How To Exercise With Your Dog
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Health & Fitness

How to Exercise With Your Dog

First, realize your dog doesn’t care about ‘exercise’

Michael Easter, exercising with his dog Stockton
Roger Kisby

I’m one of those fitness dorks who’s into performance numbers and data. My dog — a hoss of a 90-pound German shorthaired pointer — is not.

Yet when I adopted this dog, I had visions of the two of us out in the desert, running as a two-man pack, him out front and helping me find the perfect pace that would optimize my heart rate variability.

The reality, I quickly found, is more like this: We run together for about 300 yards and — OH, A JACKRABBIT! And then the damn dog is off-trail and barreling through the cacti and sage, and I’m standing on the trail, heart rate sinking.

I reached out to Bonnie Brown-Cali, who has been training dogs since 1989 and has a background in early preschool development. “That’s helped me understand dogs,” she said. “Because preschoolers have about the maturity level of a canine.”

And just like with ill-behaved children, the problem often lies in the parenting.

Train yourself to train your dog

“A dog is not going to understand the sounds that come out of your mouth unless you are consistent,” says Brown-Cali. She recommends starting the dog on a leash and teaching basic cues like “Come,” to the point where the dog understands that “when I say your name and ‘Come,’ it means do this thing over and over and over.”  

When that dog comes back, “you need to make it a party, man,” Brown-Cali says. “If that dog loves a certain toy or food, that toy or food better come out.”

Understand your dog’s purpose

Just because I could teach my dog to stay on the trail the entirety of our runs doesn’t mean I should.

“Very few dogs are bred to flat out run for long periods of time,” says Brown-Cali. My dog is a pointing dog, which means he has been bred to explore the world with his nose down in zigzag patterns while sniffing out animals.

Mastiffs stand guard, collies herd, St. Bernards help with search and rescue, poodles fetch waterfowl, dalmatians assist firefighters, etc. Most fitness-focused dog owners don’t realize dogs may not “get” the point of a run.

“Instead of a flat-out 3-mile run, practice a little give and take,” says Brown-Cali. “Allow your dog to be the type of dog it’s meant to be.” 

In my case, she suggested I chill out on the fitness metrics and run for, say, a mile, then relax and let my dog do its thing chasing bunnies and exploring the desert. 

Get creative

Exercise with your dog doesn’t just have to be running or hiking, says Brown-Cali. “You could do planks or push-ups and teach your dog to put their paws on your back, so the exercises are harder.”

This reminded me of something I’ve done with our other dog, a mix of lab and Staffordshire terrier. She has jaws like a bear trap and loves to play tug-of-war. I have yet to test this, but I’m positive she’ll keep pulling until one of us dies. 

Tug-of-war with that dog offers all the same benefits of sled drags, an exercise pro trainers rave about. And the load thrashes back and forth, which is a killer core workout.

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