Keeping them active – 12 fun ways to exercise your pet

February 26, 2019

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Owning a pet is never as simple as just feeding him or letting her outside to use the bathroom. Like people, pets need physical and mental exercise in order to live a long and happy life. The following activities are fun ways for you and your dog to bond while getting in some valuable exercise.

1. A Simple Walk

It may be old fashioned, but your dog really isn’t going to know the difference between a beach vacation spent walking along the sand with you and traversing the streets and sidewalks of your neighborhood.

For your dog, the beauty is in simply getting out of the house and exploring, smelling, seeing different sights and surroundings for mental stimulation.

But the most important part about walking your dog is the bond you create as her pack leader, increasing her loyalty and trust.

The key to a fun, bonding experience during your walk is to use a short leash and keep your dog next to you, rather than letting her run ahead on a retractable leash.

When your dog walks ahead of you, she is taking on the role of pack leader, and is paying attention to everything except you. This creates confusion about who is the boss, and it can have unpleasant effects in her behavior at home.

The ideal walk duration for most dogs is at least 30 minutes. For high-energy breeds, strive to walk for an hour. Kick up the pace and keep the walk interesting by mixing in the occasional jog or sprint to rev up your and your pup’s heart rate and metabolism.

2. Go for a Run

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Active, healthy dog breeds love to run, and just like you, they need intense cardiovascular exercise to keep their hearts healthy, minimize stress, increase bone density and keep their blood pressure in check.

If you love to run, taking your dog with you on your outings is a no-brainer.

If you’re not very enthusiastic about the prospect of lacing up your running shoes, but you know you need to get your own cardiovascular workout in for better health, consider your dog’s requirement for high-intensity exercise the motivation you need to get out there and improve both your and your dog’s health.

As always, keep your dog on a short leash during your run. Working out with your pet is about more than exercise, and creating a trusting bond depends on your dog understanding that you’re the leader, and he is the follower.

If you haven’t run with your dog before, start out slowly. Walk for five minutes to warm up, and then jog for one minute. Walk again for two minutes, and jog again for one. Continue this cycle until you’re ready to run for longer periods of time.

If your dog is older or of a breed with a predisposition for joint problems, try running on a dirt path or at a grassy park, rather than on concrete, which impacts the joints more intensely.

3. Race Fetch

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Fetch is a classic game for dogs and their owners, and it works particularly well for exercising your dog and addressing her innate need to hunt, chase and chew on things.

An active game of fetch will tire out your dog, as well as provide a great bonding opportunity for you and your pet.

Spice up your fetch routine and get some exercise yourself by playing race fetch. Flash your dog’s favorite tennis ball or treat ball, and give it a good toss. Instead of sitting back waiting for your dog to bring the ball back to you, race her to it.

Most likely, unless you’re an Olympian runner, your dog will get there first and you’ll be wrestling the ball from her, but everybody wins when you’re both getting exercise.

Another great fetch game, and one where you don’t have to do much work, is a variation on Piggy in the Middle. Recruit a human partner, and stand a good distance apart from one another.

Throw the ball to your partner, and watch Fido tear after it. Instead of giving the ball to the dog, your partner will throw it back to you. Continue playing until your dog is ready for a good, long nap.

4. Stair Climbers

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Walk into any gym in America and you are bound to see a row of stair climbing cardio machines.

That’s because climbing stairs provides a different type of exercise than simply walking or running.

Stair climbing challenges your heart and lung capacity with intense cardio while strengthening and toning your glutes, calves and leg muscles with each step up.

There is no reason your dog can’t participate in a little stair climbing with you, especially if he is a high-energy breed. If a long walk or a human-speed run doesn’t seem to do much to calm your pet’s high energy level, stair climbing is an ideal alternative, and it can be done inside or outside.

It can be as simple as walking the stairs together in your home for a few minutes, or heading out to a local high school stadium and walking up and down the bleachers.

Because stair climbing is such hard (but effective) work, make sure you bring along your collapsible water bowl and a bottle of water for you and your dog to avoid the dangers of dehydration. It’s also a good idea to make sure your dog has done his business before you head out so he doesn’t answer nature’s call on public steps.

5. Dog Tag

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The classic children’s game of tag can easily be employed with the family pet to get some fun exercise and wear your dog out for the day.

Just as kids play a game of tag by selecting a tagger and bolting in various directions, you can play dog tag with your pup and get everyone some fun-loving cardio in the process, as well as improve her agility and work a lot of muscles.

Start by getting your pet excited with a treat. Show her a second treat, and then start running away, calling to her to come catch you.

Add a little variety by quickly changing directions or jumping over obstacles. Once your dog catches up to you, give her the treat and a lot of love. You can dispense with the treats once your dog gets the gist of the game, substituting food with love.

An alternative to this fun game is to chase your dog. Throw her a ball, and when she catches it, start chasing her to get the ball back. Then run with the ball until she catches up with you. Throw the ball again, and continue this way until you’re both ready for a nice, long nap.

6. Agility Courses

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Watching dogs run through agility courses on TV is a blast, but setting up one of your own is even more fun.

An agility course not only gives your dog much-needed physical exercise, but also provides him with a challenging opportunity to exercise his mental muscles.

While agility course obstacles are available for purchase online and at larger pet stores, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to set up a course.

Hammer some long stakes in the ground for your dog to weave his way through, and set up collapsible children’s tunnel for him to run through.

A seesaw can be constructed with a long plank of wood set atop a thick section of PVC pipe. Suspend a hula hoop from a tree for your dog to jump through, and set up a picnic table bench to serve as a balance beam.

Put your dog on a leash and walk the course a few times, teaching him how to navigate the obstacles. As you’re working with him, use consistent language for each obstacle, such as “up,” “down,” “over” and “through.”

Once he has the routine down, start working on agility and speed. Have plenty of treats on hand to reward your dog for successfully completing the agility course.

7. Go Swimming

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Swimming is an excellent cardio workout for human beings, and the same holds true for our canine friends.

Although it’s great exercise for any dog, swimming is a highly effective, low-impact workout for older dogs and for those who suffer from arthritis and other joint problems.

It’s also great for dogs that are obese or recovering from an injury or surgery.

According to canine physiologists, every minute your dog spends swimming is worth four minutes of walking in terms of cardiovascular and muscular benefits. The resistance of the water works more muscles more effectively than exercising on land. Swimming is also effective at reducing stress and anxiety, especially if the water is warm.

Take your dog to a local lake and let her dive in. Bring along a tennis ball or other toy that floats and play a game of fetch. If you’re a capable swimmer yourself, you can dive in with your dog and play a raucous game of race fetch, or bring a friend along for an aquatic version of Piggy in the Middle.

If you don’t live near a lake, check around for a business that offers hydrotherapy for pets, such as a boarding kennel, veterinarian or groomer. If your dog is small, invest in a kiddie pool for a daily dose of swimming.

8. Plank Fetch

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Now it’s time for a bit more of a challenge for you, the human. The plank fetch exercise offers a core-strengthening exercise for you while giving your pooch the opportunity to stretch his legs and run.

Get into the plank position: Lie facedown and rest your body on your toes and forearms, engage your core muscles and keep your body in a straight line.

Wave your dog’s favorite toy in front of him and toss it with your right arm while still maintaining the plank position. Stay in plank, right arm raised, as your dog retrieves the ball, and then throw it again with your left arm. Continue until you can no longer hold the position.

You can play fetch while doing nearly any exercise. Try performing jumping jacks while your dog fetches, and see how many you can get in before the ball comes back to you. You can also do sit-ups, alternating arms and keeping the tossing arm in the air until your dog returns with the ball.

Circuits are ideal for getting exercise while playing fetch with your dog. Toss the ball and do sit ups. When the ball comes back, toss it and do jumping jacks. Continue until you and your dog are ready for a well-deserved break.

9. Shuttle Runs

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This classic gym class exercise is a potent calorie burner for you and a lively, fun way for your dog to get some serious exercise.

Choose a starting line, and set up some markers at varying distances from that point.

From the starting line, run to the first marker, and then back to the starting line. Run to the second marker and back, then to the third and back, and so on.

This is a good exercise in speed and agility for both you and your dog. If your pet seems reluctant to play this fun game, dangle a treat and complete the course with her before letting her have it.

If you don’t want to participate in the actual running, you can still have your dog do the shuttle run solo. Simply toss a ball a short way out. When she brings it back, toss it a little farther, and then even farther the next time.

Continue until your dog is worn out and ready to curl up in her favorite spot for the afternoon. While this activity is ideally done in a large yard or the park, you can try a less intense variation in a smaller yard, or even in the garage when it’s raining.

10. Run a Race

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As Americans become more and more aware of the positive impacts of exercise on good health, mental fitness and longevity, municipalities across the country are being flooded with opportunities to run races for fun and for good causes.

Many of these races welcome the participation of our four-legged friends.

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or a couch potato, taking advantage of your local 5- and 10-K races is a great way to get or stay motivated to exercise, and it’s the perfect opportunity to make your pet more active.

If you’re just starting out, begin your training by taking your dog for long walks, alternating three minutes of walking with one minute of slow jogging. Slowly work your way up to running for three to five minutes and walking for one. Soon, you’ll find that both you and your dog are able to run steadily for a half hour or more.

Find out about pet-friendly races in your area by consulting with your local sporting goods store, runner’s club or pet store.

To avoid getting tangled up with your dog as you run, keep him on a short leash right next to you so that he can more easily keep the same pace as you. Make sure you and your dog stay hydrated, particularly on hot or humid days.

11. Squat Teases

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This is one of the more interesting and challenging exercise options for both humans and their pets.

Squats are a great way to engage, strengthen and tone your core, glutes, calves and leg muscles. But why should you get all the enjoyment of a strong lower body workout?

Motivated by a treat or favorite toy, your dog can enjoy this exercise as well while learning a new trick, and it’s easier than you might think.

Start with your feet shoulder width apart and your pooch’s favorite toy in your hand.

Begin by squatting down, and when you reach the bottom, tap your dog gently on the nose with the treat. As you stand back up, raise the treat over your head and encourage your dog to jump up for the treat each time you return to a standing position.

You can try the same tactic with other exercises, as well, such as windmills, toe touches and sun salutations.

If your dog would be better off without so many treats, try the same trick with her favorite tennis ball, or use apple or carrot chunks instead of store-bought treats. Apples and carrots also help clean your dog’s teeth and freshen her breath.

12. Doga (Doggy Yoga)

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Bear with this concept for a moment, because it does seem silly.

While yoga doesn’t offer a great cardio workout for you or your dog, it is an excellent low-impact strengthening exercise, as well as a great opportunity to bond spiritually with your dog.

Doga is becoming more and more popular, and classes are beginning to become available even in smaller cities.

Doga combines stretching exercises and massage to help relax your dog, reducing stress and anxiety while increasing flexibility and strength.

Because Doga is so low-impact, it’s a great way to provide a bit of exercise for older dogs with arthritis or old injuries that prevent them from engaging in higher impact activities like running and jumping.

Some Doga routines include activities like holding your dog’s front or back legs up while he bears his weight on his other legs for increased strength, putting your smaller dog on your back as you move through poses to improve his balance, and resting in corpse pose with your dog on your chest for full, calming physical contact.

If you can’t find a local Doga class, there are a number of websites dedicated to Doga that include instructions and pictures. You can also find instructional videos and full Doga workouts on sites like YouTube.

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