For many people, having an exercise buddy can be a powerful motivating force when working toward fitness goals. Often, though, pet owners overlook the exercise buddy who lives right under their own roof. Your four-legged friend needs to get exercise just as much as you do, or depending on his size and breed, maybe even more. Exercising with your dog is not only good for both of you, it’s a great way to strengthen your bond. And, because a tired dog is a happy, well-adjusted dog, exercising with your pet can also help to reduce problem behaviors. Best of all, your pet doesn’t have a job or family responsibilities to contend with, so he’s always available when you need him.
If your pet exercise routine typically consists of a few short walks around the block each day, try adding in a few of these activities you can enjoy with your pet:
Hiking: If you and your dog already take regular walks, hiking is a natural extension. Dogs love nosing around in the dirt and sniffing out new smells. Begin by looking for well-marked trails in a state park or public nature preserve near your home. If either you or your dog is out of condition, you can start with a small loop of a couple of miles or less and build your way up to longer trails. Once you’ve explored the natural areas near you, you and your dog can begin taking road-tips to more remote locations. Just be sure to remain aware of and sensitive to your dog’s stamina level, especially if he is small or getting advanced in age. Some dogs can run circles around their human companions, while others need to take things at a slower pace. Be sure to keep your dog leashed and away from wildlife, especially in unfamiliar areas. It could take as little as a darting squirrel or rabbit to cause him to run off and get lost or hurt. Besides, nobody wants to take their pet to the vet to remove a snout full of porcupine needles or drive home with a dog who’s been sprayed by a skunk!
Running or jogging: Dogs are natural-born runners. Their wild cousins — wolves, coyotes, and foxes — spend hours every day on the run, scavenging for food. Though today’s pampered pets get their dinner served to them every night, that drive to run remains strong. As with hiking, if you and your pet aren’t used to high levels of activity, take it slow at first and build your way up.
Biking: This idea may not sound so safe on the surface, and it’s not for everyone, but if you have a dog who likes to run for long distances, you can tire him out by biking next to him. A few years ago, a Norwegian inventor named Sven Arntzen created a device called a “Springer” that allows cyclists to safely attach their dog to their bicycle. The hands-free connector keeps the dog close by, while its ingenious design prevents Fido from pulling your bicycle over. A word of caution, though: unless you plan on taking only a very short, leisurely cruise, this activity is best suited for dogs with very high energy levels. A human on a bike can easily tire out a small dog, or even a larger one that’s out of condition.
Swimming: Most dogs have the potential to be very good swimmers. After all, they don’t call it “doggie paddling” for nothing. If your dog isn’t used to the water, introduce him slowly. Start with a pond or lake that has a gradual entry. Once your dog reaches deeper water, keep a close eye on him. He should start paddling his front legs right away. You may have to lift up his rump a few times before he gets the idea. Some dogs are initially afraid of the water. If your dog seems unhappy or frightened, let him get out and try again later. If you let him get used to the water at his own pace, the two of you will be gliding through the water together in no time. Just be sure to pay attention to your dog’s energy level and get him out of the water before he becomes over-tired. You may want to invest in a personal floatation vest for your dog. This will allow him to use less energy to stay afloat, and extend the amount of time the two of you can spend in the water together.
Fetch: If your pet has more energy than you do, playing fetch with him, using a ball, stick, pet-safe flying disc, or other dog toy can be a great way to tire him out while you get a chance to rest. That doesn’t mean you can’t take the opportunity to get a workout though. Mix things up for your pet, running to a different location while he runs off to fetch the toy you’ve just thrown. This will give your pet some mental stimulation and also give you a good excuse to get moving.
Canoeing: Paddling out onto the quiet water of a lake, pond, or river can be both relaxing and invigorating. Though you’ll be doing all of the work, your canine companion may enjoy going along for the ride. This is a great way for you to get some exercise while spending time with a pet who may not have as much energy as you do. Even strong dogs can have fun in a canoe, though. You can even alternate letting him ride and having him swim beside you. Just be careful not to tip the boat when letting him in and out!
Agility and Other Dog Sports: There are literally dozens of dog specific sports and activities, including agility, Earth dog, flyball, dock jumping, pulling, herding, dogsledding and many, many more. Each one was created with a specific type of dog in mind, so no matter what your dog’s personality is like, there’s sure to be a sport he will enjoy. Do some research on what kinds of clubs exist in your area, and try out a few to see if your dog takes to them. Depending on the sport you settle on, it may end up being a great workout for you, in addition to an opportunity to enjoy quality time with your pet.
So next time you get home from a long, tiring day and don’t feel like hitting the gym, remember that spending time with your best friend can be as good for your body as it is for your soul. Grab a leash and get moving!