Dogs of all sizes can make great futbol teammates. They love chasing after your passes and pushing the ball back to you with their nose. Depending on the size of your hound and whether you mind if your soccer ball becomes a chew toy, you may want to purchase a smaller, soccer-style ball from your local pet store instead of using a real one.
For limber muscles and a little peace of mind, teach your pooch to downward dog. Doga classes—yoga classes designed for you and your furry friend—are springing up across the country. They tend to combine massage and meditation with the gentle stretching associated with Hatha yoga poses. Can’t find a class near you? Try Amy Stevens’ Yoga 4 Dogs DVD.
You know all those silly YouTube videos of doggies dancing on their hind legs? Turns out it’s an actual sport. Called musical freestyle, this high-energy activity involves a dog and their owner performing a choreographed dance routine. Warning: costumes may be involved. For more information, check out the Musical Dog Sport Association and The World Canine Freestyle Organization and be sure to click here to see two Grease-inspired musical freestylers in action.
For a game that’s as mentally stimulating as it is physically, train your dog to play hide and seek. According to the ASPCA, it can enhance your dog’s problem-solving abilities, help her learn to come when called and deepen her appreciation of your presence while teaching her not to panic when you disappear. For instructions on how to train your dog to play this childhood favorite, visit the ASPCA’s website.
Get fit and teach your dog basic obedience skills? If you have at least an hour, you can do both. In many cities personal trainers and dog trainers are teaming up to offer boot camp classes for you and your pooch (check out California-based Thank Dog! Bootcamp and FitDog in Austin, Texas). Like a regular military-inspired workout, your speed, balance and endurance will be challenged through a series of exercises—the only difference being, your dog's involved, too. You'll both get a good dose of heart-strengthening cardio, but pups will also learn important commands that will help them be happier, healthier, more trustworthy pets.
Grab a flying disc and hit the park. You and your dog can play a simple game of fetch and retrieve using a Frisbee, or—to up the ante—join a Disc Dog league and compete against other six-legged teams. For more information, check out Skyhoundz.com.
Not every dog is born a runner, so check with your vet before increasing your pet’s activity level: It may be unsafe for young puppies (under 18 months) whose bones haven’t finish growing or large dogs with sensitive joints, says the ASPCA. If you jog with your dog on a leash, be sure to stop if they start to lag behind and keep them hydrated with regular water breaks. When you finish, check the pads of their paws for blisters. If your pup seems stiff, sore or exhausted for hours afterwards, cut back on the duration and/or intensity of your next run.
Set some healthy goals by getting into agility training. In this fast-paced sport, you run alongside your dog as you lead them through an obstacle course riddled with hurdles, tunnels, ladders, bridges and more. You get a cardio workout; your dog gets that plus improved coordination, concentration and obedience skills. For more info, head over to the United States Dog Agility Association’s website.
Winter is no time to stay indoors. Take advantage of the snow and snap on cross-country skis for one of the best full-body workouts available. To get your dog involved, try skijoring, in which your dog pulls you. It works kind of like a dog-sled race, except you’re on cross-country skis instead of standing on a sled. You’ll have the best luck—and the most fun—if your dog is athletic, loves run and weighs more than 35 pounds.
Looking for a non-competitive sport to share with your favorite furball? Try tracking, which tests your pooch’s ability to recognize and follow human scent over varying distances. All you need is a harness, a 20-to-40 foot lead,a few flags to mark your track, an open grassy area free of obstacles such as roads, and a willingness to help your dog hone his natural sniffing skills. For more information and a list of resources, visit the American Kennel Club’s website.
Introduce your dog to swimming at a young age and by the time she’s grown, she’ll be a great pool partner. Swimming is low-impact, but provides great cardiovascular conditioning and 360 degrees of resistance to help tone muscles. Even if your dog is a strong swimming, keep an eye on him—especially in deep water where he can tire quickly—and make sure he has an accessible way out of the water, such as graded steps, and knows how to use it, suggests the ASPCA.
Lace up your sneakers: Walking is one of the easiest and gentlest ways to keep you and your pooch healthy. It’s no wonder dog owners log an average of 132 miles more a week than non-dog owners. Start out slow and work your way up to at least 30 minutes a day maintaining a brisk pace.
Take your walking routine to new heights—literally—by hitting the trails. Hiking can develop muscular strength and endurance while providing incredible views. Your dog will love exploring new sights, sounds and smells. Just make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date, especially if you live in a tick-heavy area. Search for trails near you here.
Your energetic dog + a leash + wheels may seem like a recipe for disaster, but with a little practice and obedience training, inline skating with your dog can be an enjoyable experience. The key is to first teach your dog how to run beside you without pulling on the lead, says the ASPCA. If possible, do this while running yourself. As always, monitor your dog’s exertion level and stick to short distances in the beginning.
Hit groomed trails or romp around a snow-covered golf course; just be sure to bring your pup. Stick to snow that’s not too deep, especially if you’re dog’s on the smaller side, and check her paws periodically for built up ice. Snowshoeing is not only a fun winter activity, it also burns 544 (human) calories an hour.
As with rollerblading, you should teach your dog how to run beside you without pulling on its leash before you attempt to attach them to your bike. One added precaution you may want to take is using a Springer, says the ASPCA. This device secures your dog’s leash to your bike and is outfitted with a coil spring that absorbs any pulling or jerking so you can keep your balance.
If you love to walk or run with your dog but live in an area with unpredictable weather, consider a doggie treadmill like the ones here. If you set it up right next to yours, we guarantee you’ll always have a workout buddy who’s raring to go.
With a lot of training and love of water, both you and your dog can catch a wave. For some great advice on how to acclimate your little buddy to the board, check out Surf Dog Ricochet. They recommend foam boards, which are easier for pups to paw, and always donning life vests.
Let your dog run loose with frequent visits to the dog park. Besides the great cardiovascular conditioning that spontaneous play provides, you and your pup will also be enriched by socializing with other dogs and their owners.
If your dog is on the smaller side, is a confident swimmer and obeys commands, you may be able to take him along in a canoe or kayak. Although paddling will only get your heart rate up, once you’re in a safe location, your dog can get in on the action, too, by going for a swim. Before you set off, make sure he’s trained on how to get in and out of the boat and to not jump into to water unless instructed to. It’s also a good idea to invest in a doggy life jacket with a harness that you can use to lift the dog in and out of the water. For more information, click here.