Getting yourself to the gym can be a significant challenge. Itâs even tougher when you canât drive, you lack opposable thumbs, and your primary skills are âSitâ and âStay.â
Yes: Dogs need to focus on their fitness, too. And like any good workout partner, they depend on their fellow friends to keep them in shape.
For a primer on keeping your dog healthy, we talked to Ernie Ward, D.V.M., a veterinarian and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Ward is also the creator of K9 FitÂ Club, where personal trainers, dog trainers, and dog owners can take classes to exercise with their dogs. (They have over 46 locations around the country. You can check out other dog fitness centers near you.)[RELATED9]
Ward walked me through the best exercises you can do to get your dog moving, and the exercises you should probably avoid. Here are a few workout scenarios for different types of canines.
When your dog thinks kettlebells are toys
Kettlebell swings make for a great at-home workout, until your 10-month old Labrador-mix puppy (like mine) decides to jump up and get involved.
âIâm kind of anti-kettlebells-around-dogs,â Ward says. âItâs critical to evaluate [how dangerous the exercise youâre doing] could be to your dog when youâre doing swift movements or youâre moving weight. Sometimes you canât overcome that movement instantlyâlike the arc of a kettlebell swingâand if your dog is in the same room, you could injure them,â he said.[RELATED8]
Before you start any exercise or activity, take a step back and ask yourself: What are the potential risks here for my dog or myself?
âWe do lunges in K9 classes, but we actually have the dog under restraint when weâre doing big movements, because your dog may dash underneath youâthen everybody gets injured.â
If youâre exercising near your dog, keep them on a leash. Knowing how your dog reacts will help you determine what exercises you can do while theyâre around.
When your dog loves to tackle you (especially during planks and crunches)
Plenty of pet owners have found they can do workouts with their dogs out of their crates. But when I get on the floor to do planks or abs routines on a mat, my dog thinks this is the perfect opportunity to jump on me or barrage me with licks.[RELATED7]
If you have a calmer dog that can lie nearby and chew a bone or relax while youâre on the floor, go ahead with one of our core routines. Otherwise, doing floor work may lead to injuryâor, at the very least, a lackluster abs workout.
When your large dog gained weight and youâd like to help him shed the pounds
Veterinarians often see âspring-training injuriesâ in dogs that hibernated all winter, then started running again, Ward says. If your dog spent all winter on the couch, then they âarenât ready to spring forward and play Frisbee, do agility exercises, or even swim.â
So, as with any new workout routine, ease yourself and your dog back into action.
âWe see a lot of knee ligament tears in the spring from deconditioned dogs who have put on a few extra pounds or just lost muscle and strength,â Ward says. âSometimes itâs a trauma injury where the dog falls off because their agility isnât there. Theyâre just out of practice, so be aware this âspring-trainingâ scenario is real for dogsâŠas well as people.â
Your first run should be short to test out how your dog is moving. Instead of a run, you might even go for a brisk walk, Ward suggests. If youâre used to jogging, maybe go a little slowerâsay, two or three minutes per mileâfrom what you were running while training for a fall marathon.
Most importantly, be aware: âIf your dogâs breathing is rapid, if the stamina seems to decrease, then just back off a little bit,â Ward says. âIf you notice the dog is coughing, having difficulty breathing, or just doesnât have the endurance, thatâs a call to action. Go see your veterinarian.â
When your small dog needs an indoor workout
For small dogs, Ward suggests doing simple âhigh-lows.â
âItâs like a variation of a squat,â he says. Get your dog to go into a down position, either lying down or in a sit position. Then encourage them to jump up, ideally on their hind legs. This is where a favorite toy or treat can helpâbut donât give them a treat every time they do this, Ward says.
Do a set of 10, then give them a low-calorie treat. This engages those large muscleÂ masses, Ward says. Try this exercise a few times a day. You can do this with medium-sized or large dogs, too, if they know how to get up on their hind legs.
When your large dog wants to get moving inside
When itâs too cold to take your bigger dog on long walks or jogs, the most important thing to do is keep them active as much as you can for their overall health, Ward says.
ââFollowâ is a really good game,â Ward says. âWhen youâre walking, having your dog do a heel [stop] inside, sit, then have them follow you from room to room.â You can do this outdoors in the park or around the neighborhood when youâre on a walk, too. You could also attempt it up and down stairs, if your dog is a good listener and can handle stairs well. If theyâre a good command of this exercise, it can be a great way to get them moving and building strength.
âYou want your dog moving more throughout the day,â Ward says. So if theyâre lying down in the living room and youâre walking to another room, call them over to follow.Â âEven the act of standing will burn more calories than lying down,â he says.
When your dog just wants to play fetch
If you have a hallway or a room you donât mind throwing a ball in, play indoor fetch.Â
âIn the evenings, when weâre done with dinner, our dogs know itâs playtime,â Ward says. âThey have two toys they love, and we just roll them back and forth in a variation of fetch.â
Even if youâre gassed from work and your training session that day, keep in mind some movement is always better than none for your pet. In addition to burning extra calories to prevent weight gain, youâre also trying to strengthen muscles and joint support structures.
âThatâs a critical aspect of [movement],â Ward says. âExercise also has effects on the behavior because aerobic activity regulates the three major neurotransmitters in your dogâs brain. So if you want your dog to sleep better, have better behavior, and be smarter, you want them to engage in regular aerobic activity just like humans. And finally, thereâs a lot of evidence to show regular aerobic activity boosts the immune system. If we want to stay as healthy as possible and keep our pets as healthy as possible, we have to find a few minutes here and there because some activity is better than none,â he said.
When you want to prevent weight gain in larger dogs
Exercising indoors can be a challenge for large dogs. And if you have a huge breed like a Great Daneâor even multiple Great Danesâexercising indoors just may not be practical. But as with humans, your dog canât always out-work a bad diet.
âBetween inclement weather and irregular schedules, fitness begins at the food bowl,â Ward says. âThatâs a very important concept with larger dogs because it can be tough to closely regulate their activity versus calories in, calories out.â
Whenever your dog is inactive, be mindful of how much your dog is eating, because the best way to limit their weight gain is to reduce their caloric intake, Ward says. âIf you canât go out and play with your bigger dogâŠyouâre going to have to watch what youâre feeding them. This is where we start to look at formulations carefully.â
Be mindful of the chow youâre feeding your dog. Your veterinarian can be a great resource for calculating these calories.
When you want to teach agility movements to your dog
Once your dog has mastered the âfollowâ technique, you can teach them to weave in and out while walking using two or three pillows, going around each pillow. (This is not necessarily easy with a puppy that wants to chew pillows.)
Basic agility doesnât have to be super active, but you can do this activity in 10 feet of space. Have them walk, go left, right, left, turn around, go right, left, rightâthatâs an excellent mental and physical exercise, Ward says.
âAll dogs can do this, but with bigger dogs, Iâm always trying to tap into that emotional and psychological side. They get bored, and when they get bored, they become inactive and depressedâthen they eat more,â he says.
When your outdoor routine starts to become boring.
You wouldnât go to the gym and do the same circuit every day. In the same way, your dogâs workout needs variety, too.
For example: âDonât think of walks just as strapping on the leash and heading around the block,â Ward says. âMake it a game. Do surges and fartleksââbasically intervals of fast running and slow running. âFor example: From here to the fire hydrant, Iâm going to double my pace, whether thatâs walking or running.â Now youâre getting your dog used to accelerating and decelerating.
âReversing your route is incredibly important for dogs because they get bored,â Ward says. âIf you always go to the left of your house, start going to your right,â he said. âMake sure you do what I call âtraining stops.â So letâs say that halfway around the block, because now your dogâs kind of settled into the pace, you train. Say, âSit down, or, âStay,â to make it a training opportunity. What we know from the neurochemistry of humans is that when youâre doing aerobic activity, youâre perhaps primed for learning. That might transfer for dogs, too.â
When youâre thinking of going for a bike ride or skateboarding with your dog
Think againâitâs dangerous for both of you.
âWhen I see someone riding a bike with their dog running on a leash next to them, it really drives me crazy,â Ward says. âThey might say, âIâm exercising, my dog is exercising. They love it.â Of course everybody loves it until someone loses an eye or breaks a leg,â he said. âTake a step back. Use common sense when youâre exercising with your dog. Iâm still befuddled and frightened to death by some of the injuries we encounter at my veterinary clinic from people doing stupid things with their dogs.â
When youâre considering a high-tech dog toy
âI think many dogs benefit from these kinds of toys,â Ward says. âIâve got a basket full of these for our dogs. Theyâre sound-activated, motion-activated. They have lights. They roll around on their own. They squeak. They squawk. And I think that for many dogs those are great.â
The issue, Ward says: âYou have to make sure your dog canât somehow destroy and eat the innards, because these electronic devices could obviously contain toxic materials.â
Also: Be cautious about purchasing a product that dispenses treats to your dog while youâre away from home.
âWhile itâs appealing to us, weâre actually creating weight and obesity problems,â Ward says. âI would much rather dogs have an interactive toy or something to engage them physically or mentally as opposed to just getting an ATM for treats,â he said.
When youâre wondering just how lazy your dog is
Youâre logging your movement and stepsâso why not do the same for your dog?
âIâm a big fan of activity trackers and fitness monitors for dogs, especially in sedentary environments, because they give you a more accurate picture of how active or inactive your dog may be,â Ward says. âFor some pet owners that [information] can be a real call to action and motivation to get them moving.â
When youâre researching fitness trackers for your dog, Ward suggests you consider three factors:
- Durability and safety
- Battery life (âSome devices need to be charged every few days; some last a month.â)
- App experience. (âSome of them are difficult to navigate and others are super easy.â)
A fourth point worth mentioning: Price point.
âThereâs this price point between $50 and $75, then thereâsÂ this price point of about $150 and above,â Ward says. âAnd like a human fitness tracker, you kind of get what you pay for. If youâve never gotten one, try an inexpensive one. If you find youâre using it more and more, you may want to move up to a more expensive or better model.â