Cardio companion: how to exercise with your dog
If you’re feeling inspired to embrace a more active lifestyle, here’s how you can try out a range of energetic exercises with your four-legged friend
Getting a daily dose of exercise together not only keeps you both fit, it’s also a chance for dogs and their owners to bond. But why stop at walkies? If you’re feeling inspired to add more movement into your everyday routine, here are a few workouts that are guaranteed to set tails wagging.
Go for a run
New to jogging? No problem. Try an app such as Couch to 5K that gradually increases the distance of your runs over a period of nine weeks. Just like people, dogs need to build up their fitness levels slowly, too. The first few sessions begin with a mix of running and walking, which presents the perfect opportunity to teach your dog to run alongside you while on the lead. Here’s how:
- Pick the side you want your dog to run on and stick to it
- Reward good behaviour (such as not pulling on the lead and keeping an even pace) with a treat
- Correct your dog the second he starts to go ahead, fall behind or weave from side to side
- Come up with speed cues – like ‘let’s go’ and ‘whoa’ – that signal when you want to speed up or slow down
As with any exercise, take plenty of water for you both and avoid feeding your dog for at least an hour before you set off. Once you’re both up to speed, join other pet owners for a social sporting event at your local 5K parkrun*.
Play the game
Add exercises to your playtime routine and you’ll both have fun while getting fit. Throw your dog’s ball or Frisbee and see how many sit-ups or lunges you can do in the time it takes them to retrieve it; alternatively, challenge your core strength by holding a plank position. If you are in a dog-friendly park where it’s safe for your pet to be off the lead, you could use a tennis racket to turn a fun game of fetch into a chance to practise your serve.
The whole family can get involved in building (and testing out) a canine agility course. A bamboo garden cane balanced across a couple of upturned plant pots makes for a height-adjustable jumping obstacle. You could even train your pet to jump through a Hula Hoop. Cardboard boxes with the tops and bottom cut away make for fun tunnels, while plastic cricket stumps can serve as lightweight poles for your dog to weave his way around. If you’re stuck indoors because of rainy weather, hide biscuits and chews around the home for a treat-fuelled treasure hunt.
Strike a pose
Dogs are very intuitive animals and can pick up on their owner’s stress and anxiety levels, which is why practising yoga together can be a calming and comforting experience for you both. The way a dog stretches out has inspired a number of yoga poses so take to the mat and try a spine-lengthening ‘downward dog’:
- Start on your hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart and fingers spread wide
- Press your hands into the mat, take a deep breath in and tuck your toes under
- As you inhale, lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs as much as possible
- The aim is to create an upside down ‘V’ shape, with your heels pressing towards the floor and your tailbone pointing towards the ceiling
Add to the stretch by ‘wagging your tail’ – swaying your hips gently from side to side. Next, take a ‘puppy pose’ by lowering your knees to the floor, sitting back on your heels and lowering your chest towards the ground, while reaching your arms forwards.
Try something new
A curious dog is a healthy dog, so find ways to give their minds a workout as well as their bodies. Allowing your dog to investigate unfamiliar places and trot down a previously unexplored route is great for their mental health, so it’s worth slowing down the pace every now and then, enabling them to have a good sniff of their surroundings.
Before introducing a new exercise, always speak to your vet, who’ll be able to advise on your dog’s current fitness levels and if there’s a limit to how much they can manage.
* Check the parkrun website before attending an event for the latest information relating to Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines