Exercising is important to many people, and also their pets, but staying active in the COVID-era has become an even bigger priority for many dog parents.
In a recent survey*, the majority (54%) of dog owners reported that they were less active in 2020 than they thought they’d be, and 80% said they want to be more active in 2021. 70% felt the pandemic impacted their physical activity.
On the bright side, we found having a dog was very good fitness motivation for a lot of pet parents.
65% of dog parents claimed they’re more active with a dog than without and over half (57%) said they’re likely to do this exercise with their pup. 43% of dog owners even said their dog is their accountability partner. An impressive 75% went on to say that being active alongside their pup improves their bond!
So, from doing a downward dog pose alongside your actual dog, to giving behind-the-ear scratches while standing on one leg, this guide will provide you with ideas for spending time with your dog while being active, as well as tips for keeping pups happy and healthy as you find new ways of moving together.
But how much exercise does a dog need? Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert on Rover’s Dog People Panel, recommends at least 30-45 minutes per day, though he says energy levels can vary from dog to dog. For instance, a Jack Russell Terrier might need to run for hours, whereas a Shih Tzu may be content with 30 minutes. Dr. Gary also says many dogs will let their owners know how much exercise they need.
Want to find out more about where your pup fits in on the energy spectrum? This Rover article breaks it down by breed.
Top 7 ways to work out with your dog
- Stationary exercises with dogs: Push-up, plank and lunge series
- Stationary exercises with dogs: lunge and balance series
- Stationary exercises with dogs: squats
- Doing yoga with dogs
- Hiking with dogs
- Running with dogs
- Walking with dogs
Stationary exercises with dogs: Push-up, plank and lunge series
Dawn Celapino, fitness trainer and founder of Leash Your Fitness in San Diego, offers classes that provide a space for pups and their humans to work out alongside each other.
“Walking your dog is fine,” Celapino says, “but you’re not getting balance work and you’re not building muscle. Our classes are a complete workout for the person and work time for the dogs—I want the dogs to be focusing on their parents and on the task at hand.”
While the activities are really more of a practice in obedience for dogs, Celapino’s exercises are a great way for pet owners to get outside and move together. If you don’t have access to classes like Celapino’s, she created this set of exercises that you can do in your yard or a park:
- Start with a 2-3 minute walk or jog to get your dog moving.
- 10 push-ups on a picnic table or on the ground with your dog in a sit.
- 30-second walk followed by a 10-second sprint, then another 30-second walk.
- 30-second plank with your dog laying down.
- 20-30 walking lunges with your dog in a heel.
- Repeat this series 3-5 times.
Did you know? Planks are not only one of the best core exercises (a strong core is important in providing support for your back), they target nearly every muscle in your body, and also strengthen your skeletal system.
Stationary exercises with dogs: lunge and balance series
Certified personal trainer, Dawn Celapino, leads fitness classes designed to get pet parents moving while spending time with their pups. Dogs are required to stay leashed with their owners throughout the class and will go through a variety of activities, including walking or running, sit/stays, and agility and stability exercises.
If you don’t have access to classes like Celapino’s, she created this set of exercises that you can do at a nearby park or in your yard:
- Start with a 2-3 minute walk or jog to get your dog moving.
- Stop and do a static lunge and put your dog in a sit, hold ten seconds. TIPS: Make sure your knee is line with your ankle and not over your toes. And your weight should be in your front heel.
- Start a fast-paced walk and then stop and lunge with the other leg with your dog in a sit. Hold for ten seconds. Keep this going for 10-15 minutes.
- Stand on your left leg and tell your dog to lay down.
- Reach down and pet your dog, continuing to stand on your left leg.
- Come back up to your starting position and then reach down five more times.
- Do a 2-3 minute, fast-paced walk.
- Repeat with your right leg.
While you’re strengthening the muscles in your legs, your dog is tasked with following your directions and thinking about what you are doing, which will stimulate them and tire them out. Celaphino recommends that you make sure you are telling your pup how good they are doing when they listen to your direction to sit, lay down, and stay.
Did you know? When you’re balancing, you’re improving your stabilizer muscles that often go unused. Balance training has many benefits including improved body awareness, coordination, and reaction time—and all these things work together to decrease your chances of injury from falling.
Stationary exercises with dogs: squats
For fitness trainer and dog owner Angela Aramburu, starting her company, Go Fetch Run, was a no-brainer.
“I wanted to do more than just run or walk with my dog, but didn’t want to leave her at home for an extra hour or two to go to the gym,” she said. “I decided to create a workout that she could do with me.”
Based on her own experience as a dog owner, she wanted to create a program that would allow dog owners to get in a great workout while also spending quality time with their dogs, who happen to be very consistent workout partners. So, Aramburu consulted with a top dog trainer in NYC to develop a program.
“Many dogs don’t get the amount of exercise they need, which can lead to behavioral problems, obesity, and even depression,” Aramburu said. “I find that many participants are more motivated to exercise themselves when they know they are also benefiting their dogs.”
Aramburu’s single favorite exercise is a simple squat with your dog. And it’s something you can do with your dog at home:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lower your hips, keeping your weight in the heels and your chest up. Your knees should not go past your toes when you look down.
- To include your dog, take their front two paws while they are standing and hold them up in front of you. Squat down, allowing them to lower a few inches as well, and then both of you return to a standing position.
- Repeat. (Who will tire out first?!)
Did you know? Squats work muscles in the lower body (glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductor, hip flexors, and calves) as well as the upper body (shoulders, arms, chest, and back)—all of which support everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, bending, and carrying heavy items. Squats also improve flexibility and strengthen your core, which supports your back.
Doing yoga with dogs
As a New York City resident in the aftermath of September 11th, fitness instructor Suzi Teitelman found herself craving to be near her dog Coali as much as possible. And this craving for additional emotional support eventually turned into what we now know as, “Doga”—the practice of doing yoga with your dog.
“Doga is about becoming more like your dog,” Teitelman said. “Dogs come with a natural ability to be happy, healthy, and loving in the moment, and excited and present.”
Twenty years later, people are still opting to do yoga alongside their pups, and to try it out, Teitelman provided a couple yoga positions you can perform at home:
- Child’s pose: Get on your knees and sit back on your heels, reaching your arms straight out in front of you.
- Down dog: On your hands and feet, push your hips back. You will feel a stretch in your calves and achilles. Meanwhile, let your dog interact with you. Have them sit or lay down when you transition back and forth between child’s pose and down dog.
“Make sure that you are both breathing together and that you’re both meditating,” Teitelman said. “You’re both getting the benefits of yoga and [you are getting] the extra benefits of being with your dog.”
Hiking with dogs
Casey Schreiner had never hiked growing up, so when he took on this new activity in L.A. in 2006, he started the blog Modern Hiker to share his experiences. And after rescuing his nine-year-old Pit Bull Emmy when she was just one, she became one of Schreiner’s most loyal hiking companions.
“When we got her as a puppy, she had a ton of energy, and even now has lots of energy as a senior dog,” he said. “I work from home, and in spring and winter, when L.A. is less hot, her energy spikes—if I don’t get her out for exercise, she won’t let me work.”
If you’re looking to hit the trails with your pup, here are some tips from Schreiner that he learned while hiking with Emmy:
- Be prepared: Schreiner says to make sure and bring extra water and food, the same way you would for yourself.
- Watch out for extreme temperatures: Schreiner doesn’t hike with Emmy if it’s during peak temperatures. If you want to hike on hotter days, go early in the morning or in the evening, after it’s cooled down. Schreiner watches Emmy to see if she seems to be breathing too heavily, always looking for shade when needed or slowing down.
- Be careful of the paws: Schreiner is careful not to scorch Emmy’s paws on hot rocks. “When you’re hiking, you’re wearing boots with thick soles and don’t know how hot it is.”
- Invest in a harness: “Emmy is 99% muscle, and having a harness helps keep her in control.” Schreiner also eventually got her a little backpack for longer treks, as well as booties to protect her paws.
- Research: Check the park regulations to see which trails are dog-friendly and whether they require dogs to be on a leash. “Some don’t have restrictions, and it’s fun to take your dog off-leash, but it’s important to make sure that they’re trained to not bother other animals, for their own safety too.”
Running with dogs
When dog owner and Rover employee Arah McManamna began training for a half-marathon, she noticed her pup, Lana, looking eager to join. Rather than taking off for a training run by herself, McManamna decided to bring Lana along. Here are McManamna’s tips for beginning to run with your dog:
- Start slow: If you and your dog are new at running together, the key is to ease in—not only for their sake but also for yours! Start with a 5-10 minute walk to warm up and get your legs moving. Then, try easing into a jog. Set a pace where you could hold a conversation. You can test this by talking to your dog (why not?!). If you’re just getting into running, start with short distances. You can alternate jogging for 1-2 minutes and walking 1-2 minutes, until you make it back home.
- Be patient: Your dog might effortlessly break into an easy stride, running alongside you. But if your dog has typically only gone on long strolls, like Lana, you will need to get them used to the additional structure necessary to pick up the pace. In McManamna’s case, she needed to train Lana to run in a straight line. “She zig-zagged in front of me (quite the tripping hazard), and kept stopping to check out interesting smells,” McManamna said. “But after a few weeks, she started to understand that runs were different than our walks, and then she was all business.”
- Health: McManamna checked with her vet before running with Lana. Additionally, she doesn’t feed Lana during the hour before or after the run to prevent bloat. She also continually checks Lana’s paws to make sure there aren’t any abriasions. As McManamna got further along in her training, she made sure Lana was getting necessary rest days and left her at home for runs longer than five miles.
McManamna said that after a run she feels happier, calmer, and ready to take on the day—and Lana helps motivate her to run regularly because she can see the positive impact it makes on them both.
“Since we started running regularly, she’s been more relaxed and our bond has grown,” McManamna said. “There’s nothing like reaching a goal with your best friend.”
Did you know? Running is good for your heart! According to Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running as little as 5-10 minutes a day at slow speeds “is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.” Running also burns some serious calories, and is a great workout for your legs and core.
Walking with dogs
Though their energy levels—i.e. the distance they are willing to trek on a typical walk—may differ from breed to breed, Dr. Gary says walks are good for all pups! “Health benefits to walking include cardiovascular health, improving and maintaining muscle tone and joint health, and emotional health. Dogs want to get out and see the world around them, interact with other dogs, smell the roses, etc. It’s good for their psyche and frequently helps them be calmer at home. Also, there are all of the same benefits for the humans who take the dogs out.”
Did you know? Walking is great for easing joint pain—it lubricates and strengthens the muscles that support the joints. Walking also boosts immunity, keeping you healthier than non-walkers during cold and flu season, and has been proven to improve moods, reduce anxiety, and reduce depression.
*A January 2021 survey of 2,000 dog owners in the US by CivicScience