Dog Yoga started in the US over 10 years ago as a way for health-conscious people to combine exercise with pet bonding. Since its inception, Dog Yoga has become popular in the UK, Japan and then landed on Australian shores.
Now Dog Yoga – or Doga – classes are sprouting up around Australia, with the latest one opening in Sydney’s Lavender Bay. Yoga teacher Julie Tsai, who teaches the classes, said that stretching and breathing exercises can benefit both the dogs and their owners.
“Since dog owners transfer positive or negative energy to their dogs via their moods, I wanted to teach owners about sharing positive energies with their dogs — starting from a yoga mat when they are most relaxed,” she said.
Most Doga classes focus on easy yoga poses, stretching, meditation, dog massage and lots of petting.
Benefits for dogs
Many classes focus mainly on the human participants but the dogs are encouraged to join in with the help of some treats. Because of this, Doga allows owners to work on their obedience training and improves the relationship between them and their pet.
Some of the simple animal-focused poses include:
- Chair – Leaning over your dog while they sit, you raise their front paws.
- Inner Dog Mudra – Sitting down at eye level with your dog, rest your foreheads together to connect with them.
- Chaturanga – As your dog lies on their stomach you simply stroke their back.
Dogs seem to enjoy Doga as they receive lots of love and attention by being touched and spoken to. It also appears to relax dogs; so much so that some yoga instructors recommend Doga for stressed out and anxious dogs that may have behavioural problems.
Benefits for owners
One of the first Doga instructors, Florida-based Suzi Teitelman, has been teaching the yoga trend since 2002 and believes firmly in Doga’s benefits for both pets and pet owners. Her classes begin with chanting and then traditional yoga poses like warriors, backbends and triangles – all while holding (usually small) dogs at stomach height, or balancing them on waists or backs. Teitelman believes holding your pet during the moves can deepen the stretch, help balance and strength.
Dog participants need to be socialised in order for them to feel comfortable with other people and dogs around. Barking, fighting or running dogs can pose a safety risk. A spokesperson from the Dogs Trust reminded Doga fans that dogs can’t communicate when they have had enough, so it’s best to participate only under a trained professional who has experience in dealing with both people and dogs in an exercise setting. However, there is no extra certification that yoga instructors require to teach Doga, so classes can vary greatly from just hanging out with your dog to actively using them in poses.
Award-winning animal trainer Bill Berloni from Theatrical Animals thinks Doga may be a bit of a gimmick but as long as it doesn’t stress your pooch out then the quality time you spend with them can only be beneficial. It’s important not to force your dog into any pose or make them feel uncomfortable or scared at any point during the practice. Above all else, the experience of Doga needs to be about building trust and love between you and your pet.
The bottom line
Dr Robin Brennen, a New York vet, was at first sceptical of the trend, but admitted the benefits when she attended a class at a Bideawee animal shelter. She said that although the start of the class was hectic and loud, with up to nine barking dogs in one room, by the end of the class they had all relaxed and many were fast asleep. For Brennen at least, it emphasised the special bond that humans and animals share.
“For me, being in animal rescue, and seeing so many homeless pets, and people who very easily discard animals, I like these activities on the other side of the spectrum,” she said.