Dogs make the best workout buddies. They never complain about hills, or cancel on you last-minute. And they're always stoked to follow you out the door. That energy can be contagious: research from Michigan State University found that canine owners were 34% more likely to get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week than folks who didn't have a dog. Even if you're just taking your pup for a walk, that counts. (Move at a brisk clip and you can burn as many as 170 calories in half an hour.) But there are lots of other activities you and Fido can do together—all while strengthening your bond.
Check out these fun ways to get fit with your furry pal.
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Because dogs are creatures of habit, they can help you keep up your weekly mileage: Once your pup gets into the routine of a morning run, she won't let you wimp out if it's drizzling, or you're just feeling bleh, explains J.T. Clough, author of 5K Training Guide: Running with Dogs ($8;amazon.com). "She'll wait by your sneakers, tongue out, tail wagging," says Clough, who runs a dog-training business on Maui. "Her excitement can be enough to change your attitude."
Concerned your little pooch won't keep up? No need to worry, says Clough: "The truth is most small dogs have more energy than the big breeds." Just be careful in the heat and humidity, since dogs don't sweat like we do. And if you have a flat-faced breed (think pugs and Boston terriers), keep your runs under five miles, Clough suggests, since these dogs have a harder time taking in air.
It's almost as if stand-up paddleboards were designed for canine co-pilots: Dogs of all sizes can ride on the nose (while you get a killer ab workout). Pick an ultra-calm day on a lake or bay for your first excursion together, so your pup can develop his sea legs. If you're struggling to balance the board, try paddling on your knees, which lowers your center of gravity, until your dog is comfortable. Still, odds are you'll both take a dip, which is why Clough recommends outfitting your dog with a life preserver. It'll make it easier for you to lift him back onto the board, too: Most doggie vests have an easy-to-grab handle, like the NRS CFD (from $35; amazon.com).
Is your dog a born swimmer? Bring a stick or throw toy and play fetch once you've paddled out.
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You can also take your dog out for a spin in a sit-on-top kayak. Smaller breeds may perch up front, while larger dogs might feel safer closer to your feet. Teach your buddy to get in and out of the kayak on land first; then practice in the shallow water close to shore. (If he seems nervous about sliding around, you could lay down a small mat or piece of carpet so his paws can get some traction.) The trick is to keep the first few outings relaxed and fun (read: brings treats!). Stick to inlets and slow-moving rivers without too much boat traffic. You can let your dog paddle alongside you if he wants to swim. If not, that's okay too: "He's getting lots of stimulation just by riding in the boat," says Cloughall while you ton your arms and core and burn hundreds of calories.
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Is your dog so exuberant on walks you worry she might one day pull your arm off? If so, try letting her keep up with you as you pedal: "Biking is perfect for dogs with tons of energy," says Clough. "They are totally psyched to flat-out run." Meanwhile, you're getting a great workout (cycling can torch 500-plus calories per hour) and building your leg muscles.
If your girl likes chasing squirrels and skateboards, consider using a device called the Springer. It attaches the leash to your bike's frame or seat stem and absorbs much of the force of sudden tugs ($130; amazon.com).
Biking with your dog may actually help with any behavioral issues she has, Clough adds. "The biggest problem I see with dogs is that they're not getting enough exercise." Indeed, veterinarians at Tufts University's Animal Behavior Clinic say aerobic exercise stimulates the brain to make serotonin, a hormone that helps dogs, especially those who are anxious or aggressive, to relax.
This is another great way to burn off a dog's excess energyas long as you're an expert inline skater, that is. If not, "it can be disastrous," warns Clough. "Your dog will be like ‘Woohoo!' and you'll be like, ‘Where's the break?!" But even if you're super confident on wheels, she suggest rollerblading in an area free of traffic, like a park or boardwalk, so you can enjoy the excursion as much as your pal. Chances are, you'll have so much fun you'll forget you're seriously working your core.
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Dog-friendly boot camp
Fitness classes designed for people andpupslike Leash Your Fitness in San Diego and K9 Fit Club in Chicago are becoming more and more popular. In a typical class, you'll run through high-intensity moves for strength, balance and cardio while your four-legged companion practices obedience drills. "I recommend that people at least try out a class," says Clough, who helped launch Leash Your Fitness. "The focus is more on the person's workout than the dog's," she explains, but your dog is learning to feel comfortable in a distracting environmentand that will make it easier to take him along on other fitness adventures.
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Yep, "doga" is a thing, and it turns out pooches are naturals at this ancient practice. Can't picture it? Think about your girl's morning stretches: She probably does a perfect cobra, right? In a doga class, you'll help her try more posesand she'll (hopefully) act as a prop for your own poses. But really doga is all about the pet-human bond. There's often some doggy massage and acupressure involved. And while you're in such close contact, you'll have the opportunity to do a regular health check, feeling for any lumps beneath her fur.
You throw the ball and your pup goes bounding after it. But who says you have to just stand there? While he's retrieving, bust out some muscle-building moves like crunches, lunges, squats, and moreuntil you're both panting and worn out. Better yet, race him for the ball and squeeze in some sprints. Fetch can be a game you play, too.
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Believe it or not, some dogs love soccerespecially herding breeds like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds.
Pet brands sell soccer-style balls (resistant to sharp teeth) in different sizes, like the 5-inch Orbee-Tuff ball from Planet Dog ($20; amazon.com). Once your boy learns to "kick" or "dribble" with his nose or paws, get your heart rates up with keep-away, or by punting the ball and racing for it.
Not a soccer fan? Try engaging him with other toys (like rope tugs) and activities (such as hide-and-seek). "Put yourself into kid mood, come up with a game, and show him," Clough suggests. "He'll most likely play it with you."
Cold weather doesn't mean you have to leave your dog cooped up. Some breedslike Huskies and St. Bernardshave snow in their DNA, but many dogs enjoy a good romp in the white stuff. And whether you're on snowshoes or skis, you'll get in a low-impact, total-body workout. But the best part comes later, when you both curl up for a snooze by the fire.
If your dog gets chronic snow build-up between the pads on her paws, you can outfit her with booties. Brands like Ultra Paws (from $32; amazon.com). and Ruffwear ($90; amazon.com) make rugged footwear for winter walks.
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Thanks to the vertical element, climbing stairs (or bleachers) makes your quads, hamstrings, and glutes work extra hard. You'll tighten up your lower half, while Spot burns off the biscuits.
You have the perfect training buddy. Why not work toward the goal of finishing a dog-friendly race? Events for four-pawed runners and their ownerssuch as the Fast and the Furry 8K in St. Paul, Minn. and the Rescue Me 5K9 in Irvine, Calif. are held all over the country.
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Don't have a dog?
You can still work out with one. Call a local animal shelter and volunteer to take dogs out for walks or runs. Pound puppies are often desperate for exercise and attention, and your commitment to your new furry pal is great motivation to stick with a fitness routine. Best of all, as an anxious or unruly dog learns to walk on a leash and behave in public, you'll be improving his chances of finding a forever home.