Fitness Articles

Exercising with Your Dog

Pets Can Help Improve Your Health & Fitness

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You come home from a long day at work, ready to put your feet up and relax for a while. When you open the door to find your furry friend waiting, hoping that it’s time for a walk or a game of fetch, what do you do? Do you ignore the wagging tail, those big eyes, and that look of excitement? Of course not! You decide that relaxing can wait, and you head out with Fido for a little activity.

You know that exercise is good for you. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, sleep better, and increase your energy level. The great thing is that activity does the same for your pets! Not only will exercise help them live longer, but an exercising animal is also more alert and more content. Some people believe that their pets misbehave to get even for being left alone; but in reality, the cause is usually boredom from lack of exercise. Many other behavior problems like chewing, digging, and barking go away once the animal starts getting regular activity.

Some recent studies have shown a link between pet ownership and better health. A dog, for example, becomes a stimulus for exercise. Therefore, pet owners tend to have better cardiovascular fitness levels than people without pets. One study, for example, showed that dog owners walk an average of 300 minutes per week--that's nearly double the 168 minutes of walking that people without dogs usually do. In addition, pets have been shown to reduce anxiety, be a source of physical contact and comfort, and decrease feelings of loneliness and depression.

Exercising with your dog is a great time saver! Whether you like to run, walk, or play in the backyard with your pet, you can get your own workout at the same time. Although walking is probably the most common activity, there are other opportunities for exercise that you may not have thought of—hiking, backpacking, jogging, swimming, and rollerblading (be careful!) can all be done with pets in tow. Many sporting goods stores now carry items such as canine backpacks, hands-free leashes (to make jogging easier), and life vests to protect pets in the water.

Just as it would be hard for you to go out and jog for 45 minutes if you haven’t worked out in 6 months, it’s also hard for your pet. Be sure to get your veterinarian’s okay before beginning your pet’s exercise routine. After you get the go-ahead, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Start slowly, gradually increasing the time and intensity of the activity. This will safely strengthen your pet’s muscles, aerobic capacity, and footpads.
     
  • Pay attention to how your pet is feeling. Signs that your pet needs to slow down or stop include drooling, stumbling, trouble breathing, and a long, droopy tongue. Take a break and consider making tomorrow's workout shorter. Also remember that in hot weather your pet can't sweat like you do to keep cool.
     
  • Concrete and asphalt are tough on your friends’ paws—especially on hot days. Try to walk or run on dirt paths (or grass) as much as possible.
     
  • The longer you work out, the more water Fido needs. Bring along a collapsible water dish to help your pet stay hydrated.
     
  • Be realistic about your pet’s limitations. Many smaller breeds love going for a brisk walk, but you’ll probably have to carry them on a strenuous hike. Animals with a thin coat will not tolerate cold weather very well, whereas dogs with thick coats don’t do well in the summer heat.
     
  • You should avoid strenuous exercise with your pet until they are finished growing (after 9-12 months for most dogs).

Working out with a buddy can be motivating and make exercise more enjoyable. So think about making a buddy out of your four-legged friend!


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Member Comments

  • Local animal shelters are always looking for people to walk dogs! When I was living in an apartment and could not have pets, I would regularly go to the local Humane Society shelter and go for walks or runs with dogs. The dogs all loved it! I was finally able to adopt one of them. So, contact a shelter near you and see if they have dog-walking programs or events.
  • My dog passed away in March and we won't be getting another one because we're away from home too much. When exercising with a dog, make sure it's one who actually likes to take walks. Pugs can't go far and aren't the best to "exercise" with.
  • I love having my dog along when I exercise- we both benefit.
  • I read the exercise list in March and got our Dorkie in April. Sophie is just 6.5lbs. She makes us laugh and I must take her for a walk usually around 11 am and then again after supper. She follows me around the house and sits in the window to watch the children going and leaving school. A wonderful companion for hubby and I. Great suggestion for exercise.
  • KRUTH1956
    I have two pups--Emmett, an English Shepherd who is just over a year old (and fairly high strung, so we HAVE to keep him tired!) and Lucy, a 5 month old Lab mix (1/8 pit-bull). They LOVE their walks, though they don't like having their walking harnesses or leashes put on. LOL. Once they are ready they are SO happy.
    Unfortunately, since I don't drive, we are limited to our self-contained semi-rural area but we try to get to town on the weekends when my son in home.
  • We adopted Cora in May and I've been amazed at how much more I walk. She gets about a 20 - 30 mins walk each morning and several more during the day. I haven't changed anything in my prior workout routine; just added the walks.

    Love it! Although I have to admit, I'm not looking forward to that morning walk in the snow and freezing temps :(
  • I have always credited my weight-loss to my brothers dog. She is my walking and jogging partner.
  • I take my border collie for a walk almost everyday. At our turnaround point there's a river and I let him swim. He swims around in circles and drinks as he swims, then gets out and is all refreshed and ready to walk home. :)
  • LOULOUWLG403
    My Son has a Korean dog, He is just the best dog ever! He's been trained, His only problem He is a licker, but if you tell Him down, He'll quit! I just love Him! I have no animals, but I love cats. I may get one or the other! Have a Tremendous & Blessed
    Tuesday!
  • Waaaah! Want, can't have.
  • Titan , my adorable Yorkie has traveled many miles with me.
    My best walking buddy. Always ready. unless it's too wet.
    We did some rain and snow walking one year, working on a streak. he stuck with me.
    But the next rainy season, he wanted nothing to do with rain.
    In case you wondered he has rain gear and if it was too wet or snowy I would carry him in his carrier , one that's like a baby carrier, strapped to my chest.
    Good thing he's 7 lbs.
    He encourages me to get out and walk when I'm not really up to it.
    It might be a short one. but some better than nothing.
    Spark on.
    Tisha
  • JANETEMILY
    I rescued my Lab Mix, from the Humane Society in August 2012. Since then, we have walked almost every day. She loves to walk, and gets very sad if she thinks we will miss a day! The only days we have skipped were days it was too icy to be safe! Together, we have logged almost 2000 miles!
  • we have 3, but they don't really need walking. They have a fenced yard, a dog door, and each other to chase all day (and they do!)

    I walk a friend's dog after work several days a week. Many days I'd just go home if I didn't know she was down the street, waiting for her long walk. Thanks to that dog, I exercise after work every day!

About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.