Getting yourself to the gym can be a significant challenge. It’s even tougher when you can’t drive, you lack opposable thumbs, and your primary skills are “Sit” and “Stay.”
Yes: Dogs need to focus on their fitness, too. And like any good workout partner, they depend on their fellow friends to keep them in shape.
For a primer on keeping your dog healthy, we talked to Ernie Ward, D.V.M., a veterinarian and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Ward is also the creator of K9 Fit Club, where personal trainers, dog trainers, and dog owners can take classes to exercise with their dogs. (They have over 46 locations around the country. You can check out other dog fitness centers near you.)
Ward walked me through the best exercises you can do to get your dog moving, and the exercises you should probably avoid. Here are a few workout scenarios for different types of canines.
When your dog thinks kettlebells are toys
Kettlebell swings make for a great at-home workout, until your 10-month old Labrador-mix puppy (like mine) decides to jump up and get involved.
“I’m kind of anti-kettlebells-around-dogs,” Ward says. “It’s critical to evaluate [how dangerous the exercise you’re doing] could be to your dog when you’re doing swift movements or you’re moving weight. Sometimes you can’t overcome that movement instantly—like the arc of a kettlebell swing—and if your dog is in the same room, you could injure them,” he said.
Before you start any exercise or activity, take a step back and ask yourself: What are the potential risks here for my dog or myself?
“We do lunges in K9 classes, but we actually have the dog under restraint when we’re doing big movements, because your dog may dash underneath you—then everybody gets injured.”
If you’re exercising near your dog, keep them on a leash. Knowing how your dog reacts will help you determine what exercises you can do while they’re around.
When your dog loves to tackle you (especially during planks and crunches)
Plenty of pet owners have found they can do workouts with their dogs out of their crates. But when I get on the floor to do planks or abs routines on a mat, my dog thinks this is the perfect opportunity to jump on me or barrage me with licks.
If you have a calmer dog that can lie nearby and chew a bone or relax while you’re on the floor, go ahead with one of our core routines. Otherwise, doing floor work may lead to injury—or, at the very least, a lackluster abs workout.
When your large dog gained weight and you’d like to help him shed the pounds
Veterinarians often see “spring-training injuries” in dogs that hibernated all winter, then started running again, Ward says. If your dog spent all winter on the couch, then they “aren’t ready to spring forward and play Frisbee, do agility exercises, or even swim.”
So, as with any new workout routine, ease yourself and your dog back into action.
“We see a lot of knee ligament tears in the spring from deconditioned dogs who have put on a few extra pounds or just lost muscle and strength,” Ward says. “Sometimes it’s a trauma injury where the dog falls off because their agility isn’t there. They’re just out of practice, so be aware this “spring-training” scenario is real for dogs…as well as people.”