Beyond the Walk: 4 More Ways to Exercise With Your Dog

Your Dog Exercise Plan: How to Get Fit With Your Pup

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Emmi Buck

In 2014 the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that 52.7% of all dogs are estimated to be overweight or obese. And like humans, overweight and obesity in pets can lead to a wealth of health problems, including diabetes and stroke. The issue is that in today's busy world when humans can barely make time to exercise themselves, pets are left to their own sedentary devices, spending most hours just lazing around the house.

Walking or jogging your dog is the most obvious way to add exercise to you and your pets' day, but it's not the only option. As the weather gets warmer, consider the following solutions for getting active with your dog.

Hit the Waterways

Bill Kessler, professional dog walker and founder of Happy Tails LA, notes that "Swimming is a really great way to exercise yourself and your dog. It's low impact, so you don't have to worry about over-extending yourself or your pup, and more importantly, it's an activity that even dogs with some physical limitations can do as it helps with joint pain."

While most dogs can safely swim, if you're worried your dog will sink or get tired quickly, consider purchasing a life jacket designed for dogs. They look hilarious, but life jackets like the Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat can give dogs the confidence to stay in the water longer. 

Go on a Scavenger Hunt

Think of it as geocaching, but for dogs.

Heather Piper, co-owner of Thrill of the Hunt, is a master of organizing and hosting these pet-themed scavenger hunts. Each year her organization hosts the signature Dog Gone! Scavenger Hunt in the spring and summer, adding the Doggie in Disguise Scavenger Hunt for Halloween.

Heather explains that the concept is simple, "The participants are taken on an easy walking scavenger hunt through a specific area with their favorite four-legged pal.

After solving clues, participants are directed to specific onsite locations to support local businesses, and to complete online challenges. With each clue solved, a dog treat or toy is awarded to the sidekick and upon completion, prizes are presented to the winners. Dogs and owners get to socialize, all while stretching their legs."

If you don't have something similar in your area, you can organize your own scavenger hunt with friends and fellow pet owners. Each participant should hide a cache of dog treats in an undisclosed area, then all participants pool their clues to find each others' caches. Take cell phone pictures of each cache you find (and take a treat out of the cache for your dog) and set a time and location to meet up after the hunt. The doggy-owner team that finds the most caches wins bragging rights... and the most treats. 

Turn Playtime Into a Workout

You don't have to walk around the block to turn your dog into a workout buddy. Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, a veterinarian at Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic, suggests the following ways to use your pooch during a home workout.

  1. Fetch for Abs. Lie down on the ground with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground, holding your dog's favorite toy. As you perform a sit-up, pretend to throw the toy. Repeat as many times as your pooch is willing to play along. (Or if you'd prefer, alternate between actually throwing two toys. Throw the first one, and as your pet fetches it and brings it back, lie back and sit up with the second toy, throwing it when your pet returns with the first toy.)
  2. Squat Jumps. Hold your dog's toy in your hand and squat down, gaining your dog's attention. Jump up into the air and simultaneously throw the dog's toy straight up so your dog has to jump to catch it. Land softly, your knees and hips bent to absorb shock, and take the toy from your dog. Continue for 10 to 12 repetitions. 
  3. Race to the Finish. Head to the backyard to play fetch with your dog. Throw a rope or frisbee for Fido, and as he chases the toy down, run alongside him. When he's retrieved the toy, play tug of war for a few seconds before taking the toy away and repeating the series.

Take Your Dog to the Snow

Emmi Buck, a 26-year-old dog-lover from Sun Valley, Idaho say she does all of her workouts with her dog, Professor Charlie Bandicoot. Even in the dead of winter, she and her dog can be found hitting the trails to backcountry snowshoe and ski or snowboard. "He loves chasing my boyfriend and me down powder runs, and he'll even fly off jumps when my boyfriend shows off his tricks."

To make the workout harder, "We both wear backpacks! His doggy saddle-bag weighs him down a bit, which adds to his workout, and it's also helpful because he can carry water and snacks for us both."

Emmi's not the only one to hit the snow with her canine companion. Skijoring is a popular snow-based activity in which humans are pulled on skis by a dog. Both the skier and the dog owner wear a harness attached by a towline. The skier powers through the snow with skis and poles, while the dog also works to help pull the human through the snow's resistance.

You can buy your own skijoring harnesses through a retailer like Ruffwear, or you can take your dog to a skijoring program found at some winter resorts. For instance, the St. Regis Aspen Resort started a skijoring program, and they even work with the Aspen Animal Shelter so those without pets can try the sport while playing with an adoptable pooch.

Sources:

2014 Obesity Facts and Risks. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website. http://www.petobesityprevention.org/pet-obesity-fact-risks/​​. ​Accessed July 21, 2016.

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