercises, like squats and push-ups. However, you definitely have to test the temperament of your dog — that is, whether they’re willing to let you pick them up and use them as a literal dumbbell — and chances are, you’re better off just using real weights if you care about having an efficient workout.
You could also mix in some exercises while playing with your dog — say, doing some squats in between throwing a ball at the park, or racing them to that ball to get some sprints in. It might not be as efficient as working out alone, but that’s not really why we’re working out with our dogs, anyway. As Suzi Teitelman, creator and founder of Doga dog yoga, says, “Doing anything with your dog makes it better. A lot of people have trouble working out, because it takes energy and time, but when you add your dog into your workout, you’ll be able to do it for longer and have more fun.”
If you want to try Doga with your dog, Teitelman says you can start with the following pattern of poses:
- Downward Dog: “Get on the ground, do a downward dog, and watch your dog join you,” says Teitelman. If they walk under you, she adds that you might as well take the opportunity to give them some kisses, because why not? Then, lower to your knees for…
- Child’s Pose: “Sit back on your heels, and reach your arms out over your dog, blending the dog into your pose with massages, gentle adjusting and stretching,” Teitelman says. From here, she adds that you can walk your hands to your feet to engage in a standing forward pose over your dog. Then, you can open your legs wider and lower into a squat position, holding your dog out in front of you.
- Savasana (or Corpse Pose): “Lie on the ground, and let your dog lie on top of you or beside you,” Teitelman explains. “Take as long as you’d like in this powerful mediating and connecting time with your dog. Let your breaths relax and unite. Let go of all the moving postures, deep exercises and stretches. In savasana, just be one with your dog, doing nothing — relaxing together before you head back into lots of praise, licks and joy.”
While doing all of this, Teitelman says, “Always work with love and gentleness when touching your dog and yourself.”
Now, perhaps obviously, none of this is as efficient as a workout you could do on your own, even if you manage to train your dog to follow along fairly well. However, again, exercising with your dog isn’t only about working out — it’s also about bonding with them, and perhaps motivating yourself to do something active. “So many people don’t get on their yoga mat, because they just don’t feel like they have time,” Teitelman says. “But you have to give time, love and attention to your dog.” If you can fit a workout in while doing that, great.
Now, good luck not getting pulled into outer space on your first dog run.