I first witnessed an arguably ill-conceived doga class in San Diego and dismissed it as something only Californians could dream up. Fast-forward to present day and I believe doga is on the right track to becoming something more dog owners should consider as part of their preventive health routine.
What exactly is doga? In simple terms, it’s a basic yoga routine for humans that incorporates a dog. Not a downward-facing dog, but a real, live canine. The dog lays, is held and stretches out beside the human partner as yoga poses are held. It also involves training, focus and cooperation. There’s a fair bit of massage, rubbing and loving going on. And that’s perhaps the greatest benefit of a doga routine, at least for the dog.
I’m a big fan of daily stretching routines, especially yoga moves. If you’re persistently plagued with back pain, tight hamstrings or lack general flexibility, you really should consider yoga. If each one of us stretched daily, there’d be healthier people walking around saving a lot of money on medical bills. I also think we’d be healthier if everyone had a pet. There are numerous studies demonstrating the positive health benefits of living with pets, so why not spend more quality time with our furry family members? That's where yoga and dogs intersect into doga.
If this sounds good to you, I recommend you begin by enrolling in a traditional yoga class. It’s important you master the movements without the distraction of a dog by your side. In my opinion the real value of doga for humans is it increases your flexibility, strength and coordination while enhancing the bond between you and your dog. My goal is to improve the wellbeing of both ends of the leash.
Once you’re comfortable with the common yoga poses, it’s time to involve your dog. To start, simply ask your dog to lie beside you and pet, rub and praise your pooch as you progress through your routine. Don’t force your dog to participate. It may take weeks before your pup understands that your bodily contortions aren’t a hazard.
Next, incorporate some basic pulls and stretches. I often advise clients to roll their dog over on his back, apply gentle traction or pulling on his front legs to extend them. Pull your hands from his body all the way to his paws. As your pet relaxes, pull his legs up over his head and lightly stretch the spine. It feels really nice. You can stretch the rear legs out in a similar fashion.
Be sure to rub along your dog’s sides and focus on relaxing both yourself and your pup. Respect your dog’s body and feelings; if he isn’t into it, let him go. You can progress to more complex movements over time under the guidance of an instructor or class. One of my dogs took to doga without hesitation while my senior pooch took longer to warm up to the stretching and tugging. Once she realized how good it felt, she’s now my number one partner.
Doga is an excellent example of an innovation that enriches the relationship between dogs and humans while boosting health. I encourage you to consider this unique activity that may prevent injury and strengthen the relationship with your dog. Next up… cat yoga?