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8 Great Ways to Exercise With Your Pet

From doga to Treibball to skijoring, these fun new activities can get you and your dog in great shape

By Debbie Swanson | October 22, 2012

A partner always makes a workout more fun, and there's no more eager buddy than your dog. Even better, the pooch is unlikely to complain about the weather or time of day, or to disparage your lack of trendy fitness gear.

(MORE: The 10 Best Pet Companions to Have at Your Side)

Walking your dog is, of course, a great everyday way to get you both some exercise, but there's so much more you can try. Following are eight ideas for alternative ways to get fit together, from yoga to dancing to modern-day shepherding. Try a couple and see what works best for you both, though you may want to check in with your vet before launching a new routine for your pet. And remember: Dogs typically won’t reveal to you if they’re hurt or tired, so you need to keep an eye on your partner for signs of fatigue.

Downward Dog, With Your Dog
Human benefits: Flexibility, stress relief; Animal benefits: Flexibility, relaxation

Does your dog stare at you quizzically from across the room while you go through your yoga poses? With doga, your pet can get off the sidelines and join you. Organized classes led by experienced, registered instructors are on the rise in many areas, so you may be able to find one near you. “Doga is about bonding with your dog and having fun while in a relaxed state,” says Nicole Vykoukal, founder of Austin Doga. Her classes feature a mix of yoga postures accessible to most fitness levels, combined with mindful breathing and plenty of canine interaction. Some postures involve owners holding or stroking their dogs; in some, dogs lie next to, or on top of, their human partners. “This is a great combination to achieve a relaxed, blissful state. Calming yoga resets your nervous system, while soothing both you and your dog," Vykoukal says. And good doga classes don't ignore the primary goal of helping human participants gain flexibility, muscle tone and balance.

Tackle the Agility Course
Human workout: Moderate; Animal workout: Moderate to intense

In agility obstacle course competitions, dogs get a great workout jumping through tires, weaving around poles, darting inside tunnels, and navigating see-saws. As your dog's handler, you'll run the course as well, offering instructions and encouragement. Border collies are regular agility competitors, but all breeds and sizes can play; jumps and obstacles can be adjusted for your pet’s size. Starter course sets are available at many pet shops to help launch your backyard training routine. At-home practice sessions will keep you outdoors and on the move as your dog develops the necessary skills. Since speed is one key to victory, daily walks or runs will boost your team's competitive fitness. Your local kennel club should have information on agility clubs and competitions in your area.

(MORE: Started Running at 50, a New Career at 65)

Go Through the Paces of Rally Obedience
Human workout: Low-impact, moderate; Animal workout: Moderate

Rally obedience courses, popularly known as "Rally-O," offer a less intense workout than agility, but they require advanced pet-owner communication skills. While you briskly make your way through a course set up with 10 to 20 obedience-based tasks, your dog moves or heels beside you. “The beauty of rally is that this is a sport that can be enjoyed by all ages of dogs and people,” says Mary Burch, director of the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program. Owners talk, cheer or use hand signals to let their dogs know what to do. Teams are judged on accuracy, but in the event of a tie, the competition goes to the faster team. Daily practice sessions typically run 15 to 30 minutes, Burch says, which is the same amount of time the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says all adults age 18-64 should engage in moderate exercise each day. The AKC website can point you toward Rally-O classes and competitions in your area.

Dancing With the Pet Stars
Human and animal workout: Moderate to intense

Your pup may not be able to do the foxtrot or a pirouette, but he's probably capable of the steps in canine freestyle dancing. These moves showcase your pet's ability to do tricks and follow commands, like heel, make a circle, change direction, speed up and slow down. "The routine can fit the moves that the dog likes to do, rather than a set group of moves," says British freestyle handler Richard Curtis. Once your dog learns the steps involved, your routine (most run one-to-four minutes) is put to music. Colorful costumes add flair to performances and competitions, as your team shows off its training, communication, coordination and flow. Practice and training assures you of regular workout sessions equal to your pet's. "The handler needs to be good at moving briskly forward and back," Curtis says, "and there are moves where the handler may need to move side to side, like the dog weaving through their legs." The Canine Freestyle Federation has tips on getting started and can help you find trainers and competitions in your area.

Do You Have a Disc Dog?
Human workout: Moderate; Animal workout: Moderate to intense

Most dogs love a game of Frisbee. The fast-paced sport of disc dog kicks it up a notch as canines chase and retrieve discs thrown at increasingly longer distances. Tricks, jumping over or ducking under human partners, are typically added for the freestyle portion of disc dog events. You've probably seen top disc dogs performing at halftime shows or community events, but it's a sport for anyone with a pet that loves to leap and catch. "You get a great workout almost without realizing it,” says Jeff Perry, co-founder of Skyhoundz Disc Dogs in Georgia, whose website can launch your disc dog career with a free downloadable training book. “In a typical two-minute freestyle routine," Perry says, "the human team member might well cover 200 yards retrieving discs and getting in position to make the next throw or perform the next trick."

Sled Dog Racing (Tundra Optional)
Human and animal workout: Moderate to intense

You don’t have to live in Alaska to get a taste of sled dog racing. In the sport of skijoring, your dog pulls you through the snow as you glide on cross-country skis, attached by a harness. It's a vigorous workout for both you and your pet, and is best suited to active, medium-to-large-build dogs. (Multiple dogs can also pull one skier.) Skijoring requires training before you move to trails; your dog should have good obedience skills and learn sled dog commands. Your pet will also need to get acclimated to wearing a harness and dog booties, and to the feel of pulling a person. Proper gear is essential; improvising with a regular leash can result in human or canine injury. Donning the harness for a short jog together is good practice (and exercise) during the off-season. Learn more and find organized groups and events at Sled Dog Central or Skijoring.com.

New Age Shepherding
Human workout: Mild; Animal workout: moderate

Treibball, also known as "urban sheep herding" or "canine billiards" is a fairly new activity, but already has an enthusiastic following. To play, you and your dog enter a ring, where you'll have 10 minutes to direct him to move eight oversized, colored balls into a soccer-like goal. Treibball is a problem-solving game that keeps the owner and the dog thinking and moving together as a team,” says Dianna Stearns, founder of the American Treibball Association. "It's fun, low-impact on the owner, and builds a cooperative bond. It also builds great off-leash reliability and focused attention to the owner." Regular training, and helping your animal partner stay in game shape, are important. Treibball training and events are becoming more popular but if you can't find a class near you, the Treibball association's website has training materials to get you started on your own.

(MORE: The 5 Lessons Learned From Animals, and They're Not What You Expect)

The Classics: Hiking and Biking
Human workout: Moderate; Animal workout: Moderate to intense

With a little training and the right equipment, your dog can easily wag his tail alongside you as you hike or bike. When you take a bike ride, your loyal partner is likely to follow no matter how far you go. But remember: While you pedal, your pet is running, so start with short jaunts and increase mileage gradually. Large and medium-build dogs are best suited to run alongside your bike; ask your vet if your smaller dog is up for the workout. Getting good gear also helps. "A bicycle-specific leash will keep your dog from running in front of your bike," says Scott Daughtry of thedogoutdoors.com, who suggests a leash with internal springs to absorb pulls and lunges from your dog. Hikes, especially in areas where pets can run off-leash, are the ultimate day out for many dogs. Make sure your dog’s return skills are top notch before you let him loose, though. If you’re covering a long distance and your pet is up for the task, you might outfit him with a canine backpack to share the job of carrying water and gear. Also be sure to end each outing with a quick tick-check.

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