Health & Wellness

5 easy ways to exercise with your pet

I lost 40 pounds by gaining 25. With the help of my cocker spaniel, shedding unwanted pounds and staying in shape proved to be a win-win for both me and my dog.

Though humans can make food choices and monitor their indulgences, dogs depend on you to monitor their waistline. Here’s how to get and stay in shape with the help of your dog. First and foremost, always get human and canine medical clearance before embarking on any workout routine.

Getting Started

Exercise and engagement of a dog should be modified according to a dog’s age, weight, health condition and size. Like people who suddenly start exercising after being sedentary for a lengthy period of time, start slow and increase according to dog’s responsiveness and interest.

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“There should be no reason why a big dog’s exercise would have to differ markedly from that of a little dog,” said Steve Pelletier, founder of the health website for dogs, SlimDoggy.com. “More important than the difference in size is the breed and age of the dog, as well as its unique health and injury history.”

1. Walk

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My weight-loss secret: One of the best ways to strengthen the human-canine bond while getting in shape is to walk. The experience needs to be pleasurable and engaging for your dog.

Start with a five-minute walk down the street and back. If you pull a dog or say things like “let’s go” and yank at the leash, your dog won't enjoy the walk. Reward and celebrate your dog during and after the walk.

RELATED: Adopt a dog! Meet adorable pups looking for new homes

2. Reverse lunges

Tricia Montgomery battled obesity and passed her bad habits and lack of exercise on to her dog, Louie. Montgomery started exercising and lost 130 pounds — while Louie shed some doggie weight, too! This inspired her to create K9 Fit Club, a workout program for people and their pets. She recommended a series of exercises, including Rover’s reverse lunges.

Stand facing your dog. Your dog should be in a seated position in front of you. Perform a reverse lunge. At the bottom of each lunge, ask your dog for their paw or “shake.” Repeat for 20 repetitions on each side.

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3. Doggy digging

Pelletier recommended strength training together, and the first step is digging. Encourage your dog to dig while you engage in a similar behavior to work your arms. In between digs, you could perform push ups, planks or triceps dips.

Digging requires that the dog use its front legs to pull the dirt back toward the body, the exact motion that is needed to hit the upper back. Just make sure you're not digging in your neighbor's yard! It's easy enough to train the dog to dig on demand by burying smelly treats just under the dirt’s surface.

Bonus: While seated in front of your dog, have him shake hands, doing both front paws for five to 10 reps to produce a balanced workout. Extend your arms in between paw shakes to stretch and extend your muscles.

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It's important to reward your dog during these exercises.

4. Stand up paddle boarding

Water lovers, rejoice: Many people paddle board with their pets. If you want to learn to stand-up paddle board (SUP) with your dog, the first step is to learn to SUP without your dog. The easiest and most effective way to learn is to take a beginner SUP class taught by a certified instructor.

Before starting, it's important that your dog know basic commands such as sit and stay. The first step in teaching your dog to SUP is getting them used to sitting or standing on a paddle board. This can be done on land. Using rewards, teach your dog to sit, stand and lie down in a specific place on the board.

RELATED: How TODAY Show's puppy Charlie spends his mornings — starting at 4 a.m.!

5. Brain games

Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise for a dog. Hide-and-seek is a perfect year-round game for dogs of all ages. Not only does this game work perfectly on rainy days, but it heightens a dog’s sense of smell in a fun and rewarding manner.

RELATED: What you need to know before adopting a pet

Start out with a few of your pooch’s favorite treats. This game requires two people. One person stays with your dog in a room, while the other hides. When ready to be sought, the person hiding lets out a sound to initiate the game. As your dog scours from room to room, occasionally let out a verbal signal. Once found, praise him like he just won an Olympic medal and reward with a treat. Repeat.

I’ve heard pet parents say, “I can’t play with my dog, he has arthritis” or “I want to play with my dog, but he’s old.” Ease a dog into swimming, do slow walks around the neighborhood or join a dog lovers group. Whatever the case, growing old is a mindset. Modify the methods and take precautions, but keep the dog moving in some way.

Carol Bryant is the marketing and social media manager for BlogPaws and runs her own blog, Fidose of Reality and its fundraising arm, Wigglebutt Warriors. When not busy playing with her cocker spaniel, Dexter, she stays far away from cooking. Her trademark is her mantra and is tattooed on her arm: My Heart Beats Dog.®

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