Need a workout buddy and a little extra motivation? Look no further than the end of your dog’s leash.
Man’s best friend can be a fabulous fitness partner. After all, you need to exercise and so does your pup. “Just letting a dog out to play in a fenced-in yard isn't good enough,” says Susan Nelson, clinical associate professor at Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center. “Just like for us, exercise is good for a dog’s cardiovascular system and helps to fight obesity, which leads to other issues such as diabetes, heart disease and joint problems.”
It’s also good mental stimulation for your four-legged friend. “Dogs who are cooped up all day tend to become destructive from all that pent up energy,” notes Nelson. “A tired dog is a happy dog.”
Here’s how to team up with your pooch and safely break a sweat together.
Ease into exercise
“Working out with your dog can be a lot of fun and rewarding for both of you,” says Joe Dowdell, founder and CEO of Peak Performance in New York City. But that doesn’t mean you should go full-steam ahead right from the start. Think of this way: You wouldn’t go from being sedentary to running five miles in just a few days or weeks, so neither should your pup. "Make sure your dog is ready to exercise,” says Nelson. “You may have to start slowly and build up the intensity and/or length of time."
Signs that your dog may need a break include lagging behind, heavy panting, staggering, limping or refusing to move. “Do not try to push your dog to do more if you notice any of these signs,” says Nelson. Also, don’t take him for an intense workout right after eating, which can lead to stomach bloat. And before you break one bead of sweat, get the OK from your dog’s doc. “It is important to have your dog checked by your veterinarian before starting an exercise program to make sure he is healthy and can do the type of exercise you are thinking about,” says Nelson.
Make it a real workout — not a stroll
“Don’t use having your dog with you as an excuse to stroll — continue to push yourself,” says New York-based David Kirsch, celebrity personal trainer and wellness expert. This means warming up with light exercise, such as a jog or slow-paced walk, and then bumping up the speed and intensity, such as by running or walking briskly. “During the workout, change your pace and direction to keep your heart rate up,” suggests Kirsch. Fun workouts you can do with Fido by your side include walking, which is easier on the joints for older dogs, as well as running, cycling, rollerblading and skateboarding.
Head for the hills or the beach
Depending on where you live, taking a hike or hitting the beach can be an enjoyable, healthy way to workout with your pooch. During a hike, add some hill climbs, suggests Dowdell. You can also do running sprints on the beach together. “For the sprints, throw a tennis ball down the beach so that your dog will chase after it, and then quickly follow suit,” he suggests. Frisbee and fetch are also good heart-pumping forms of exercise. “They are great ways for a dog to exercise, plus it gives him the added benefit of interacting with his owner,” says Nelson.
Match your workout to your mutt
Not all dogs have the same energy level. “You can't run a basset hound like you would a Great Dane," explains Nelson. In general, for short-legged and smaller dogs or those with arthritis, low-impact activities such as walking, hiking and fetch are great. For medium and larger sized dogs that are in good shape, try running. And if your dog knows how to swim, a dip in the pool works wonders if your pooch has arthritis or other joint problems.
In general, Nelson says small pooches can walk up to a mile or two while large dogs may be able to handle three or more miles of walking or running. “Endurance activities are not very good for flat-nosed dogs,” adds Nelson. Dogs should get exercise at least twice a day, generally around 15 to 20 minutes each session for small dogs and 30 to 40 minutes or more for large dogs, so trying different workouts to find one you both like is key.
Load up on H20
Bring along fresh water for you and your pup, and make sure you both stay well-hydrated by sipping some H20 before, during and after your workout session—especially in warm weather to prevent overheating. You can tote a portable bowl or get a dog-sipping top to put on your water bottle. And be aware of signs of overheating, which include panting heavily, thick and ropey saliva and a dark, red tongue.
Adjust your workout to the weather
In warm weather months, switch your doggie workout sessions to early morning and evening when temperatures are cooler. “For any dogs, but especially pugs, bulldogs and Boston terriers, even temperatures in the 70s can be hazardous to their health,” explains Nelson. Humidity can also be an issue. "High humidity can make it tough for dogs to breathe and they can't get proper cooling through panting,” she adds. “This is especially true for dogs with short, stubby noses like boxers and bulldogs.”
Turn the same-old walk into a workout
“Usually on our late night walk, my dog and I play the leash tug game,” says Dowdell. While walking, see if your dog will hold her own leash in her mouth. Then as you walk, each pull in opposite directions. “My dog’s very powerful, so it can be a tremendous upper body and core workout,” adds Dowdell. And it’s a great way for your pup to burn off some energy before bed.
Don’t overdo it
Even pets can get too much exercise. “Some signs to look for include an obvious limp, if they are tugging on their leash and don't want to go forward, or if they start to lag behind," says Nelson. Also, be careful where you take your mutt to move. "As the weather gets warmer, pavement and asphalt can get hot and burn the pads on their feet," explains Nelson. "Gravel can be a painful surface, too, and tear up tender pads, especially if they aren't used to running on it. Many dogs will develop severe injuries to their pads if they aren't conditioned to run on rough surfaces.” It’s the equivalent of us going barefoot in the summer after wearing shoes all winter, so you may need to work up slowly to toughen up your best friend’s feet.
Quiz: How Active Are You?