7 Ways to Get Fit With Your Dog

Photo: ericskiff

As you might imagine, it’s hard to keep my two dogs exercised and active living in the city.

My husband and I live on the fourth floor of a condo building in New York City with no outdoor space of our own, and the park that we prefer to take the dogs to is about 30 blocks away. We can manage the hike on most weekends, but we both work full time, so taking our pups to play on weekdays isn’t always a possibility.

Even though my dogs don’t get out to the park on a consistent basis, however, doesn’t mean they’re just sitting on their lazy butts all day. There are ways for us to exercise together that are resourceful and efficient. Here are 10 ideas that get us moving that save time even when it seems like there isn’t any left. (See also: Fitness for People Who Hate Exercise)

1. Stair Climbing

We don’t have any other choice but to take the stairs since there’s no elevator in our building, but the dogs don’t mind. When I get them inside after taking them out to go potty, I unleash the beasts so we can run up the steps together. A few times up and down helps get our hearts beating faster and burning a few calories. I like doing this indoors as opposed to outdoors because the space in confined; the dogs can’t go anywhere. Outside would be a whole different story — one of them would stay by my side while the other would take off never to be seen again.

2. Ab Crunching

Your dog can’t do abs with you, but you can do abs with your dog — right in your own home. Set yourself up in an area of the house that’s open enough for your dog to run. This is easy for me because our home is a “railroad,” which basically makes it one long hallway. When I’m ready to start the crunches, I grab a ball and throw it down the hallway for my dog to chase after. After he fetches the ball, he brings the ball back for another round. You can definitely get in several reps of abs before your dogs tires out — if that happens; mine would chase after the ball all day long if they could. 

3. Beach Combing

Last year my husband and I purchased an excursion from an activity company that took us and our dogs to the beach and to a few wineries afterward. The dogs absolutely loved the sand and surf — much more than I expected. While we jogged along, we picked up driftwood and threw it into the water. One of the dogs went straight in after it, splashing around in the surf until he found it. The other, well, she was happier on dry land. Either way, they both got in plenty of exercise fetching and fighting over the driftwood. By the time we got to the wineries, they were all tuckered out which allowed us to enjoy the tasting without distractions.

4. Walking the Neighborhood

Granted, this isn’t a novel idea — most of us pet parents walk our dogs around the neighborhood already — but there’s a new app called MapMyDOGWALK that allows users to track how far they’re strolling with Fido. Your pet will get the exercise it needs while you track your own progress — which is positive reinforcement to help you stick to the routine and go even further. MapMyDOGWALK will tell you how far you’ve traveled, how many calories you’ve burned, how quickly you’re moving, and save your favorite routes. As an extra bonus to your four-legged friend, the iPhone app also provides listings of dog events in your area for you and your furbaby to enjoy.

5. Running the Streets

I drive the dogs to the park most of the time, but if I’m taking them to a closer park, I’ll plan to run there with them. One of them — the one that would take off never to be seen again if I let her off the leash — can handle a decent pace; the other, however, is slower and lazier (frankly, he’s over it after the first few blocks), so I have to run at a slower pace with him. Just be mindful of how much your pet can handle. If you have more than one, they may have different levels of stamina, so don’t push them more than they can handle. Remember to hydrate them, too. Always bring a large bottle of water and a collapsible bowl (I recommend this bowl from The Container Store) for the dogs to drink from.

6. Walking the Treadmill

When it’s cold outside, I don’t want to walk the dogs too far. First, because I hate the cold weather, and the least amount of time I have to spend in it is ideal. Secondly, if winter participation is afoot, there’s usually salt on the ground, which can cut the soft pads of dogs’ paws. During the winter months, try putting your dog on the treadmill if you have one at home to keep it active. You do your routine first; when you’re done, put the pooch on it for a brisk walk. Caesar Millan recommends coaxing your pet with treats to keep it on the machine and starting at the lowest setting to familiarize your pet with the experience. As your pet becomes more comfortable on the treadmill, you can increase the speed. Whatever you do, do not tie the leash to the treadmill. Let the dog walk freely or hold the leash yourself.

7. Biking

If you don’t like running to the park — and I don’t blame you, because I hate running — try biking. Hop on and hold the dog’s leash while you bike. The speed at which you can bike will depend on what kind of dog you have — mine are small, so I can’t pedal too fast — and you should always start slow to see how your pet fares. Again, remember to bring plenty of water since this kind of exercise will give your dog a serious workout, and it will need to stay hydrated.

Another general tip — if it’s hot out, don’t push your dog too much. In fact, if the temperature is above 85 degrees, I wouldn’t take my dog out to exercise at all. Do indoor activities or find a shady spot so neither of you overheat or get sunburned. Yes, dogs can get sunburned. Be as careful to protect your pet in the sun as you’d protect yourself.

Have other ideas on how to get fit with your pet? Let me know in the comments below.

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Meg Favreau's picture

It's a variation on what you've already listed -- but hikes! When I lived in New Hampshire, my dog LOVED stomping through the woods with me.