We all know that exercising is good for humans and dogs, but so much of it is so repetitive and boring that it becomes a chore. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here some alternatives to help you and your four-footed pal reach your fitness goals.
Follow the Bouncing Paws
Trampolines are not just for circus acrobats anymore. Bouncing around on a rubber mat is considered by experts to be a miracle exercise, second only to jumping rope for burning calories. Dogs never worry about whether they’ll fit into their skinny jeans, but they still love to bounce. It’s best for breeds with some natural spring, like Boxers, but the activity seems to appeal to canids of all kinds, even wild ones. Videos have shown foxes sneaking into backyards for some airborne action. It almost always adds up: Dog + trampoline = pure joy.
Bark and Ride
Do you find yourself flapping along helplessly at the end of the leash as your dog takes off like a runaway stagecoach? Bikejoring—cycling along with your dog—might be the answer. It’s a summertime variant of a popular winter sport, skijoring, in which dogs pull cross-country skiers. It takes some special equipment (such as harnesses and towlines). And, unless you want to risk some serious road rash, you’ll need training so your dog will stay on track, no matter what critter crosses his path. Natural runners, especially sled dogs like Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, and Alaskan Malamutes, excel at it, but any athletic breed can be a cycling partner.
Tow the Boat Ashore
You’ve seen photos of brave rescue dogs leaping from helicopters into raging seas. Your dog may never have a job like that, but learning lifesaving skills—such as retrieving in water and dragging people and boats to land—is great exercise and fun. Newfoundlands, with their webbed feet and the urge to swim and rescue embedded in their DNA, are water-works royalty. Still, anyone who can dog paddle can learn the basics of this great warm-weather workout. And, if you are planning trips to the shore with kids or small dogs, you’ll never know when it might come in handy.
Put the Dog Before the Cart
Remember A Dog of Flanders, the 1872 novel about a boy and his milk-cart dog? You can have your own Patrasche by training your dog in a sport that pays homage to one of the most important traditional canine jobs—drafting. Several breeds, such as Rottweilers, Saint Bernards, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are naturals, but even the little dogs can participate, hauling size-appropriate itty-bitty carts. A Shetland Sheepdog, Banner, recently became the first of his breed to earn advanced draft-dog titles.
Dance Like No One is Watching
If no one is watching anyway, why not include four more feet? Doggie dancing, also known as freestyle or heelwork to music, got some big-time exposure when Ashleigh Butler and her shaggy dog, Pudsey, stunned audiences around the world by winning the 2012 Britain’s Got Talent competition. But you don’t have to be young, supple, and amazingly gifted. A few simple moves—leg weave, twirl, and roll over, for example—will help you both free your inner Astaire and Rogers.
Yoga keeps the body supple and the soul centered. So why should we deprive our dogs? With their talent for stretching and living in the moment, our canine companions could probably claim they invented the discipline; humans just copied the moves. Ever wonder why one mainstay is “downward-facing dog?” So why not do it together? Find a doga class or you can learn some of the basics in a book—Barking Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi and Dogi—and on several instructional online videos.