Have you ever seen a dog with its head down, front legs extended and haunches on the air? Well, when yoga instructor Leta Koontz assumes the downward dog position in the presence of her three dogs, she senses they want to be part of the yoga experience.
Dogs are generally eager to please and share a desire to connect with their owners in a way that other pets rarely exhibit.
“Dogs are very tuned in to our emotional state and our energy state,” Koontz says. “We have seen that dogs are so sensitive to what we’re feeling and they really sort of mirror that.”
Koontz leads yoga classes for dogs and their owners at her Pittsburgh studio, Schoolhouse Yoga. The practice is known as “doga.” She hosts the class a couple of times each year and uses it to help raise funds for a local animal shelter.
Koontz sees her practice as another way to connect with her dogs, while also doing something positive for her community.
“Our emphasis is really on the connection you have with your dog, the energy you send your dog, the example you’re setting for your dog, coming together for a good cause,” Koontz says.
In addition to being a fun activity to engage with your dog, Koontz also finds that doga can be therapeutic for owners and their dogs.
“I think doga is for every dog,” Koontz says. “The point of the class is making a connection, so owners should not become agitated by what their dog is doing or not doing. It’s meant to be lighthearted and fun.”
While doga is certainly one way to bond, there are other physical activities that provide more cardiovascular fitness for both owner and pet. A few options include cycling, running, walking or even an active game of fetch. Before engaging in a new physical activity with one’s dog, veterinarian Dr. Kimberly Rushing recommends consulting with a professional.
“See what activities your veterinarian recommends, based on the age and health status of the pet,” Rushing says.
Some communities offer dog-friendly boot camps and dog-friendly charity runs. Some dogs may even enjoy romping around on the soccer field or paddling the waters on stand-up paddleboards.
Happy and healthy
No matter what physical activity humans choose to do with their dogs, it is important to understand the physical limits of the pet. Just like humans, dogs must build up endurance over time before taking on too much physical activity.
“You must work to build up the pet’s stamina, no matter what their age or health status,” Rushing says. “You don’t want to press them to the point of ‘too much’ because you could cause an injury.”
Based on her own experience with two boxers as well as her professional assessment, Rushing is a strong advocate of leading an active lifestyle with your dog.
“Your dog loves you unconditionally,” Rushing says. “Anything he gets to do with you will make him happy. So, why not do something together that will keep you both healthy? Healthy, happy pets and healthy, happy people go hand in hand.”