5 Dog Fitness Hacks That Will Boost Your Dog's Longevity

Dogs need more exercise than you think.

Having a dog can be good for your health, studies show. But what about the dog's health? Well, that depends on the owner. Over half of American dogs are overweight or obese, says a survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, conditions that can lead to heart disease and diabetes and significantly shorten your pet's lifespan. 

The main culprits are a lack of exercise and overfeeding, which in addition to shortening your dog's life expectancy can also lead to emotional and behavioral problems. 

So if the usual walks don't cut it, what's a dog owner to do? Here are five approaches:

1. HIRE a dog runner.

"A tired dog is a happy dog," says Tom Moroney, general manager of Running Paws, a New York City dog-running company that will pick up your pooch and take it out for a run. The dogs, two max, are matched for energy and temperament and depending on their fitness level runs can be continuous or intermittent. They start off slow and work their way up. "At the end, they're exhausted," Moroney says.

A similar company, NYC Dog Runners, is piloting a program that has dogs run on a dog treadmill. On a recent afternoon in the West Village, I dropped in on a session. Alex Middleton, the handler, was setting up the treadmill for Jake, an easy-going 11-year-old yellow Lab who's been a jogger his whole life.

Jake, an 11-year-old Lab, running on a dog treadmill.
Jake, an 11-year-old Lab, running on a dog treadmill. Daniel Krieger

One of the benefits of this approach, explains Middleton, is control of the environment — no distractions or foul weather to contend with — and the rubber tread is easier on the joints. Jake, who'd already been trained on the treadmill, trotted at an easy pace, going from 1 to 2 mph, as Middleton stood in front encouraging him with bits of cookie to keep moving. "It's different from dog to dog," Middleton says. Jake is the slow and steady type, unlike a Greyhound or Vizla, who could run faster for longer. On his last run, Jake hit 3 mph in a final push and then stepped off, high-fived Middleton and lay down for a breather.

2. GET your own exercise gear.

Like a dog treadmill from PetZen Products, which comes with a book and video covering a 30-day DIY program that uses positive reinforcement. They also carry weighted vests that dogs can wear on walks or runs for strength training as well as a bone-shaped balance platforms.

Krista Wickens, co-founder of PetZenProducts, stresses that exercise should focus on the whole dog. "Fitness is not only physical but also mental," she says. For instance, the owner can do things that make the dog think, like using a balance platform as a stepper or walking around it, giving rewards when they follow directions.

3. WORK with a dog fitness trainer.

Ideally one who can zero in on a particular dog's needs, taking into account breed, body type, existing fitness level, health issues, age, diet, and lifestyle. "You can extend a dog's life up to four years with regular exercise," says Gail Miller Bisher, an expert on personal training for canines. Bisher emphasizes the importance of setting up a multi-purpose program that improves the animal's muscle tone, cardiovascular fitness, mobility, balance, and overall health. "All of it comes down to what's best for your animal," she says.

4. EXERCISE together at a fitness class for dogs and humans. 

There are various ones around the country, like Go Fetch Run, founded by Angi Aramburu two years ago in New York. Mornings and evenings, in Prospect Park or Central Park, she leads up to 10 dogs and their owners in a 60 minute romp that has a mix of activities geared toward developing cardio, strength, balance, and agility; it includes sprinting, jumping, squats, strength training with resistance bands, and the 'Down and Dirty Obstacle Course.' Another option is a yoga class for dogs, known as "doga," where dog and human partner up.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to work out on your own with your dog, too. You can take your dog with you when you jog, bike, or rollerblade. Instead of taking elevators, opt for stairs with your dog. Aramburu recommends playing fetch by racing your dog to the ball, while trainer Gail Miller Bisher suggests drills, like 'hill work' — running up a grassy hill and walking back down — which helps tone a dog's rear muscles, the first to atrophy with age.


5. TRY a dog sport.

There are many to choose from, like 'agility,' which involves obstacles, with jumps, tunnels and walkways the dog navigates with the help of a handler. 'Disk dog,' another competitive sport, entails throwing a Frisbee that the dog tries to catch. There are also distance jumping contests that measure how high and far a dog can leap as well as 'flyball,' a dog relay race with hurdles and a spring-loaded pad that releases a tennis ball when pressed by the dog, who must then catch the ball and return it to the handler. The first team to finish wins.

Cover photo by Daniel Krieger