Have You Heard of Doga? Everything You Need to Know About Practicing Yoga With Your Dog
Yoga has been helping people get stronger, stay calmer, and remain flexible for thousands of years. It seems only natural then that Man’s Best Friend is now welcomed alongside their humans on the yoga mat, too. Advanced yogis and newcomers alike are jumping on the trend of practicing yoga with their dog, known as “doga.” And considering the shared benefits of canine companionship and the mind-body connection of yoga, it might just be a match made in wellness heaven worth trying with your pup.
What Is Doga?
There are two types of dog yoga—also known as doga. The first is simply a yoga class with your dog by your side. Your pooch is not required to practice any particular moves or synchronize her downward dog pose with yours (ha). Instead, she has a chance to socialize with other dogs and people in the class, and soak up the calming yoga atmosphere.
The second style of doga is much more hands-on. In this version, you’ll gently guide your dog through various stretches, like chair pose (where you gently raise your dog’s front legs up in the air while she sits on her back legs) and wheelbarrow (lifting your pup’s back legs up in the air).
What Are the Benefits of Dog Yoga?
The traditional (i.e. dog-free) yoga practice is a popular wellness activity that offers many benefits to practitioners, including better sleep, less chronic pain, and lower blood pressure. The series of gentle, deliberate movements require strength and flexibility to perform, and are designed to connect the body with breathing techniques. There’s a spiritual side of yoga too, with its roots in ancient civilizations dating back several thousand years ago.
So why would pet parents want to bring their dog to a yoga class? For dog lovers who are looking to connect with like-minded people, it can be a great way to socialize—both for the people and for their pets.
Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, veterinarian and senior manager of Global Scientific Advocacy at Mars Petcare, says that participating in doga is a social opportunity. “Having your dog with you acts as an icebreaker. It immediately gives you something in common with your classmates and it’s easier to start a conversation about your pets.”
Another great way to connect with fellow pet parents while still practicing social distancing is to try out dog yoga in a virtual class. Not only can you both get accustomed to the mat and the moves without the distractions of other pups in the same room as you, but you’ll still have the opportunity to socialize with other like-minded people from a safe distance.
Aside from being a social opportunity for humans, doga can also be a good way to help your dog acclimate to other people, stimuli, places, and pets. Adequate socialization for dogs—especially during the puppy stage—can help them grow into healthy, well-adjusted, confident hounds who will have positive associations with new people and situations.
In addition to the socialization and stretching, doga may also help your dog become more tolerant of being handled—something which can help them feel more comfortable during grooming and veterinary visits. Plus, your pooch gets lots of extra attention from classmates and the opportunity to sniff and play with other dogs.
But are there any physical benefits of bringing your dog to yoga? The payoffs for dogs aren’t as clear cut as one would hope. There simply hasn’t been enough research on the topic yet. But it’s possible that doga stretches may improve the posing pups’ circulation and help increase their range of motion. And since some yoga poses themselves are inspired by our canine companions’ movements (we’re looking at you, puppy pose and downward dog!), it’s possible that canines might already be benefitting from some form of dog yoga during their usual movements.
If the physical benefits of rolling out your mat for some measured breathing and strength-building poses aren’t enough to convince you to try doga, just think of it as another way to bond with your buddy.
“Doing activities together is a fun way to spend time with your dog,” Jessa Paschke, pet behavior and training specialist with Mars Petcare, says. “They get to experience more of the world and it’s a great way to bond.”
How to Safely Try Doga
Ready to give doga a try? Check with your local yoga studios to see if they offer doggie-and-me classes (some may even have virtual options to limit the number of people and dogs in the room together at one time). Before you show up, be sure to find out if they have limits on dog size and any rules about dog behavior. If the class is in-person, let your dog sniff the room and get comfortable with the space and other people and pets, and bring treats if you think they’ll help her acclimate to the environment.
Once the class has begun, it’s essential to pay attention to signs your dog isn’t comfortable. Be careful when moving her into positions to avoid injury. While dogs might be the natural champs at the downward dog position, many yoga moves just aren’t possible for our four-legged friends. Be sure to only attempt positions that have been adapted to a dog’s body.
As with any new situation, use your best judgement before bringing your dog to class. If your dog doesn’t do well in situations around other pups or people, it might not be a great idea to have her tag along to the class.
But that doesn’t mean you need to completely count out a yoga session with your furry BFF. Even if the two of you can't make an in-person or live virtual session work for your needs, try searching YouTube for videos of dog yoga poses to try at home. You and your pup can practice in the comfort of your living room or backyard, where you’ll both be able to get used to the moves and the mat at your own pace. This can also be a great way to give the moves a try if your local yoga studio doesn’t offer doga classes.
Just remember, your pup may need a few treats and some gentle coaxing before she masters those new moves. But don’t be surprised if it’s not a gold medal performance on your first few tries. Even if the two of you end up in a cuddle puddle on the floor, it’s still time well-spent together. And with a little practice, it might just become a brand new way to bond while building muscle!