Last week's Sunday Recap focused on cognitively challenging your pet. It's important to help your dog keep his mind sharp, but you need to help keep his body healthy too. Physical exercise is one of the best activities you can do with your pet. There are lots of ways that you and Fido can exercise together, and one of the most fun is doga – yoga with dogs.
I don't have any personal experience with doga, but I've always found it interesting. Recently, an exercise studio in our community introduced a doga class for pet parents. They offer Zumba, kick boxing, cycling classes and other common forms of exercise for humans, but they've been asked many times to provide a doga class and now they are finally able to.
Before I signed Saddie (my chocolate lab) and I up for these classes I wanted to learn more about them. What is doga? Will it benefit Saddie? Will it benefit me? And most importantly, will it help foster our growing relationship, as Saddie is only a puppy? What will doga offer Saddie and I that other forms of exercise like swimming, walking and biking will not?
Doga – Yoga With Dogs
If you're like me and have no idea what doga is, you're going to need to start with the basics. For a quick understanding of the exercise and how exactly you go about practicing it, this article on dogreference.com can fill you in. They explain doga in a simple way that is easy for anyone to understand, even if you don't have a background in yoga.
- In certain poses, doga requires the animals to sit in certain poses while their owners support them. For example, in the resting pose, the dog’s owner lays on the floor with his or her legs stretched across the dog’s torso. In upward paw, on the other hand, the dog sits on his or her hind legs while the owner sits nearby, supporting their best friend.
After understanding the concept of doga, I quickly realized that it would be a great exercise to do with our 5-year-old boxer Chloe. She's patient, mellow and will allow me to do almost anything that I want to her. Naturally, she seemed like the best choice for a doga partner.
But I was really hoping to include our puppy. I know what you're thinking – a puppy at doga? Are you out of your mind? Then I got thinking about other dogs that I assumed may be excluded from the practice of doga including senior dogs, disabled dogs and dogs that are overweight. Why would I want to participate in an exercise program that would only benefit middle age dogs who are already in shape?
Boy, was I wrong! After reading this blog post by Susan Hoffman on exceptionalcanine.com, I learned that doga can be modified to meet the needs of any dog, or any owner for that matter. Doga is a great way to exercise with your pet no matter what your ability level or your dog's ability level.
- Doga is a new way to partner with your pet to experience the physical (and humans say spiritual too) benefits of yoga. All people and dogs can practice doga — fit or fat, large or small, young or old. Poses can be modified for all sizes, shapes and abilities, just like in regular yoga classes.
Size can be a factor in the exercises that you do with your pet. As Melissa Smith mentions in her blog for petful:
- Smaller dogs may have an easier time resting on your lap and on your back. Larger dogs have the option of not only being close to you while you perform your poses, but they can also be a support for you when you’re starting to tip over. (I have; it’s completely undignified.)
The benefits of doga are numerous for you and your pet. Much like walking or biking, you and your dog will both benefit from doga exercises. First and foremost, it's a bonding experience for your pet. It will foster the trust and love that the two of you have for each other, and it's also a great way to socialize your dog.
As Fido is mingling with other dogs, you may make some new friends too – and that's only the beginning. The health benefits for both of you will be extensive. According to Terry Kaye of Pet360:
- According to the Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of Yoga include stress reduction, weight loss, and improved all-around fitness. It can also help manage chronic health conditions and reduce heart rate and blood pressure.San Francisco-based Doga instructor Anne Appleby notes that Doga can help calm down young, anxious dogs, and help with hip problems in older dogs. Her own 10-pound dog, Madison, “gets a message and calms down. It also helps to open her lungs.”Doga stretches can help increase mobility and decrease stiffness in dogs with joint problems. A Doga class can provide great socialization for dogs, too, helping some of the shy ones to come out of their shell.
Yoga Digest also offers a great article that lists many more benefits of doga. I like that this article focuses more on the meditation side of doga and emphasizes the benefits for the mind and spirit. Yoga is known for its relaxing qualities and mental benefits as well as physical benefits, and apparently doga includes those same concepts. Some of the benefits listed in this article include:
- Taking care of our dogs/pets equals taking care of ourselves.
- Relaxation and stress relief as well as stretching and flexibility are great benefits.
- Taking time to slow down can help with many health issues.
- Focusing on massage and stretching improves heart and digestion functions.
- Meditation and breathing techniques for deep relaxation and deep connection.
You don't have to go to a class if you're not comfortable with it or if your dog cannot handle being around other dogs. Many pet owners do doga in the privacy of their own home. There are a lot of websites that offer information on different poses and you can find tons of demonstration videos on sites like YouTube.
FIX offers a great visual aid on their site that offers some great information about what doga is, the different types of classes that you can find and different poses that you can do in your home with your canine companion. It's a great resource for anyone that is a visual learner.
- Doga can be practiced at home with your dog, or by attending a class for other dog owners. If you choose to practice the former, there are a variety of positions you can aid your dog in achieving, including wheelbarrow, forward bend, and even chair pose.
Carrie from All Things Dog Blog explains that there are also some precautions that you should take before beginning a doga regiment with your dog:
- If you're new to Doga or Yoga, please be sure to do these three things: (1) Get your doctor's permission to start a yoga workout, (2) Check with your vet to make sure your dog is able to participate in simple Doga exercises safely, and (3) visit our introductory post where I've outlined a few tips that will help your experience go more smoothly and enjoyable.
Doga isn't respected by everyone in the yoga industry though. Some strict yoga followers believe that the practice is a serious one and shouldn't be taken lightly. As Heather Barnett explains on her blog, sheknows, some people thinks that dogs are merely a distraction during a yoga class and pet parents won't be able to take the practice seriously.
- As much fun as doga sounds, could there possibly be a downside? Many yoga devotees thinks so. Some feel it may be a fad that detracts from the beauty of an otherwise serious practice.
I came across another downside in my research as well. Doga instructors are not required to complete any formal training like other professional trainers. Because the practice, like any other form of exercise, can be dangerous if you don't perform the poses correctly, you really need to be sure that the instructor you select knows what they are doing.
Sit in on a few classes before you enroll. You can also ask for references from current and former students. If you sit in on a class or two, speak with the people participating. See how they like it and ask if their dogs enjoy it. Bethany Lyttle wrote an article for the New York Times with some other important tips for pet parents looking to join a yoga class as well.
- Doga instructors are not required to complete certification, though teacher training seminars do exist, like ones taught by Brenda Bryan, 43, a yoga and doga instructor in Seattle who has just written a book on the subject. In general, instructors learn informally by sharing techniques. Guiding these techniques is an agreed-upon, though not officially stated, philosophy: Because dogs are pack animals, they are a natural match for yoga’s emphasis on union and connection with other beings.
Exercising with your pet can be fun for both of you, and trying new things is always exciting. Why not try changing things up for you and your pup by looking for a doga class in your area. They aren't available in all areas just yet, but the practice is growing. Doga will benefit your mind, body and spirit and your dog will get some great benefits too!
If you've tried doga or you practice it regularly, we'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Post pictures of your pet participating in doga on our Facebook or Twitter pages, and let us know how you feel about exercising with your Fido.