Top 7 exercises to keep your dog healthy and happy

By Janelle Leeson

Stretching, squats, and side-stepping. What do these human exercises have to do with your dog? They’re exercises you and your pup should be doing weekly, says Dr. Natasha Bui, PT, DPT, CCRT, an animal physical therapist and owner of Amicus Animal Rehabilitation.

Dogs need to move their bodies in different ways, just like us. However, never push your pup beyond their limits and tailor their exercises to fit their abilities. “Build in rest breaks,” Bui suggests. “Like humans, pets can lose their active range of motion either from an injury—new or old—or just aging in general.”

What follows are seven exercises your dog can do indoors or outside and without special equipment. Once you’ve looked them over and considered which ones your pup might enjoy, chat with your veterinarian about the right exercise routine based on your individual dog.

How much exercise do dogs need?

Dogs should exercise every day, for at least 30 minutes or more depending on your dog’s breed, age, and any health conditions. Your veterinarian is the best resource for determining how much exercise your dog needs, their physical abilities, and any safety considerations.

Dogs need exercise to maintain their overall health, like us. Recent statistics indicate that 50 to 60% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, while 34% to 41% are overweight or obese globally. In addition to being at a high risk of obesity-related diseases and a diminished quality of life, overweight and obese pets have a shortened lifespan. One of the most effective ways to manage your dog’s health is by keeping them active—every day.

7 dog exercises your pup will love

Some of the exercises below aren’t ones your dog is likely used to. So, have patience and always keep it fun with lots of verbal praise, play, and a high-reward treat that can be broken into small portions.

1. Squats

When it’s your glutes you’re targeting, squats might be your go-to exercise. It’s the same for your dog. Plus, squats target your dog’s quads and hamstrings.

Cue your pet to sit. Then, right before your pet’s bottom is about to touch the floor, cue them to stand up. Timing is key for this doggie workout to be the most effective. If your dog sits and completely relaxes, they’ll probably stand up by pulling themselves instead of using their back leg muscles to push themselves up.

2. Sidestepping

This isn’t a natural movement for dogs. So, you might need to use treats or gently nudge your pup into completing this indoor or outdoor activity.

Sidestepping provides a lot of benefits for dogs with patella luxation. Get your pet to stand perpendicularly in front of you. Slowly walk into the side of their body until they sidestep with their front and back legs., you can use a treat to keep them engaged. They should take two to three steps, then switch sides to sidestep in the opposite direction.

3. Walking

No matter your dog’s age, breed, or abilities, there’s nothing they’ll love more than a walk with their favorite human. Puppies aren’t suitable for all types of exercise, but walking a puppy is safe and can help tire them out. Rather than simply going on your usual walk around the block, let your pup’s nose lead the way. Scent-led walks might be at a slower pace than your usual outing, but they are as good for your dog’s mental health as they are for the body. According to Cornell University, lengthening your dog’s routine walks by just 10% per week can help them lose weight.

4. Backward walking

You’ll need to set up a narrow tunnel for this lower-body dog exercise. When you want to exercise with your dog indoors, moving the couch slightly away from the wall will work. Start by luring your pup into the tunnel and rewarding them. Then, start walking into them until they take two to three steps backward.

Some pets try to sit rather than walk backward. After all, they’re not used to using their shoulder and leg muscles for this type of movement. If that’s the case, offer a treat by holding it between their front limbs near their chest.

5. Swimming

Swimming is a low-impact activity, which makes it an ideal exercise for dogs with arthritis. However, all pups can benefit from the improved muscle strength and cardiovascular exercise swimming provides. Not all dogs know how to swim or are fit for swimming, so take safety precautions like fitting your pup in a lifejacket and choosing shallow swimming spots when necessary. If you have questions about your pup’s ability to swim, talk with our vet before diving into this activity.

6. Practicing yoga

Doga, or yoga for dogs, has become increasingly popular in recent years as pet owners seek ways to bond with their dogs while also promoting their health and wellness. Doga involves practicing yoga poses with your dog by your side, encouraging relaxation and deepening the connection between you and your pet. It's a great way to incorporate some mindfulness into your routine and also provides an opportunity to spend quality time with your pup.

7. Play a game your pet loves

According to Bui, it's a good idea to mix and match the above exercises with activities that your pup already enjoys doing. These activities should encourage them to move about, such as playing fetch in the backyard, engaging in tug-of-war, spending an afternoon at the dog park, or even running up and down the stairs when you can’t get outside.

In addition to keeping your dog's muscles active and toned, it's also important to keep their minds active. Provide a variety of toys and food puzzles, or teach them new tricks. Spending time with your pup in various ways, including engaging their mind and bodies, as well as taking some time to rest on the couch together, can help to strengthen your bond.

Bored pups are more likely to engage in unwanted or destructive behavior, and overweight dogs are more likely to develop life-shortening diseases. Dedicating time each day to appropriate exercise is the first step to ensuring a happy and healthy life for your dog. For added care and support for the life of your pet, including 24/7 access to a Vet Helpline, discount on dog walking and pet sitting services, and Lost Pet Recovery Specialists who are available 24/7/365, purchase a Lifetime Protection Membership today.

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