How to Exercise With Your Dog

When establishing a joint exercise routine, be aware that, unlike exercising with a human friend, your canine pal won't be able to make it as obvious when he's had enough or finds the pace too gruelling. So, as well as knowing how to exercise with your dog, also learn to read the signs of overdoing it and heed them. This article will help you to do both.


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    Decide what exercise you'll do with your canine pal. Although jogging and walking seem to be the norm, there are many other workouts you and your best bud can do together, and some of these can be used to vary the workout routine to prevent boredom for either of you. In fact, variety is very important to ensure that your dog isn't overworking some muscles at the expense of others. Some great workout routines for human and dog alike include:
    • Jogging, running or walking. This exercise can work well for both of you - note that some species are better suited to running than others. For running, dogs with a lean build, deep chest and long muzzle tend to be best for running. Also, don't run with a dog until his skeleton is mature; prior to that, damage could occur.[1]
    • Swimming. Especially if you have a dog that loves water (such as an Irish Water Spaniel), swim a few laps with your pal. Keep an eye on your dog throughout the swim to ensure he isn’t struggling or having trouble while in the water––some dogs may need a flotation device to help keep their head above water. This is a good exercise for dogs with joint problems. However, you may not be able to do a lot of lap swimming if you need to keep an eye on your dog––keep this in mind when selecting this as a team exercise.If your dog does not feel comfortable in the water, don't put them in.
    • Agility training. Make an obstacle course (hurdles, tunnels, ropes, etc.) for your dog. Running, jumping and crawling are a great way to use different muscles and allows your dog to exercise another important muscle––his or her brain. In the meantime, you have the obligation to keep up!
    • Cycling. A slow bike ride with your dog by your side is a great way to help your pup expend some pent up energy. Keep an eye on your dog throughout the entire ride. Your dog is expending considerably more energy than you so look for telltale signs that he/she is pooped. Also be sure to take breaks for your dog as they need to Do their business.
    • Rollerblading or roller skating. Only an expert rollerblader/skater should attempt to perform this workout with his/her dog. Also, make sure your pup has mastered the skill of heel and is generally obedient so he/she doesn’t pull you off the path.
    • Cross country skiing. Winter sports can be a blast with your dog. Instead of taking a brisk walk, strap on some cross country skis and have your pup by your side.
    • Doga. This is a cross between yoga and dog––obviously it's yoga with your dog! This can be a calm and pleasant workout experience for the two of you; look for a class in your area. If there isn't a class, check out videos online and follow the instructions with care.
    • Dog games. See below for a more in-depth outline of using games as exercise.
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    Teach your dog how to heel. The only way you’ll be able to achieve an effective workout with your dog is if he is in sync with your body movements. Teaching your pup the basic command of heel will allow you to keep your dog under control while on or off leash and will help both of you avoid injury.
    • Have your leashed pup sit or stand next to your left leg with both of you facing the same direction.
    • Bring a treat pouch containing small treats.You will be rewarding your dog often, so you’ll want to break down treats into small, fingernail sized bites.
    • Say your dog’s name, make eye contact and walk two steps forward. If your pup walks with you, reward him with a treat. If he doesn’t catch on, back up and repeat this step until he walks with you.
    • Repeat the two step movement several times until it becomes second nature for your pup to follow you.
    • Increase the heel movement to four and then six steps, rewarding your pup along the way.
    • If your dog becomes bored or lags behind, take a break. However, if he continues this behaviour say, “aah-ahh” and his name to gain his attention. Go back to the basic steps and then reward.
    • Practice heel as often as possible - twice a day is ideal.
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    Ensure that your dog is properly socialized. Do you know how your dog reacts when meeting other dogs? You don't want to find out for the first time when he decides to all out brawl with another dog while you're in your exercise gear and far from home. Be certain that he'll ignore other dogs or behave civilly around them when coming across them. Equally, how do you feel when you come across other dogs as you're out and about exercising? You need to feel assured that you can handle situations of possible confrontation with other dogs and handle your dog appropriately.
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    Assess your dog's fitness and health levels. Your dog's ability to participate in the same exercise as you will be dependent on his current fitness, as well as being in good health. If he isn't very fit, you'll need to tailor your exercise to help him reach better fitness. And if he has health problems, speak to your vet about the issues involved for your dog when exercising. In fact, it's strongly recommended that you have your dog fully examined by the veterinarian prior to starting any exercise regime.[2]
    • Before running with you, your dog should be able to walk 30 to 60 minutes without getting tired.[2] A dog not able to do this will require concentration on improving his base fitness first.
    • A fit dog should eventually be able to run about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) with you, gradually building up to 10 kilometers (6.2 mi). Beyond this amount, talk to your vet.[2]
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    Choose the right time of day to exercise. Dogs pant to release heat. As such, restrict the time of exercise to the cooler parts of the day, either early mornings or evenings. This is also better for you because it keeps you out of the heat and UV rays of the sun at its hottest and prevents you from overheating too. For many people, scheduling exercise at these times fits well around work commitments too.
    • Always be prepared to watch for signs of overheating or even heat stroke in your dog. More information can be found here.
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    Allow your dog to warm up before you work out. Although some dog experts consider that your dog most likely won’t need a warm up, consider your individual dog’s personality and fitness level. If your pup is carrying a few extra pounds, has joint problems or is getting up there in years, it won't hurt to give him a quick warm up while you stretch. Here are some easy warm-up methods to try:
    • Play fetch for a few minutes. Allow your dog to get some of that high spirited pent-up surging energy out by throwing the ball or Frisbee a few times and allowing him to sprint after it. However, only do this for a few minutes so you don’t wear him out completely. Note that a good half hour game of Frisbee in the park can serve as a workout for both of you in its own right.
    • Try a slow, leisurely warm up pace. Work up to your power walk by initially starting out with a casual walk. This will also give you an opportunity to practice and reinforce the heel before you head out.
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    Establish an initial pace. According to a 2006 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, the average dog-walking pace turns out to be about 22 to 24 minutes per mile. At this rate, you won’t even get your heart rate above resting. Instead of letting him sniff, chase or investigate every bush or tree, you'll need to let him know you mean business. This may take a few days to establish a routine of a stepped-up pace, so be patient.
    • Begin your walk or jog by making initial eye contact and practicing heel. After a while he’ll associate this behaviour with exercise.
    • Start your workout by walking at a brisk pace. Even a 19 minute mile in the beginning will get your dog focused on the matter of hand.
    • Keep the leash relatively tight but not so tight that the dog has no wiggle room. You want some tension on the leash, but you also want your dog to feel free to maintain a similar pace without being pulled or dragged.
    • After walking approximately half of a mile, pick up the pace to ultimately jogging or walking a 15 minute mile if your dog is in good shape. Unfortunately, if you're interested in running several miles at an eight minute mile pace, you may need to leave your pup at home and instead do your cool down miles together.
    • Consider using the "interval walk". This consists of alternating your walk with jogging, running backwards and side shuffling for small increments of time. This varies the pace, the technique and is both useful at building up your dog's acceptance of the workout routine and at making the exercise more enjoyable.
    • Playing dog tag in the park can be a fun way to get in some running and chasing exercise all while having some fun. Only allow a dog off the leash where regulations permit but do find places where this can be done, as it's excellent exercise for your dog to run free.
    • It's recommended that you keep to soft surfaces when jogging or running, to protect your dog's footpads.
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    Work up to longer distances and a faster pace. If you're just beginning to run or walk with your pup, take it slowly and gradually increase your distance and speed. Notice where your dog is located in relation to you. Dogs tend to prefer being in front of you––if your dog slows down and is walking or running alongside you or behind you, it's time to stop.
    • Begin the first few weeks only walking or slowly jogging between 30 to 40 minutes. Take plenty of rest and water breaks for the dog and consider interval training. Perhaps jog at a 15 minute mile pace for five minutes and then take the intensity down to a casual walk for 10 minutes in the beginning.
    • After approximately six weeks of regular exercise, your canine pal may be ready to go for the gusto and complete an hour of solid cardio.
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    Turn your dog's usual behaviour into a workout for you. Dogs love to fetch, chase, jump and run around in circles. If you're creative enough, you can turn these instinctual behaviours into a workout routine matching your own. While how you go about this really depends on the type of workout that you do and the dog's reactiveness, here are a few suggestions:
    • When doing sit-ups, hold a dog toy. Every time you sit up, pretend to throw the toy. Your dog should think it has been thrown and try to chase after it. A variation on this is to have a whole basket of toys to toss, grabbing one and actually throwing it every time you stretch up. You can take any retrieved toys back off your dog each alternate stretch back up.
    • When doing any upward stretch, hold a toy before your dog and reach it right up to the sky, encouraging your dog to jump for it. Great for your upward stretching, fun for him.
    • Place your usual exercise equipment in the backyard when the weather is good. Ensure that the equipment is at even intervals––you're turning this into an exercise course for you and an obstacle course for your dog. Place your dog on a leash and walk through all the things you've set up, such as jumping rope, dancing with your hula hoop and stretching with your stretch bands. At each interval, have him wait for you or, if he gets bored, try to involve him in some way. Every time he runs off, see it as a chance to rev up your workout as you chase him back. A variation on this is to include agility style obstacles that are made just for your dog. That way he gets to do some special workout activities too.
    • When running, capitalize on your dog's natural inclination to stop and sniff at random intervals as an opportunity for improving your own agility. Being able to stop or turn during a run at a moment's notice is an excellent skill to develop for sports and general fitness.
    • Run up and down stairs together. Make sure your dog is leashed.
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    Turn the usual dog games into your actual workout. This approach is great if you're the athletic type, as you'll both get a great all-round workout. Playing fetch, throwing or dribbling a ball to/with your dog, having a tug-of-war with your dog and playing hide and seek with him can be workout material without too much difficulty involved in setting it up.
    • Try flyball, flying disc and freestyle dancing as other fun options.
    • Retriever/sport breeds such as Labradors and Spaniels are great for "fetch workouts".
    • Terriers love tug-of-war, as they love to hold onto things! Avoid playing tug-of-war until your dog knows how to drop on command though, or you risk over-exciting the dog (in which case he can become aggressive).
    • Dogs that love to herd (such as Corgis, Collies and Sheepdogs) will enjoy a good game of soccer with you.
    • Try different games to see which your dog responds to best. You'll find one soon enough!
    • Even though some species may prefer one type of a game over another, try to mix them up to make it a more varied experience for both of you.
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    Know the signs of overdoing the exercise. A dog that is enjoying himself will appear happy and alert, not tired or fretful. Sitting or lying down, dropping behind you or just stopping are good indicators that your dog has had enough. Don't misinterpret these signs as stubbornness when it comes to exercise workouts. Also, any sign of lameness should be taken seriously and checked by the vet as soon as possible.
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    Hydrate and reward post-workout. Hydrate with fresh cool water for you and your dog. Consider offering him a special healthy treat––one that won’t pack on extra pounds but will taste like a huge reward after a good workout.
    • Frozen bananas or blueberries. If your dog has been out on a hot day, reward him with a piece of frozen banana or blueberries. Both have plenty of vitamins and taste wonderful, especially when frozen.
    • Make sure your dog has enough to drink. Allow him to drink as much as he wants following a workout. Your dog will let you know when he feels hydrated. Add a few ice cubes to your dog’s water to keep it extra cool or just give him some ice as a treat.
    • Allow for rest time. Lead your dog to his favorite place to rest for a post-workout nap. In fact, consider taking one yourself as restorative sleep is one of the best ways to keep pounds at bay.


  • After spending time out on the streets, in parks, on the beach, etc., check your dog's paws for scratches, prickles or any other objects wedged into the paw area.
  • Agility training for your dog can provide a terrific teamwork workout for both of you that's both fun and useful.
  • Ensure that your dog is appropriate tagged/chipped, has had all his vaccinations and is wearing identification.
  • Bring a collapsible dish and bottled water along for your dog so you can give him water no matter where you go. Know the location of drink fountains and other safe water sources.
  • It's recommended that you read a few good books on agility training. These will help you to plan the right course for your dog. If you get really serious about it, it can be pursued as a sport.
  • Before you allow your dog off leash, know your city ordinance rules on leash laws and consider what would happen on a busy road, if your dog were to encounter other people or other animals.
  • Younger dogs will tend to be a more active exercise companion than older ones. Keep this in mind when putting together the exercise schedule.
  • Consider using a gentle leader or a harness for more control, especially if your dog is overly curious or hasn’t fully mastered the heel command.
  • Get the kids to participate in exercising with your family dog too. It's good for their health to participate in regular exercise and the incentive of playing with the dog at the same time will make it much more fun for all involved.
  • Be careful in the winter months while running with your dog. Ice can be very slippery for both of you!
  • Make sure that your dog is okay with other dogs, so you don't get hurt!


  • If your dog begins to limp or yelps during your workout, visit your vet immediately. Slipped knee or hip joints are common for some breeds and need medical attention immediately.
  • Take outdoor temperatures into consideration––if you're feeling overheated during your workout, consider how your dog must feel––dogs tend to overheat very quickly. Avoid strenuous exercise on hot days. Moreover, stop and go inside to avoid heat exhaustion when your dog shows signs of being overheated. Beware hot asphalt––it can cause paw pad burn and overheat your dog quickly.
  • Is your dog overweight or obese? Check this too before launching into an exercise plan because you may need to tailor the amount of exercise to suit the dog's weight loss needs. To know if your dog is overweight, see here for details.
  • If your dog is panting heavily, coughing, wheezing, foaming at the mouth, showing signs of lethargy or pulling back on the leash, slow down and/or stop. Be sure you allow your dog time to walk and hydrate before running or walking again.
  • It is strongly recommended that you have your vet check out your dog before starting your shared exercise program.
  • It is quite possible to play dog games and be lazy yourself––avoid the temptation and really get involved by running about and changing your positions throughout the workout.
  • Some breeds are not made to do a lot of exercise because they have difficulty breathing easily, such as the pug-faced dogs or Boston terriers (brachycephalic or short-faced dogs). Others may have legs too short for long periods of walking or exercising but could do shorter bursts. Dogs such as dachshunds and basset hounds with a predisposition to back problems can exacerbate these problems with too much exercise, especially running.[2]

Sources and Citations

  1. Amy Marder, The Complete Dog Owner's Manual, p.25, (1997), ISBN 1-875137-83-1
  2. Room Ltd Magazine, Start a Running Program with Your Dog, p. 20, March/April 2008
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Categories: Personal Fitness