Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Beat The Winter Blahs With Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!

by Susan E. Davis, PT 

It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your pet avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   

With the holidays finally over, decorations stowed, New Year’s Resolutions made, life’s tempo changes and slows. February comes and “it” hits you square in the face: the blahs of winter. Weeks and weeks of winter lie ahead with no end in sight. Slippery walkways and dangerous temperatures force you and your dog indoors, for more hours than you both prefer.

The solution is simple: break the cycle with healthy activity in the form of floor exercises with your dog.  

Together, you make a productive and dynamic duo!

1. Safety first

Start with a padded, non-skid surface such as a foam yoga mat, or carpet runner. Never exercise on a wood or tile floor. Make sure your dog’s nails are trimmed and long hairs between the paw digits clipped. Don your yoga or sweat pants so you are comfortable and can move freely. Start all movements slow and work up to a comfortable level of activity for 5 to 10 minutes initially.  An average “duo” exercise session is about 15 minutes.

2. Use Sensory Enhancement 

Music, small bite healthy pet treats and dog toys to facilitate movement and enjoyment of the exercise experience. Clap, sing and converse with your dog during the activity.  Dogs love to hear your excited, happy voice!

3. Combine stretches, balance and core strengthening for efficiency of time and maximum functional outcomes. 

Start with exercises you are familiar with and find ways to have your dog join in.

4. Learn a new trick or 2! 

Use your imagination and try some new movements or modifications to your usual routine. Observe your dog participating in the activity and don’t be surprised if it teaches you some new moves!

Let’s get started

1) My “tweenie” Dachshund Penelope and I are in our basement on a red foam exercise mat. I am holding a favorite toy overhead, while she looks up and extends her neck and spine, with a slight turn to the right. This helps strengthen her spinal muscles, while I use my shoulder deltoid muscles and stretch my hips. We stay in this position for 1-2 seconds, and repeat it several times. I switch to using my right arm and Penny moves to the other side, using the left spinal muscles.

2)  Here is a combination of human core stabilization with canine hip and stifle muscle strengthening.  While I perform a partial abdominal curl and double leg lift, Penny walks under my raised limbs, forcing her to bend her hips and knees to a degree greater than with normal locomotion (even for a Doxie!).  With every repetition I lower my legs further, challenging both of us. I use a small treat for Penny to follow. While I tone my abs, Penny strengthens her quadriceps and gluts.

3) Combine leg stretching (me), with dog coordination, having Penny make a series of circles and loops under, over and around my knee (following a toy or treat), while I hold a sustained hamstring and thigh adductor stretch.   Do this several times in a row, and then switch sides.

4) Okay, I admit that this one is more challenging for the dog than me!  With a larger canine breed, the human will stand and achieve nice exercise for their hips and thighs, but with a small dog there is only some upper spine involvement.  Dancing is a good exercise for many dogs and can start with a “static” held position for a few seconds at a time, then add shifting from side to side and forward to back, with the dog’s paws making constant contact with the mat. . Further progress by “dynamic” dancing, guiding the dog forward, backward and sideways as they take small steps with their paws. Always hold the dog by their upper arm, instead of the paw.

5) Balance: Use a visual aide to get your dog’s attention, while you passively and gently lift one limb up, forcing the dog to balance on three limbs.  Hold each paw up for 3-5 seconds. Work around the dog’s body to lift each paw.  You can position yourself in a double kneel or a half-kneel with one knee up and one down, to challenge your core and equilibrium.

6)  Throw in some love and affection at the end!  As I do my double leg lowering with core stabilization, Penny performs dynamic core work while balancing on my torso.  I provide some light manual contact with my hands near her hips to “check” her against falling. The nose rubs and kisses are the reward for the workout!

Suggestions for exercise with larger breeds

Modify exercises so that you are in a standing position, with your feet placed widely apart either side by side or front to back. Contract your core and pelvic floor muscles and bend your knees slightly. This will allow you to exercise your body while you move with your dog.

Use chairs placed a few feet apart for the dog to circle around while following a treat or visual cue, and then reverse the direction.

Raise one of your legs up or out, for the dog to walk “under”, thereby strengthening its thigh and hip muscles, while you maintain your balance!

Kneel on the mat or carpet with one of your knees up and the other down, having the dog circle around you and even climb over your “raised up” knee.

Endless possibilities exist for exercising with your dog indoors!  

I hope these examples give you inspiration for creating a fun routine with your dog this winter!  Please feel free to comment and let me know what your favorites are!


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery