Dogs need regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, build strong muscles, and keep their immune systems in tip-top shape. Exercise also stimulates their minds, reducing boredom and preventing destructive behaviour. It’s like hitting two birds with one tennis ball!
Fortunately, many exercise programs for dogs involve a lot of fun for you and your dog. From a classic game of fetch at the park, to performing a choreographed musical routine, or even some good old doga (yes, that’s dog yoga), you can be sure that your dog ends your training sessions with a wide, toothy smile.
Things to remember when exercising your dog
Before you and your dog go on that Hollywood-style training montage, here are a few things to take into account.
Consider your dog’s breed when designing their exercise routine. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Jack Russell Terriers are just a few of the high-energy dogs that would benefit from high levels of exercise. Bulldogs and pugs, on the other hand, require less exercise, as they may have breathing issues.
Consider their age, too. We understand that your puppy is too cute not to show to the entire neighbourhood, but they shouldn’t engage in high-level exercises, like going on a walk, until they are fully developed. Neither should senior dogs with mobility issues or health conditions.
Tailor your dog’s exercise levels and routines to their needs. Is your dog suffering from joint problems? Go for a low-impact, full-body exercise. Are they a bit on the heavier side? Gradually increase their levels of activity to get them conditioned and down to a healthier weight before full-on exercise.
Go at their pace, not yours. You may be able to run the Boston marathon, and your dog might look like they could, too. But their adrenaline levels can often hide real signs of fatigue, like excessive panting, tongue hanging out heavily, and an unwillingness to follow. Remember that dogs can suffer from after-workout muscle pain, too!
Consider the weather. You wouldn’t want to sweat and tire yourself out during the hottest parts of the day, and neither does your dog. When exercising on snowy days, protect your dog’s little paws by giving them little booties to wear. When in doubt, there’s nothing wrong with some indoor exercises.
Stay hydrated. That goes for you, too! Bring a jug of water whenever you and your dog go exercising. When you’re on the go, try bringing collapsible water bowls or portable water dispensers with you for your dog’s use.
Make sure to pick up after your dog. Whether it’s spontaneous number twos or the hotdog wrappers after a satisfying workout, make sure nothing of you and your dog’s activities leave a negative impact on the environment.
Weight loss and joint problems
When we think of callisthenics for humans, it’s usually for weight loss, and then we think of our joints next to consider exercises we can do. It’s the same for dogs!
The following exercises are gentle and effective, whether you have a senior dog, an overweight dog, or a senior overweight pup.
Swimming. Swimming is a low-impact activity, meaning it keeps the weight off your dog’s joints. This is great for senior dogs or for those suffering from joint problems. But remember that not all dogs enjoy being in the water, and forcing them to do it for exercise will only stress them out. Also, breeds like dachshunds and bulldogs will sink like a stone in water, so keep them away from it or get them a life vest.
Use the treadmill. A treadmill has a low-impact surface, which is easier on your dog’s joints. Dogs get it pretty easily, especially with the right motivation (cough—treats—cough). The great thing about using treadmills is that you get to control the speed and the incline, allowing you to adjust it to your dog’s needs. Some dog therapists have underwater treadmills.
Walking. Nothing beats a nice walk around the block. Go for walks most days, not one “big” walk at the end of the week. If your dog needs to lose some weight, five days of 30-minute brisk walking should do it. Shorter walks would be better for smaller dogs, dogs with joint problems, and brachycephalic dogs. Here’s a tip: attach their leash to a harness instead of a collar to give your dog more support around their forelimbs.
Mental stimulation and agility
Bored dogs can be a headache. Specific breeds like collies and Dobermans and shepherds actually need this to stay good dogs.
Exercise isn’t just about keeping your dog physically fit—it’s about getting their minds working, too!
Hide-and-seek. This is a game that works well even indoors. Find a place in your house to hide, then call your dog to come find you. They know what their owners smell like, so using their nose to find you will be a good mental exercise.
Build an agility course. Look at that little pup go! Agility courses are great for cardio work and keeps your dog agile. Some public places have courses you and your dog can go to, but you can actually build one at home, even indoors. Blankets can work as tunnels, putting various items down for your dog to weave through—the possibilities are endless!
Play fetch. Of course, you can always just throw a tennis ball or a stick and call it a day. Your dog will love playing fetch, regardless. But for a little more excitement, try ball launchers, glow-in-the-dark balls, or squeaky toys. You could also try playing in the water or atop a hill for an extra challenge!
Play tug-of-war. Aside from it being a great form of exercise, it also teaches your dog manners and impulse control. Just get a rope or an old towel, give it to your pup, and pull from the other end like your life depends on it! Make sure, however, that your dog knows basic bite inhibition before playing, or else it’ll be quite a dangerous game.
Cardio for general fitness
No specific issues but you want to make sure your dog is fighting fit? Mix in these activities with your regular walks.
Walk up and down the stairs. Who said exercise had to be complicated? It can be as simple as walking up and down the stairs. Ask your dog to follow you as you go up, or throw something upstairs and have them retrieve it. Make sure they have a nice little treat waiting for them afterwards.
Dog dancing. Make way, Dancing with the Stars—dancing with dogs is now the new thing! Dog dancing, or canine freestyle, involves performing a routine of tricks like heeling, weaving, paw work, and jumps to music. You can incorporate tricks your dog knows best and excels at to make it a fun way to exercise both the body and mind.
Go hiking. Not only is this a great cardio workout, it’s also an opportunity to bask in the beauty of nature. Start with short distances and easier terrain first before working your way up to longer distances and rougher ground.
Other creative exercise methods
Doing doga. Yes, you read that right—doga, or dog yoga. You can work out with your dog next to you, or you can train them to do poses that come naturally to them, like the downward dog, upward-facing dog, compass pose, and the happy baby. It doesn’t exactly burn calories, but doga gives your dog an opportunity to relax with you.
Set up a doggie playdate. Invite over a fellow dog owner whose pup gets along well with yours. Dogs spend a lot of energy playing with each other, even if it’s just indoors. This activity is also good for your dog’s mental and social health.
Your dog is happier when they’re healthier, and canine callisthenics is all about having a blast while keeping your dog in peak condition. It’s now time to lace up those sneakers, grab your dog’s leash, and embark on a fitness journey that’s bound to be a howling success.