The 9 Best Ways to Exercise With Your Dog

Written by Small Door's medical experts

The benefits of exercise are numerous and well established, both for us and our pets. It keeps us physically healthy, helps to clear our heads after a tough day, and burns off your pup’s excess energy that could otherwise manifest as troublesome behavior. Dogs also make the best workout buddies – they’re always keen for any adventure we have planned! So if you’re looking for a new way to exercise with your dog, read on for our top tips on the best dog workouts.

Stay safe while exercising

First, a quick note on how to keep your pup safe while working out together. You should always follow your dog’s lead in terms of how much and how intensely you work out. Given their fur coats and shorter legs, dogs can overheat and get tired much more quickly than we might, so watch out for the following warning signs that your pooch has had enough:

  • Excessive panting

  • Tongue hanging out a long way

  • Very pale or bright red gums

  • Vomiting or diarrhea 

  • Lagging behind you

  • Seems unwilling to go out, or to continue the workout

  • Soreness in the day(s) following the workout 

Also take special care during the summer and winter months to moderate your workouts accordingly. In the summer, avoid the hottest times of the day and choose shorter, less intense forms of exercise. Take water with you for your pup, and check sidewalks aren’t too hot for their paws by placing your hand down for 10 seconds – if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog. During winter, avoid snowy areas if possible, consider booties or make sure to remove any snow or icy buildup from your dog’s paws after you return home.

1. Walking with your dog

Best for: Any dog, but particularly those who may struggle with more intense, high impact exercises.

Walking with your dog is the classic dog exercise, and for good reason – it’s a great way for both you and your pup to work out at your own pace. It’s low-impact, which means it’s gentle on your joints, and is suitable for all fitness types, including overweight pets or those aiming to increase their exercise level.

To add variety to your walks, grab a coffee and explore a new neighborhood. Allow your dog to enjoy a ‘sniff walk’, taking as much time as they like to investigate all the new smells they come across.

2. Jogging with your dog

Best for: Active dogs with high exercise needs. (Not recommended for puppies, overweight dogs, dogs with joint problems or flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs.)

Jogging with your dog is a great way to clear your head and burn off your pup’s excess energy. Highly active breeds in particular will benefit from regular runs. Some dogs may prefer short, sharp interval training sprints (such as Greyhounds), whereas others will enjoy jogging next to you for half an hour or more (such as Labrador Retrievers).

We recommend waiting to take your dog for a run until they’re at least one year old, to allow their joints time to develop, as running can put a great deal of stress on the joints. For the same reason, this isn’t a good workout for overweight dogs or those with arthritis. Flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs should also avoid jogging, as they may struggle with breathing difficulties. Speak to your veterinarian for specific advice on whether jogging would be suitable for your pup.

Remember to allow your pup to pace the run, and keep an eye out for any signs of tiredness or overheating. Also, depending on your dog’s ability with recall and the safety of the environment you’re running in, you may be better off keeping them on a leash. A hands-free leash may come in useful.

3. Hiking with your dog

Best for: Dogs with plenty of stamina.

Hiking with your dog is another fantastic form of exercise for both you and your dog, which can be tailored to suit different levels of fitness. It’s a great cardio workout that helps to strengthen your core, improve your balance and build strength in a variety of muscle groups. Getting closer to nature and taking in the beautiful scenery is also a good mood booster, and is proven to help combat symptoms of stress and anxiety.

When introducing your dog to hiking, begin with shorter hikes on easier terrain to help them build up their ability. Work up to steep hills and uneven terrain once your dog seems comfortable. For younger or smaller dogs, consider taking a dog carrier with you so you can help them out when they begin to tire. 

4. Swimming with your dog

Best for: Water-loving dogs, particularly seniors or dogs suffering from arthritis.

Not all dogs enjoy spending time in the water, but for those that do, swimming is wonderful exercise. It’s a whole-body workout that takes the weight off your pup’s joints, meaning it’s perfect for seniors or those with joint problems such as arthritis. 

While some dogs were bred to spend time in the water, such as the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, others may find it difficult and may not instinctively know how to swim. Until you’re confident they’re comfortable, we recommend providing them with a doggy life vest and keeping them under constant supervision. Long-bodied breeds such as Dachshunds and those with a certain weight distribution such as Bulldogs may particularly struggle, so life vests are always recommended.

A backyard pool, lake or ocean are all great places for your pup to take a dip, as long as you follow a few precautions. Always provide plenty of fresh drinking water so they don’t drink the chlorinated or salty water; avoid any lakes with blue-green algae, which is toxic to dogs; and watch out for rip tides or strong currents at the beach. It’s also important to make sure your dog doesn’t ingest any sand at the beach, as this can lead to a life-threatening gastrointestinal impaction or obstruction. 

In general, it’s best to keep swim sessions short, around 10-15 minutes maximum, to prevent your dog from getting tired, overheated or from swallowing too much water, known as water toxicity. Avoid throwing large toys in the water, as your dog might accidentally ingest water while retrieving it. Smaller, flat toys such as frisbees are a better option. Ensure you dry your dog thoroughly after they’ve come out of the water, particularly any skin folds and their ears, to avoid infections.

5. Doing doga (dog yoga)

Best for: Calm dogs who enjoy relaxing with you.

While dog yoga may not burn off much of their energy, it’s a great way to spend some time bonding with your pup while you work out. Encourage your dog to stay close to you during your routine, and add in some poses that are easy for them to copy. Some of the poses that may come more naturally to your dog include downward dog, upward-facing dog, compass pose, happy baby, supine twist, and supported fetal pose. 

During Savasana, ask your dog to lie next to you, and stroke them as you relax together. Stroking your pet is proven to release ‘happy hormones’ in both of you – including oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that help our bodies to calm down and relax. It also reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and lowers blood pressure.

6. Circuit training with your dog

Best for: Any dog, particularly those that enjoy doing tricks.

Circuit training with your dog is another really fun way to exercise together, and it can be tailored to suit any level of fitness or work around an injury. Choose a number of exercises for your circuit, such as push-ups, lunges, squats, sit-ups or plank, and incorporate tricks for your dog between each rep. For example, every time you lunge forward, ask your dog to give their paw and ‘shake hands’. Some dogs may enjoy trying to copy your movements – when you hold a plank, encourage them to hold a ‘downward dog’ position, or during a wall sit, ask them to sit too. If your dog is small enough, you could even pick them up for a cuddle each rep, instead of using dumbbells or a kettlebell.

It’s just as important to exercise your dog’s mind as their body; mental stimulation helps to fight boredom and has huge mood-boosting effects. So take the opportunity to brush up on your pup’s commands and tricks during your workout, for a happier, better behaved pooch.

7. Doing dog agility

Best for: Highly active, intelligent dogs, including working breeds.

One of the best known ‘dog sports’, agility is hugely popular with active dogs of all ages. It involves an obstacle course with items such as a seesaw, tunnel, weave poles and jumps that your dog must navigate as quickly as possible, under your guidance. Agility also gives you a workout, as you have to keep up with your dog while they sprint around the course!

While typically highly active, intelligent breeds such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and Jack Russells tend to excel at agility, almost any breed may enjoy it in some capacity (although you may need to modify some obstacles). If your dog likes learning new tricks, running and jumping, consider giving it a go!

Many local clubs throughout the country offer taster sessions and classes. Try searching the AKC club database for a club near you. Or set up a makeshift agility course in your backyard with household items – check out our article on how to teach your dog agility for more tips.

8. Playing frisbee with your dog

Best for: Dogs that love fetch.

Frisbee is another great form of exercise for your pup that also provides you with some cardio benefits, as you run and throw the frisbee. Add some variety to your usual game of fetch by teaming up with some friends and their dogs to play a doggy-human version of Ultimate Frisbee. 

If your pup is a pro at catching the frisbee over long distances, you might even want to consider entering them in some competitions, known as ‘Disc Dog’ events. They’re hugely popular across the country, with events for beginners as well as seasoned competitors.

9. Dancing with your dog

Best for: Dogs that love learning new tricks.

Dog dancing, also known as Canine Freestyle, is another popular dog sport, with competitions nationwide. During Freestyle, you and your pup perform a routine to music that incorporates tricks that make it look like you’re dancing together. This may include heeling, weaving, paw work, jumps and more.

One of the great benefits of dog dancing is that it can be completely tailored to your dog’s physical abilities. If they struggle with jumps or other high-impact tricks, these can be left out of the routine. The choreography can focus on tricks that they love doing and particularly excel at, to keep it fun for both of you.

Summary of working out with your dog

Exercising with your dog is a great way to nurture the human-canine bond while keeping both of you fit. It’s a proven mood-booster for you, and provides both mental and physical stimulation for your pup, reducing levels of boredom and potential nuisance behaviors in the home. Plus, it’s great fun for you both! We hope this has inspired you to try out a new workout with your dog. If you’re unsure how much or what sort of exercise is suitable for your dog, speak to your veterinarian for advice. They can help advise on any limitations or adaptations you should make to keep your dog healthy and safe as they work out with you.

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