Tips for Tackling Downward Dog With Your Dog
People tend to either love or abhor yoga derivatives. The private, spiritual practice has evolved into an activity we pair with beer, hip-hop music and, yes, even animals.
When I first heard of “doga” I had to Google it, and before I knew it, I’d spent 10 minutes laughing at Photoshopped images of dogs in tree pose and watching videos of modern-day Lassies conquer yoga with their proud owners. As a certified yoga teacher and practitioner, I wasn’t sure what to think. Is doga a great way to bond with your dog, or is this taking novelty yoga too far?
My conclusion? It’s awesome. I’m all for anything that introduces people to yoga and improves quality of life. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything involving cute animals.
So, have you ever dreamed of doing downward dog and other yoga poses alongside your dog? From your friendly yoga teacher and fellow dog lover, here are some tips to get you started.
Keep Your Dog’s Personality in Mind
Doga will be different for everyone, simply because no two dogs (or people) are the same. Take the time to consider your pup: Are they high-energy? Easily distracted? Some dogs will have better focus after they burn off some energy with a walk or run.
At the end of the day, no one knows your dog better than you. Think back to when you trained your dog to sit or lay down — what training style did they respond to? You can use the same methods in training your dog to participate happily in doga.
Set Aside Plenty of Time
The last thing you want is to feel rushed, as that would defeat the purpose of doing doga in the first place. If you love doing yoga in the morning, but only have a short window of time, consider waking up earlier than normal or set aside a chunk of time in the evening instead.
The first few attempts will likely involve more laughing and snuggling than yoga, so factor in time for both of you to adjust.
Create a Comfortable Environment
Establishing the right environment can make or break a doga attempt. You don’t want your tennis ball–obsessed dog gnawing on a ball the entire time. Start by putting any distracting toys away, and create a space where you can both stretch out comfortably on the floor.
In a yoga studio, the teacher sets the mood with light music and, if you’re lucky, incorporates some essential oils. Put the same amount of effort into your at-home doga practice. And don’t forget to close off the room so your dog doesn’t go wandering off mid-practice.
We all want to be YouTube stars, but you have to start small. If you’ve never practiced yoga with your dog in the room, start by letting your dog wander around the room while you do your own practice. Once your pup feels comfortable with you moving in unusual ways, you can start to include them in the movements.
A good way to start is by calling your dog over when you’re in seated postures or Savasana and directing them to lay down next to you. Rest your hand on their side or chest to include them in your movement. Keep a close eye on your dog’s body language. If they try to pull away, listen to their cue and try doga another day.
Consider Your Dog’s Size
Once your dog is comfortable with yoga, you can try to start incorporating them into your practice. If your dog is small, you can pick them up to include them in the pose. This method is great for Warrior I, Tree pose and Bridge pose (where you put your pup on your hips, ask them to sit and stay, then slowly lift them off the ground).
If you have a dog you’re not able to pick up, focus on the seated poses so you can stretch alongside your pup. Marichiasana, Seated Forward Bend and Head-to-Knee Forward Fold are all good poses to get things started.
Doga is all about increasing the human-dog connection. At first, your dog may be distracted or uninterested, so you may want to play with using rewards to keep them focused.
If your pup does a particularly great job remaining mellow during a stretch or keeps calm as you lift them off the ground, you may want to take a treat break. Similar to any form of training, the element of reward is key.
Give Downward Dog a Shot
According to Wide Open Pets, a dog’s bow is an invitation to play, so you may want to try enticing some play on the floor to get them in the pose, ask them to stay and then move into Downward Dog yourself. You can try this a few times, using rewards and your copycat movement to let your dog know what you’re working toward.
If your dog is small, another method is to get in Downward Dog and have a friend lay your dog across your back. Their stomach should be down and paws facing forward, so their body is draped across your lower back and hips. Keep in mind the temperament and size of your dog before attempting this.
Once you’ve got it, make sure to have a camera ready!
Focus on the Successes
Keep your expectations reasonable. Chances are laughter and confused barking will be more prevalent than goosebump-worthy moments. Similar to a traditional yoga practice, the goal is to leave your ego at the door and show up with an open mind.
If you focus on your successes (even if it’s just trying something new together), you’ll be more pleased with the result.
Appreciate How Doga Benefits You
In today’s stressful world, we need all the help we can get. Yoga provides both mental and physical health benefits. At the end of a stressful day or traumatic event, yoga can relax the body, calm the mind and help you sleep deeper. From a physical standpoint, yoga increases flexibility and muscle tone, balances the metabolism and has been said to improve circulatory health and respiration.
Doga has the same health benefits with some significant bonuses. If you’re like most dog owners, your dog is your best friend and probably puts you at ease. When you’re more comfortable, it will be easier to relax and get in touch with your breathing, the central part of a yoga practice.
And How Doga Benefits Your Dog
Your dog will likely be happy just staying by your side, but the benefits are deeper than that. Doing yoga with your dog can build trust in your relationship and help reduce anxiety in high-strung pups. It’s a great method for rescue dogs or pets that just tend to be jumpy and mistrusting. At the end of a doga session, both owner and dog should feel a sense of calm and connection.
Injured or aging dogs can also reap the rewards of doga. The practice can be helpful for dogs with hip problems and can subdue the physical pain that accompanies natural aging. Gentle stretching relieves muscle tension and can help rebuild strength over time.
Encourage Human-Dog Intimacy
If your dog has anxiety or you’ve had a rough day and need some puppy love, there are certain movements that will bring you and your dog together to establish a level of intimacy and comfort.
Sit on the floor and call your dog over. If they’re comfortable being held, you can hug them from behind and maneuver them into a seated spooning position. Then, put your arms around their chest so you can feel their heartbeat. Once you’re in position, try to be calm and focus on breathing together.
If the seated spoon just isn’t going to happen with your dog, you can sit cross-legged on the floor with your dog in front of you. Put one hand on their chest and one hand over your heart for a similar connection.
Use Doga to Check on Your Dog’s Health
Being in close physical contact with your dog in a relaxed environment does more than put you both at ease, it also provides the perfect time to check in on your pup’s physical health. In general, signs of illness may include dry, red or cloudy eyes and new sores and lumps on the body.
When you’re up close and personal with your pup, you’ll also be quick to notice a shift toward bad breath, which may signify that they’re having dental issues.
Try Out a Doga Class
Once you’ve mastered doga at home, it’s time for the next challenge. Check out a doga class nearby for a more social doga experience. Before you go, call the studio to inquire about dog-size limitations and behavioral restrictions. The teacher will be able to give you an idea of what is and isn’t OK, as well as what to expect during your first class.
Once you (and your pup) are feeling ready, pack up your mat and make the trek to your first doga class. As with any class, keep an open mind and don’t take things too seriously. At the very least, you’ll learn new tips to integrate into your home practice and may get the chance to show off some of the poses you practiced at home.
Throw a Doga Party
If there’s no doga class near you — or your pup isn’t comfortable in high-energy, social situations — invite a friend with a dog over for a more relaxed, at-home doga experience.
This is a great way to be social while sharing your newfound doga expertise with friends.
Incorporate Small Doses of Doga Into Your Daily Life
If traditional doga proves to be too much or uninteresting to your dog, there are other, more subdued ways to incorporate the calming practice into your daily life. Turn your morning walk into a walking meditation and practice balancing postures like Tree pose while your dog hunts out new smells.
The purpose of yoga is to be mindful and aware of the present moment, and you can do that any time of the day.