An obese pug standing on a trail path with tall grass and trees in the background

5 Gentle Exercises That Are Safe For Obese Dogs

It is no secret that obesity in dogs has become a major problem. According to a report by Burgess Pet Care, over 56% of dogs in the US and 51% of dogs in the UK, are currently classed as obese.

As with humans, obesity in dogs can lead to diabetes, joint problems and other serious health issues that significantly reduce their life expectancy.

In an effort to help dog owners keep their hounds healthy and happy we have summarise 5 gentle exercises for obese dogs as well as introduce them to your dog’s new fitness routine. 

We also cover tips on how to make exercising safe and fun so that your pup will be shedding the pounds happily in no time! 

The overweight dog rating system

Below we’ve mapped out the best and safest exercises for obese dogs and given them a Sporty Dog score between 1 and 5.

Our scoring system is based on how energetic the sport is – the lower the score, the gentler the exercise. So, start at 1 Sporty Dog Logo for extra heavy hounds and work your way up to 5 over time.

Gentle

Out of Breath

Panting In No Time

Rigorous

Super Intense Excercise

!! Caution ! !

Before jumping into any of these new exercises with your dog, you must consider safety. 

Book an appointment with your vet to have your dog checked over and talk through your proposed new exercise plan. They’ll be best placed to determine just how overweight your dog is, plus give you diet tips to compliment your new health regime.

Then you should be good to go!

1. Walking practices for obese dogs

It should come as absolutely no surprise that walking your dog is the best form of gentle exercise. Dogs should be walked every day if they are to remain fit, healthy and content.

If your dog is particularly obese, then walking may be the only exercise option for them to start with. As they increase their mobility you can increase the walking duration as well as increase the Sporty Dog Score by incorporate fun activities during the walk as listed below.

Top tips to make walking fun for your overweight dog

If you have an obese dog, chances are they are not heavily motivated. Try varying the route you walk with your dog as often as possible. We are all guilty of getting stuck in routines, and sometimes that’s a good thing, but when it comes to dog walking, mix it up!

Try taking your dog to the beach one day, the park another, or mix your regular walking path with a walk along the canal or through a wooded area.

Dogs are stimulated by their environments so this change of scene will help boost the excitement level and will also be more engaging for them than their normal walk around the block.

Let them off the lead 

  • Let them loose. Letting your dog walk off leash when it is safe to do so will help them to burn more calories. Dogs seldom walk in a straight line if left to their own devices, so allowing your dog time off the lead will really ramp up the miles they cover and the calories they burn.
  • The same can be said for dogs who play together. If you have a dog park near by then let your dog meet some new canine friends and allow them to exercise and play together. You might even notice that your dog ups it’s energy levels when around other dog’s so this is a great, social way to help them loose some extra pounds.

Walk with a backpack

  • Walking with a dog backpack. This may sound silly but walking while carrying extra weight is a tried and tested exercise for both humans and dogs.
  • As with starting any new exercise, give your dog time to adjust. Try walking with your dog carrying just the empty bag first, then gradually build up to adding in some kibble, a few toys or a water bottle.
  • Just be mindful of getting a backpack suitable for your dog’s size and breed, keep the weight evenly distributed inside the bag and never over fill it as this may cause injury to your dog.

Make the terrain challenging 

  • Hiking. Once your dog has trimmed down, can go longer distances and is much more motivated by exercise, why not plan a hiking trip?
  • Going off-piste with your dog and introducing them to more rugged terrain is a sure-fire way to lift the excitement and energy levels. Just remember to plan your trip around your dogs’ size, age and ability, and always remember safety first.
A chihuahua in a black pullover running on a treadmill

2. Running with your obese dog

Running and jogging inevitably burns more calories than walking, so when you feel your dog is ready, it is time to introduce these exercises into their routine.

Now, you don’t have to be training for a marathon to start running with your dog, and even if you are, this is no place for an obese pup. As with all the exercises mentioned here, the aim is to start slowly and build it up. Here are some gentle ways to introduce running to your chubby canine without them even realising.

Take a ball or toy out with you on your regular walks and use it to play a game of fetch when you reach the park.

This is a simple way to increase the energy your dog expends while out walking and it’s another way to use interaction to excite and bond with your dog.

Use toys or balls during walks

  • Take a ball or toy out with you on your regular walks and use it to play a game of fetch when you reach the park.
  • Forgotten a toy? No problem! You can also teach your dog a game of chase so they pick up the pace and follow you. You may feel a little strange running about the park like a headless chicken, but your dog will thank you for it and will also relate you to something fun that they want to spend time with.

Run through water

  • If you’re lucky enough to have a beach near by then encourage your dog to play in the water. Running against the resistance caused by the water will increase the amount of energy they use up. Playing your game of fetch in the waves is a guaranteed way to burn those calories.

Use a treadmill to walk then run 

  • Treadmill. If you have access to a treadmill, then this is another great way to introduce running into your dog’s routine. It can be especially useful during the winter as an easy at home exercise.
  • Teaching your dog how to walk on a treadmill first is the best way to get them use to how it works then you can slowly increase the speed to a gentle jog. It’s also vital to teach them how to get off safely so that they can decide when they have had enough. Always stay with your dog while they use the treadmill and never tether them too it.
An overweight dog taking part in hydrotherapy with a tennis ball in its mouth

! Caution ! When seeking out a swimming spot for your dog, just be mindful of the potential hazards that blue-green algae can have. Blue-green algae are common in warm, stagnant areas of water. They produce toxins that can be fatal to dogs, so look for clean, cool water where possible.

3. Swimming For Overweight Dogs

Swimming is a great full body workout for any dog, but it can be even more beneficial for obese dogs.

The natural buoyancy that water provides means that dogs can exercise without the added strain of carrying their full body weight. It lessens the pressure on their joints, enables the major muscle groups to get worked and can also help to keep larger dogs cool in the summer months.

Hydrotherapy

  • Hydrotherapy. Basically, any type of swimming or walking in water can be classed as hydrotherapy for your dog. But there are specialist centres that take this type of exercise to the next level.
  • Hydrotherapy centres have heated pools and underwater treadmills that are used as tools to help dogs with arthritis, as physiotherapy sessions after injury or surgery and of course with weight loss.
  • Setting up a session or two with your local hydrotherapy centre is a great idea, especially if you are introducing your dog to water for the first time.

Play games in the pool

  • Swimming Pool. Got a pool at home, then get your bathing suit on! Just like playing games on terra firma with your dog, encouraging them into the water with you may help them feel confident to give it a go themselves. If your dog is nervous around water, then it’s best to take things slow and not push them past their comfort zone.
  • You can also invest in a dog buoyancy aid which may help calm their nerves, ensure their safety and support them if they get tired.
  • Pushed for time to exercise today? No problem! Some experts in dog health state that a 5-minute swim burns the same amount of calories as a 5 mile run!

4. Scent work for obese dogs

Most dogs have a super keen sense of smell which is why many breeds are trained for working purposes. Most obese dog can be very food driven, so putting these two points together carefully can actually have a positive effect when working on weight loss.

Teaching scent work is a great way to engage your dogs’ brain while increasing their activity levels. Here are a few fun scent games to try out with your dog to get them moving.

Play scent games

  • Which Hand? The Which Hand game is a great starting point to scent work. Just as it says in the name, the aim of the game is for your dog to choose which hand you hold a treat in. This introductory game teaches your dog that you are asking them to find a treat and the treat is the reward for when they choose correctly!
  • Cups. Cups is a step up from Which Hand as it introduces more hiding places for the treats. Start with 3 cups and hide a treat under just 1. Once your dog has learned the rules of this game and is finding the treat, it can be made more challenging by adding more and more cups for your dog to search around. 
  • Find the Treat. Think of this like a treasure hunt for your dog. Start in one room hiding treats on, next too or under objects and ask your dog to sniff them out. Again, once your dog has mastered this, you can expand it to incorporate your whole house or garden.

5. Agility for obese dogs

I’m sure you’ve heard about dog agility before, but if you haven’t seen it in action then it can be a fast and exhilarating canine sport. Dog agility is a popular competitive dog sport that teaches skills, commands, speed and well, agility to dogs so that they can complete an obstacle course in a race against time.

However, agility doesn’t always have to be competitive. Having a go with your dog by setting up an obstacle course at home can be just as fun and for obese dogs gives them another way to engage with activity.

Create your own agility course

  • At home agility course. For small dog breeds this can even be done inside, as long as there’s enough room to move and jump about without breaking anything!
  • For larger breeds an outside space is preferred, either in your back yard or at the local park.
  • Get creative and see what every day objects can be turned into obstacles. How about some up-turned buckets and a broom to make a mini jump, or two chairs with a blanket over the top to make a tunnel? Anything that you can safely turn into a little assault course for your dog will do. Plus, you can alter the course easily as your dog learns what to do with each obstacle and as their fitness improves.

Join an agility club 

  • Join a dog agility club. If you haven’t got the space at home for your own set up then why not join your local club? This way you will have access to the proper equipment and the trainer will be on hand to help teach you ways to train and engage your dog.
  • Joining a club you will gain the social aspect of the sport which will help with encouragement, and it may help to keep you and your dog on track with your fitness goals.

Round up

So there you have it, 5 gentle exercises that are safe for obese dogs that can be easily added into their new fitness regime. Just remember to start off slow as dogs should never be forced beyond their means. Take each new exercise easy and let your dog rest if they need to.

Weight loss is a long game, so be prepared to make switches safely and ease your dog into their new routine. It’s definitely a case of “slow and steady wins the race” here, but with a little persistence and lots of praise, your pooch will be fit and healthy in no time.

FAQs

How to make exercising fun for your overweight dog?

Obese dogs are prone to being lethargic, have short energy windows, lack motivation and show low levels of effort when it comes to activity or play.

To fight these negative traits and help to spur your dog on, you will have to work extra hard at making the exercises fun while giving them lots of praise and encouragement.

Tip: When praising an obese dog, stay away from treats!

If you must use food as an incentive, like when teaching scent work, then make sure to only use food out of their daily food allowance.

Verbal praise, petting and using their favourite toy to engage them in play will work just as well as food praise, plus these all come without the calories!