Cardio Exercises for Your Dog

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This week, we continue our discussion of an optimal fitness program for your dog and will highlight the second component of a balanced program: cardio exercises for your dog.

“Cardio”, from the Greek “kardia”, which means heart, is the common term used for aerobic exercise.  According to Wikipedia: Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio) is physical exercise of relatively low intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process.  Aerobic literally means “living in air”, and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism. Generally, light-to-moderate intensity activities that are sufficiently supported by aerobic metabolism can be performed for extended periods of time. The intensity should be between 60 and 85% of maximum heart rate.

Our definition of cardio is somewhat different in that we like to include high-intensity training into the definition because we have found that highly intense activities (like running all out) can really boost conditioning and fitness in ways that steady state exercising cannot.runninglate

Benefits of cardio exercises for your dog

There are many benefits of cardio training your dog including:

  • Weight loss/management due to calorie burn
  • Stronger heart and lungs for improved and more efficient circulation and respiration
  • Increased bone density which can protect against breakage during activity and aging
  • Increased number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen
  • Improved behavior as intense activity can lead to a ‘runners high’ for your dog
  • Longer life as a byproduct of increased fitness and weight management


What a great list of benefits!  These (and others) apply to humans as well!
Cardio exercises for your dog

There are so many different ways to cardio train your dog.  Make sure to check with your vet if you are planning on markedly changing your pet’s exercise routine.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Running: this is by far our favorite way to cardio training a dog.  It is easy to do, requires no special equipment, and we can vary the intensity simply by speeding up or slowing down.  For more tips on how to run with your dog, read our past articles providing running with your dog tips 1-5 and running with your dog tips 6-10.
  • Bootcamp and sports type drills: we use these in our own fitness programs and they are a great change of pace from just running a fixed time or distance.  They are fun to practice with your dog and can be highly intense as well.  Some examples include:
    1. Cone to cone. Sprint back and forth between cones that are set out on a field.  The simple way to do this is to use two cones, at least 30 yards apart.  With your dog, sprint to the far cone, touch the ground, turn and sprint back.  Rest 30 seconds and repeat.  For those more adventurous, try ‘suicides’,which utilize several cones of varying distance. This is a ‘favorite’ of football teams.
    2. T drill- shuffle between cones set out in a T formation.  Set up 4 cones in a T formation, each cone at least 10 yards apart.  Place one at the bottom of the T, one 10 yards straight ahead at the top of the T, one 10 yards to the left of the top cone and one 10 yards to the right of the top cone. The cones should look like a T and the length of the top of the T will be 20 yards.  Starting at the bottom cone, sprint straight to the middle top cone, touch, and then shuffle left to the left top cone, touch and shuffle all the way to the right most top cone (20 yards), touch, come back to the center, touch, and then back pedal to the start.  While you do this, encourage your dog to move laterally when possible so that they engage their muscles in different ways.  We haven’t been able to get SlimDoggy Jack to back pedal yet 😉  We like to do 5-10 sets.
    3. Steps. Run up a set of steps with ‘quick feet’.  Find a set of steps preferably between 20-40 in total.  With your dog, run up the steps one at a time until you reach the top.  Rest, return to the bottom and repeat.  Steps can build strength (thank gravity) but are also a tremendous cardio drill.  With our dogs, we prefer short flights of steps of around 20 or so steps, which enhance the cardio aspect and makes it easier for the dog to descend – important with older dogs.


Here is a short video of SlimDoggy Steve and Jack doing the T-drill:


  • Swimming: this can be a great cardio exercise for your dog and it is one of the lowest impact options available, which makes it perfect for injured and older dogs.  The key is to make sure that your dog is actually swimming and not standing on the side of the pool (or on the shoreline).  We find that as long as we are in the water, our dogs will follow suit.  Just be careful that they don’t scratch you as they paddle.  Our friend Sugar the Golden Retriever is an expert swimmer for those who want to learn from a ‘pro’.
  •  Hiking: although normally less intense than running, hiking can provide a cardio workout due to hills and uneven trail terrain which can really tax a dog’s muscles.  Hiking can also provide extra mental stimulation as you and your dog can discover lots of cool things along the way.  Just be careful of wildlife (i.e.coyotes) and go prepared with adequate water and supplies.  Chester and Gretel from YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner are experts so check them out for lots of great tips.
  •  Fetch: fetch can be a great way for your dog to get in some cardio training.  Use a ball launcher if you want to increase the distance your dog travels and be aware of their fatigue. Most dogs run pretty hard for the thrown object so fetch is similar in intensity to sprints and the cone drills.
  • Chase: this is a silly game that we play from time to time.  We get our dog riled up and have them chase (follow) us around the house or yard.  Chase is similar to running except that we bolt around and through obstacles and change directions often, both of which are extra beneficial for you and your dog.
  • Walking: yes, walking can offer aerobic benefit as long as you keep the pace brisk and steady.

Other options

There are actually many other types of cardio exercises for your dog.  Have you ever heard of circuit training  or “WoDs”?  Both of these human techniques can be used to string together a sequence of exercises in rapid succession to raise the heart rate.  You can use any of the above exercises in combination with other canine strength, core or balance movement to create custom and effective cardio training routines for your dog that can provide variety and injury workarounds that will keep your dog fit for life.

Stay tuned for more ideas on canine WoDs—we are working on some very interesting tools and technology in this area.

 What about you?  What are your favorite cardio exercises to do with your dog?


fitDogFriday_avatarPlease enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts Peggy’s Pet Place and To Dog With Love. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!

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  1. We play chase a LOT! And we do lots of these other games too. Regarding back pedaling, Rocco will do a “back, back” for a few steps. We’ll have to see if we can build it up to 10 yards!
    Your pals,
    Diane and Rocco
    Diane recently posted…Small Dogs Can Learn to Swim Too!My Profile

    • Please take a video of Rocco when he nails the 10 yard back step.
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  2. Those are really cool! I think our spare time is booked up now! Thank you for the pawsome post.
    Dina recently posted…Mom’s New Favourite Shop on EarthMy Profile

  3. Brisk walking and hiking are definitely our favorites. We get great cardio snowshoeing too! And there is always a lot of chase in the house and in the yard.
    Bethany recently posted…Disappointment, Flattery, Deception, Part 2: Three Dogs, Two Hikes and A Glacial Carved LakeMy Profile

    • Snowshoeing! Wonderful idea. Not available to us in SoCal. How do the dogs like it?
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  4. We mostly just walk, and we love to hike when the weather is cooler. Used to run with our other pups, but the hubs’ knees are a mess and I just haven’t run in ages. We posted about Rita’s fave cardio exercise!
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted…FitDog Friday: Rita’s Favorite Way to Stay FitMy Profile

    • Too bad about those knees. We have learned that often those kinds of problems can be dealt with by addressing underlying postural (and form) issues. Worth exploring since running with your dog is so much fun and so good for both of you.
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  5. We mostly hike and walk with a little bit of fetch thrown in. I’d take him swimming if we had more indoor pool options.
    Tenacious Little Terrier recently posted…FitDog Friday #3 – Dream JobMy Profile

    • Yes, swimming can be hard to do regularly if you don’t have easy pool/water access. Luckily there are so many other choices.
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  6. Good thing we don’t live near you because I think between you and my mom we dogs would be dead! Great ideas! We do lots of different things to keep our heart rate up. We aren’t running anymore, but we walk at a good pace, do hills, stairs, I swim, and Katie and I play chase with each other and sometimes with Mom too. Good post!
    emma recently posted…My DoodiePack Means Work | GBGV | FitDog FridayMy Profile

    • Love hearing that you and Katie do so many different things to stay fit. Thank your mom for taking such good care of you.
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  7. Hi Y’all!

    Some great exercise ideas! Sometimes we need a change of pace to keep things interesting.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Fitness n Follow UpMy Profile

  8. Amazing ideas. The best part is you get fit together! Jack looks so happy to be joining you. When I think of how he started off, it makes me feel so good!
    Peggy Frezon recently posted…The Tennis BallMy Profile

    • Thanks Peggy. He really is happy when we are running around doing crazy physical stuff. Its the Endocannabinoids (runners high), I tell you.
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  9. Running is so great, basically Charlie’s favorite activity! I didn’t realize it helped the bones though, really happy to hear that!
    Chris and Charlie recently posted…Fit dog Friday – Charlie got lostMy Profile

    • Yes, great for the bones, great for the heart and lungs, great for the muscles, great for the brain. Running rules!
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  10. We do a lot of walking and hiking and I encourage Gizmo to do something he really enjoys, Parkour…By using the objects and structures we come across he adds jumping and climbing to his workout, utilizes different muscles and keeps things interesting…
    GizmoGeodog recently posted…Catching Up on Fit Dog FridayMy Profile

    • Love Parkour! Some of my professional athlete friends practice this to get more explosive and nimble. I usually just crash….

      Giz- you are some athlete, as I learned first hand at BarkWorld 😉
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  11. great information! Have a wonderful weekend
    joann stancer recently posted…Follow-up Friday- FitDogMy Profile

  12. Great post! My Lucy had heart problems and we used our treadmill (daily) for her. Know it added some extra time to her life with us.
    Sue at Talking Dogs recently posted…Pick Me! New Dog Rescue Song | Dog Song SaturdayMy Profile

    • Treadmills are great. No doubt you helped Lucy live a longer and happier life.
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  13. With all the running around my guys do in the sand dunes it would be extremely difficult to get them motivated or excited about doing any cardio exercise with me at home. I can see Beryl giving me the finger now. Frankie would humour me for a while before wandering off to watch the lawn grow. But this is a great blog post full of excellent ideas and suggestions! I know it would do me good to try some of them even if I have to do it dogless 🙂
    Greyhounds CAN Sit recently posted…Wordy Wednesday – The All Blacks!My Profile

    • BOL! Going dogless is fine, just not as fun. Please take a picture next time Beryl gives you the finger.
      steve recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  14. Mostly for us it was fetch and walking. Now we’ve added running and swimming. We hope to add some hiking this Fall, and we’re keeping the stairs idea in mind for an indoor exercise this Winter on the days when the weather will keep us inside. Oh, my husband loves to play chase with Cricket, and if it’s indoors, Cricket will run up and down the stairs, plus on and off the bed, and she really gets crazy!
    Jan K recently posted…Resolutions Revisited (Part 1)My Profile

    • Great exercises Cricket – chase is always a good game and up and down stairs and on-off the bed…the jumping is really good for the leg muscles. Good job.
      mkob recently posted…Cardio Exercises for Your DogMy Profile

  15. Hiking less intense than running? Ha! Not if you are hiking in the mountains 🙂 I huff and puff way more while hiking and sweat like a pig. As you implied, it’s easy to control your heart rate when running by going faster or slower. I feel like my heart rate stays at steady and lower rate while running. While hiking it’s always at the top of the zone because of the incline of the trails. Hiking slower doesn’t lower it…..only stopping does…to that results in a stop-go pattern for my heart if I need to rest.
    Jessica recently posted…The Poop Hit the Fan and Landed on Instagram and VineMy Profile

    • Well Jessica, maybe if you were a runner, you wouldn’t huff and puff so much 😉

      You are right, steep and uneven terrain can be a real challenge and tax the cardio systems as well as the strength and proprioceptive systems. Thanks for sharing that insight!
      steve recently posted…Wordless Wednesday 9-11-13My Profile

      • I used to be a runner. I ran for years to keep in shape for wildland firefighting. I trained and ran for a marathon once too. I still huffed, puffed and sweated more hiking up steep hills than running 🙂

        What gets me is that Chester and Gretel make it look so easy. They even give me crap for stopping to take a break!
        Jessica recently posted…The Poop Hit the Fan and Landed on Instagram and VineMy Profile

  16. There is no way I could run backwards like Steve and not fall on my butt….lol. Our dogs do a lot of cardio. I would say running and swimming are their favorites. Of course those both incorporate fetch.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Wordless Wednesday-Not Bad For A “Senior”My Profile

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