How to Incorporate Your Dog Into Your Workout Routine

Your dog needs exercise, so why not just work out together and keep each other accountable?

Photo: Getty Images

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Our dogs are our biggest fans. No one is ever as excited as our pets when seeing us return home after a long day out or a weekend away. They are cheerleaders and motivators and support us even when we don’t do the best job of supporting ourselves. And for that reason, they make incredible partners when it comes to our exercise routines.

Of course, dogs need their exercise, too, and that goes beyond just taking them out to do their business. We want to keep their minds and bodies active so that they stay healthy and fit — which mirrors many of the same reasons we make movement a priority. So it only makes sense to take the opportunity to further cement your BFF relationship by incorporating your pet into your workout routine.

3 Reasons Why You Should Work Out With Your Pet

Working out with your dog doesn’t have to just be physical activity. “It can also be a great opportunity for bonding and mental stimulation,” says Elizabeth Dimit, in-store trainer at Dogtopia.

The obvious plan would be to have Fluffy or Fido join you for a walk or a run, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about having your dog join you on a kayak trip or participate in a yoga class? Talk about a bonding experience you’ll both cherish forever. “Those activities require your dog to maintain focus and utilize their minds,” says Dimit, noting that a dog asked to perform mental tasks can be just as worn out as a dog that took a 6-mile run.

1. A source of motivation

“When comparing my clients with dogs to my clients without dogs, almost always my clients with dogs walk more, daily,” says Nikki Gnozzio, CSCS, personal trainer with Junction Bodyworks. The need for the dog to have to walk is a great motivator and support system to get you up and moving and forcing you to get out even when you don’t want to. Trying to incorporate your pet into your workout routine isn’t just about your mutual fitness but using your bond to support and motivate each other the whole way through.

2. An opportunity to get creative

When starting to incorporate your pet into your workout routine, try getting creative with your four-legged friend. “If you have a smaller dog or cat, use them as squat weight, hip-bridge weight or any other exercise that calls for 10 pounds (as long as the pet is comfortable and safe while doing so!),” says April Gatlin, ACE, master coach for Stride. “Have fun with it!”

Some ideas for at-home workouts that you can do with domestic pets besides cats and dogs may be a plank routine with your snake or turtle (keep your body still so they don’t fall off!) or a series of push-ups with your pet beneath you, to make sure you maintain space between you and the ground. Of course, you also can let it roam (safely) around the space and you can try to find it, forcing you to move around and perhaps crawl or bend in tight corners, in what would be much like a game of hide-and-seek (or a true Animal Flow workout).

3. A built-in accountability partner

While you’re probably initially thinking of dogs as workout partners, they aren’t the only way you can incorporate your pet into your workout routine. It’s also quite possible to use your domestic pet as your accountability partner. “Put your iguana next to you while you do yoga, or try doing lunges with your snake,” Gatlin says. “My turtle always comes to the edge of his tank and sticks his head out of his shell when it’s time for an at-home workout.” Be creative and use even the little pets as a fun way to get motivated and keep yourself accountable.

There are so many mental and physical benefits to working out with a partner: Partners keep you accountable and make sure you show up. They keep you moving when you want to quit. They know when to push you when you didn’t think you could push harder or when to remind you it’s time for a break (you know, to snuggle). “All the physical benefits through movement release endorphins, which then add to the mental benefits of all things exercise,” Gatlin says.

And at the end of the day, our four-legged friends bring us joy, which is a crucial mental health benefit.

Safety Considerations for a Pet-Friendly Workout

Having a cute dog to play with is a great distraction from feeling the burn. However, it’s not always the best way to go. “I wouldn’t recommend having a pet close by for heavy weighted exercises, but a pet can be a great tool for many bodyweight movements,” Gnozzio says.

Any active daily movement (like walking, jogging or dancing) with your dog is a great step toward building cardiovascular strength and living a healthy lifestyle for both you and your pet, but make sure it doesn’t distract you from scheduling the strength-building activities that your dog can’t join you for.

“You might cheat yourself by prioritizing your dog’s daily walk or run, which you absolutely should prioritize, but try to make a point to add some push-ups, lunges, squats or crunches right before or after,” says Katelyn DiGiorgio, ACE, vice president of training and technique for Pure Barre.

Because pet safety is of the utmost concern when planning to incorporate your pet into your workout routine, keep the following in mind when establishing your new shared activities:

1. Start gradually.

Think of it like training for a marathon — you wouldn’t just go out and run without any endurance training. “Just like humans, dogs need time to build up to more and more activity, so start small and see how your dog does,” Dimit advises.

Age and being overweight also can be a risk factor in how long and intense workouts can be for your dog, so be sure to allow for as many breaks as it needs along the way.

2. Check the weather.

Glance at that weather app before heading out to exercise with your pet, and adjust your plans accordingly (possibly to earlier, cooler hours) because animals can easily overheat during periods of strenuous exercise.

This is especially true for brachycephalic breeds (for example, English bulldog, pug, etc.). “They have conformational changes that make it difficult to regulate body temperature,” says Dr. Casey Robinson, general practice veterinarian and area medical director at IndeVets. However, any breed can succumb to heat exhaustion. “Consequences to heat exhaustion can be dire and life threatening, so ensuring that your pet can maintain a comfortable body temperature during exercise is quite important,” Robinson notes.

It’s important to check the temperature because despite being quite thick and resilient, pets’ paw pads are not immune to extreme temperature fluctuations and can succumb to paw pad burns quite easily. While it may only be 80 degrees out, that can mean 100 degrees on the asphalt. “A good rule of thumb is that if the concrete (or other flooring material) is too hot to hold your hand against, it is too hot for your pet’s paws,” Robinson says.

3. Have lots of water handy.

You know it’s important for you to stay hydrated while exercising, and the same is true when working out with your pet. Maintaining access to water is crucial to keeping your pet comfortable during periods of activity.

“Rapid water loss can lead to detrimental hydration deficits, heat exhaustion and overall consequences to their overall health — remember, a hydrated pet is a happy pet,” Robinson says.

4. Allow your pet to set the pace.

We want to make sure that our pets help us to motivate and push ourselves, but we don’t want to push them too far, either — and that may mean not getting to set a new personal record when we’re out with them.

“Even though it may force you to change your planned exercise regimen, if your pet is showing signs of exhaustion or distress, it is best to discontinue the strenuous activity and tend to your pet’s immediate needs,” Robinson advises. Give your pet a rest and a bit of water, and then you can always continue on with your workout on your own while your pet takes a nap.

Finding ways to incorporate your pet into your workout routine is not only good exercise for you and for your pet, but it’ll also make exercise a lot more fun for both of you!