Regardless of the season, spending quality time outdoors with your dog is a must! And I’m not talking about those boring dog walks around the block or playing fetch in the leash-free park. I mean actual adventures that will make you laugh and make you cry and will continue to send shivers down your spine many years after.
Dogs make excellent training partners – they will push you to your limits. They don’t complain, take very little to recover from physical strain, and don’t ask for anything in return except for love and attention. Once they get into the habit of exercising, they will drag you outside be it sunshine, rain or snow.
From backpacking to surfing, get ready to take the relationship with your dog to the next level with this list of outdoor exercising ideas and tips to keep you both entertained all year long. I guarantee you won’t be able to wipe the wag off your dog’s tail!
A trip in the woods or a trek up the mountains is arguably the best way to enjoy the great outdoors with your four-legged friend. But first, check to see if the area you are planning to hike to allows dogs. There are national parks and nature reserves that have a strict policy when it comes to dog access on the hiking trails. Also, check the regulations to see if you are required to keep your canine friend on a leash.
Photo credit: Octavia Drughi
Secondly, make sure your dog is up to the challenge. Hiking is hard work for both of you, and you wouldn’t want to become a porter halfway through the trip. I still remember two guys who were once carrying a German Shepherd in a jacket – they explained that he just wouldn’t walk anymore and they had to carry him down all the way from the top of the mountain. I sure wouldn’t have liked to be in their shoes!
If you have a pup, you can already start taking her along on short, low-intensity hikes. Teach her to overcome the various obstacles on the way with patience while keeping a hand on her harness. This will build trust between the two of you. If you have an older dog that you’ve never taken on a hiking trip, you should do the same. Allow your dog to build endurance and get used to the effort before taking her on longer hikes that require more engagement.
Photo credit: Octavia Drughi
If you have a larger dog, you can invest in a lightweight doggie backpack. That way, she can carry her own water, food and treats. Remember to take regular breaks and to give your dog enough water. Do not push your four-legged friend over her limits. If she’s lagging behind, it could be that she is tired.
Camping is a great way to spend time with your dog in nature and undertake multi-day hikes that your pooch will surely enjoy to the max. During winter months, cross-country skiing is another activity you can enjoy with your pooch!
2. Paddle boarding
Photo credit: Julia Cumes
Stand-up paddling is taking the world by storm. Anyone can do it – your grandma, your five-year-old nephew, even your dog! While all those pictures on the Internet make paddling with man’s best friend seem easy as pie, things are a bit more complicated than that.
Dogs are the perfect stand-up paddling buddies but, just like us humans, they need to become adjusted and comfortable with the idea of floating on a board. Try to get your dog used to the board before venturing into the water. Leave the board around the house for her to smell and sit on.
Pick a calm day and a flat-water surface for your first SUP sessions together. This way, your dog will get used to maintaining her balance and will not wobble the board. You can try standing on your knees at first, thus lowering your gravity center and balancing the board more easily. You should have enough experience with SUP, as dogs ‘smell’ your fears and stress, which can make them uncomfortable and jittery.
Chances are both of you will take a dip anyway, which is why I highly recommend a life vest for your dog. Not only will it save her in case of an accident, it will also make your pooch more visible in the water. Plus, most doggie life vests are equipped with a handle that makes pulling your dog out of the water and back on the board much easier.
Dogs make excellent running partners. Most large dog breeds are natural runners, and jogging with their BFF (that’s you!) will send them straight to heaven. However, as is the case with any type of partnership, it’s always better if your fitness levels are somewhat similar.
Some dogs are better at short-distance sprints, while others at long distance running. Start by taking your canine friend on short, brisk walks and work gradually towards longer walks and low-intensity running. If you’ve just taken up running, start taking your dog along. This way, you will progress together. Stop when your dog wants to stop, be it for a rest or a sniff. It might slow you down, but then again, it’s not a marathon!
Photo credit: Timo Waltari via Flickr
If you cannot run with your dog leash-free, use a hands-free running leash. You can either buy one or make one yourself. This leash is attached to your waist instead of your hand, and is a great accessory for hiking trails too. If you have a larger breed that has too much energy, keep her on a leash when you grow tired of the climb and let your ‘partner’ pull you up.
The leash should not be too long so that it does not get in the way of other runners or obstacles along the way. Avoid the hot parts of the day and make sure fresh water is available to your dog at all times.
Be it in your backyard pool, a small inflatable children’s pool, the nearest river, a dog-friendly lake or at a dog-friendly beach, swimming is a great exercise for dogs of all ages. Just like for us humans, swimming is a low-impact exercise that does not stress the joints. Dogs with arthritis will particularly benefit from swimming. After all, senior dogs need their exercise too!
Never leave your dog unsupervised. After swimming in pools treated with chlorine and other chemicals, make sure you give your canine companion a proper bath.
Some dogs get scared at their first contact with water. You might think that all dogs are natural-born swimmers, but that’s not exactly true. In fact, there are three categories: dogs that are excellent swimmers, dogs that can be taught to swim, and dogs who can barely stay afloat no matter how much they practice. Sometimes, even those who can swim might not know it themselves. Never force your pooch into the water. Provide a controlled and familiar environment where she can feel safe and fall in love with swimming by herself. Otherwise, she will always freak out at the sight of water.
That’s right, you can go surfing with your dog! Once you’ve both mastered the art of paddle boarding on flat-water surfaces, you can take on the next big challenge on the agenda – SUP surfing, windsurfing and, why not, wave surfing.
Photo credit: David Ballesteros via Flickr
As history has taught us, dogs can surf! And they’re pretty good at it too. Take for example internationally renowned dog surfers like Abbie Girl, proud owner of a Guinness World Record in surfing, or surf dog Ricochet.
Before venturing into the waves, make sure your dog knows how to swim, does not panic at the mere sight of water, is comfortable with the waves splashing onto her, and teach her not to drink sea water. Always use a doggie life vest when surfing with your dog and avoid large waves. Also, surf leashes are not a good idea for dogs, as they can easily get strangled with it. Use a soft-top foam board or a special dog surfboard. These have a better grip and if your dog gets hit by them, it’s not as bad as with a hard-top one. Saltwater dehydrates your dog, so make sure you have plenty of fresh water available.
Please keep in mind that surfing is much harder for dogs than it is for us. They cannot paddle or launch the boards on their own, which means that they need your help and support at all times. They cannot wear a wetsuit either. Don’t force your dog on the board! Allow her to get used to the feeling and to become comfortable on the surfboard. And, in the end, if she still doesn’t want to get on, maybe it’s because she really doesn’t want to surf, so stop pushing her.
Make sure your dog is up-to-date with vaccinations and treatments against ticks and fleas. Also, check with your vet to see if your dog can handle intense physical exercise and that there’s no underlying medical condition that could put your dog at risk if performing the activities above.
Check your dog for ticks and fleas as soon as you get home. Even if you are up-to-date with the control treatments, these nasty creatures might still crawl on their fur. Plus, these treatments have a varying degree of effectiveness, so it’s always best to double check.
Your dog must have access to clean, fresh water at all times. If there is no natural source (e.g. a clean spring), then you must bring along a bowl and water bottle(s).
Check your dog’s paws for any injuries that might occur after hiking, running or walking on uneven terrain with sharp rocks or pebbles. You can opt for a set of dog booties if you know that the terrain might be hard on your dog’s paws. Avoid too much contact with asphalt or sand on hot days. On cold days, check paws for ice build-up.
Always clean up after your dog! You might return to the exact same place yourself and, if not, other dog lovers will. Make sure they can enjoy the outdoors just as you did!
The effectiveness of having your dog as your workout buddy is backed up by research. A study from the Michigan State University showed that dog owners are 34% more likely to get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week than those who do not have a dog. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there!
*This article was written in loving memory of my Siberian Husky girl, Maya, which is why I used feminine pronouns throughout the article.
*Cover image credit: Octavia Drughi