Shape Up: Eight Exercises for You and Your Dog

Pet care & safety
dog running with woman

All you need is a few minutes a day to make a big difference in how you and your dog feel. Here are 8 fun exercises to help you and your dog increase fitness and strengthen your bond.

WAG NOTICE: The key to any exercise program, canine or human, is to make it fun! The biggest thing contributing to your dog’s enjoyment is YOU. Whatever your fitness level, you can still do something with your dog. The key is engaging with your pup. Consult with a veterinarian and/or your family doctor before starting any fitness program that is different from your normal activity.

Warm-Up Activities for Dogs and Their People:

All activities should begin with a warm up to prevent injury. The goal is to raise the body temperature and make muscles more flexible and less susceptible to injury. A brisk full body rub or walk can help stimulate blood flow before activity.

  1. Spot to Spot Raises Core Temperature and Warms Muscles: Create two targets approximately 10-25 ft apart. Direct your dog to Spot #1. Then encourage your dog to walk to Spot #2. Stop at each spot saying “Spot” and asking for a sit. Praise with a treat or “Good Dog.” Gradually increase speed, repeating 7-12 times.

  2. Neck Stretches Stretches Neck and Spine: Dog can be in a seated or standing position. Use a treat to lure the dog’s neck up to extension. Stop short of the dog jumping for the treat. Then bring your dog’s head down and in between the front legs. At the same time, you can do toe touches. Bring your body to stand as you lure the dog’s nose up. Touch your toes when you bring the head down to the front legs. Bend your knees and support your back with your core muscles to avoid back strain. Hold up to 30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.

Cardio Activities for Dogs and Their People:

Cardio activities should be carefully monitored during colder weather when surfaces can be slippery and in hot weather when temperatures soar. Start slow and build up activity. For overweight dogs, please consult with a veterinarian before partaking in these activities.

  1. Spot Sprints Increases Speed and Endurance: Can be performed inside or out. Use the same instruction as the Spot-to-Spot warm-up but increase intensity and repeat 10-12 times. Try extending the distance between spots or adding obstacles for you both to jump over, run around, or crawl under to make it fun. Make it a race.

  2. Run-Walk-Run - Increases Endurance and Speed: To kick up your heart rate, establish running distances between street lights or mailboxes and alternate your gait between a brisk walk and a run, or a walk and a jog. Try to keep this up at least 10-15 minutes and increase distance/time by 10% each week. This activity can also be done on a dog treadmill during extreme weather days. Position your cardio equipment with your dog's and you can elevate your heart rates together.

  3. Play Ball - Increases Agility and Speed: Use any toy your dog enjoys to chase and bring back to you. Throw the toy and then race your dog to see who gets to it first. If you don’t win, still follow through and reach down at the end, pretending to pick it up, to increase calorie burn.

Strength Activities for Dogs and Their People:

Increasing your dog’s muscle and tendon strength will go a long way to decreasing injuries and preserving healthy joint movements.

  1. Hill/Stair Climbs Increases Strength, Stamina for Front and Hind Legs: Start with small hills/stairs and build up to longer and steeper hills/stairs as you and your dog gain strength. Once you reach the top, turn around and go back down. Adding one-legged squats on the uphill portion is a great way to work your legs even more. It is important to focus on form over speed. Practice making sure each foot and paw steps on each stair – do not skip stairs. Hopping up or down stairs could be a sign of soreness or injury. Watch carefully.

  2. High Five Strengthens and Stretches Rear Legs: Ask your dog to sit as you squat down. From the dog’s sitting position, verbally prompt with “High Five” grabbing one front paw and lifting up to get full extension, then showing the dog with your hand where you want it placed. Encourage success with a healthy treat. Once the dog has completed the activity, stand up. Repeat other side. If squatting is too hard, try kneeling and focus on engaging your core. Suck your belly button to your spine and hold as your dog does High Five.

  3. Dance Strengthens and Stretches Rear Legs and Core: Turn on some tunes and invite your dog to put his/her front paws on your chest or in your hands. Walk forward and back, side to side, and then jump around to the beat. This helps with your coordination and strengthening side lateral movements.

Cool Down for Dogs and Their People:

Give you and your dog a chance to cool down with a slow 5 minute walk after activity to prevent injury and reduce soreness. It’s a good way to let your dog know you are done. Finish with a brisk belly rub and a calming massage or the High Five activity above, while you stretch and bring your heart rate down.