What is dog yoga all about?


Dog owners are keen to participate in yoga classes with their four-legged pets. They are convinced that these exercises affect the behaviour of dogs, although there are no studies to prove it.

Christine, from New York, was getting ready to go to yoga class as she does every week. She was impatient because her husband was running late and she had no one to leave their female dog, Diana, with. As it was already very late, she had to take her with her to practice. Diana is a dog with a temper, so she couldn’t last long alone in the changing room. In a way known only to herself, she opened the door, ran into the gymnasium and began to imitate with commitment the position the exercisers had just assumed. By a strange coincidence, it was urdhwa mukha – the pose of a dragging dog with its head raised. Thus Diana gave birth to doga, or yoga for dogs.

It started in Manhattan

The story described happened two years ago in a Manhattan fitness club. A witness to the incident, yoga instructor Suzi Teitelman, was the first in the United States to decide to run special classes for dogs and their owners. She succumbed to pressure from women who wanted their pets to be able to exercise like Diana.

– Before meditating with dogs together, I had to make sure it wouldn’t harm them. I consulted my vet. I started practising at home with my cocker spaniel Coali. The beginning was difficult, but after a few training sessions he got used to it,” says the instructor, who now runs classes in Florida.

Doga quickly attracted media interest. Reporters from not only local but also national newspapers came to Suzi and Coali’s unconventional meditations. Yoga trainers across America began to incorporate doga classes into their programmes. It became popular not only on the east coast of the United States but ut also in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

A dog can handle a cobra

Leta Koontz, a Pittsburgh-based yoga master, also invites dogs to her classes. Once a month, she and her golden retriever Toby, accompanied by several other ladies and their dogs, demonstrate how to practice yoga with a pet. – I found out about doga from the local press. I immediately wanted to try it out with my dog, but initially, I found it difficult to get Toby interested in it. Goldens are quite spirited dogs, so after every position, Toby would get a treat from me,” says Leta.
However, not all four-legged dogs can participate in her classes. – For example, I have to refuse those who bring representatives of breeds deemed to be dangerous. It is difficult to work with them in a group, which does not mean that their owners cannot practice at home,” says the instructor.

Leta warns all exercise participants that the most important thing is not to do anything against their bodies. – And this rule also applies to dogs,” she instructs.

After a short introduction, it’s time for the exercises. First, of course, it is necessary to stretch well. Dog owners do this while helping their pets by holding their paws or supporting their chest. Then comes the time for the correct positions. – Of course, dogs will not do the lotus with us. But already such a lion, cobra or warrior are within the reach of any four-legged dog, assures Leta. – These are natural positions for dogs.

Breathing balance is also very important for exercisers. To catch the rhythm of the dog’s breathing, it is most convenient to simply lie the dog on top of you. After lying together for a while and a series of deep inhalations and exhalations, the breaths synchronise.

The particular positions that the four-legged dogs adopt depend on their size. – We try to choose the exercises so that both dog and master feel comfortable, says Leta. Among the most popular are the crocodile and the dog pose, which is natural for four-legged dogs.

Doga is an interactive exercise, so even when something is too difficult for dogs to do, they can still participate in the class. If someone feels up to it, they can lift their dog on their feet while performing at the right angle while lying down. However, when practising with a Labrador, it is sufficient to have him lying right next to you. – The dog needs to feel that his master is relaxing with him,” emphasises Leta. – Then he hill be relaxed.

Balm for dog anxiety

According to the instructors, doga for dogs is – like yoga for humans – not just a body workout. The other thing is that meditation has not yet been proven to affect a dog’s disposition. No American institution has conducted a study on the subject.

However, those who take their dogs to the doga calculate the positive effects of meditation. – 'After a few months, my dog started to sleep soundly through the night, which he rarely did before,’ says Gina, who has been coming with her four-year-old labrador Fido to a yoga school in Pittsburgh for a year. – I’m sure that the problem of insomnia has helped him to overcome the dog,” she says. In turn, Devi, who practices yoga with her mutt Chai, has noticed that he is more relaxed and friendlier to other dogs. – Chai has had some tough experiences. He was abused by his previous owners. Before he came to me, he had been in a shelter. He was very distrustful. Now he is a completely different dog,” says Devi.

Bruce Van Horn, a yoga instructor from New Jersey, was also convinced of the dog’s soothing effect on dogs. For many years, he worked at a shelter and helped abandoned animals recover mentally. He described his experiences in his book 'Yoga for Pets and the People who Love Them’. „Regular breathing exercises and the use of certain yoga postures help to reduce stress levels in animals”. – Bruce asserts in the book.

The lack of scientific evidence on the effects of yoga on dogs does not discourage four-legged owners. They continue to flock to yoga centres and practice together with their pets. – The most important thing is to derive mutual benefit from the training, believes Leta. – This is undoubtedly the case, judging by the smiles on my clients’ faces and the way their dogs wag their tails.

Doga – fad or helpful exercise?

Ilona Kondrat (owner and lecturer of Yoga Club in Warsaw)
The origins of the ddogmalie in American culture. What we have here is the humanisation of dog behaviour and needs, which is not dangerous for animals until someone tries to teach a dog to stand on its head or other useful asanas (hatha-yoga exercises) for humans. Unfortunately, the path from dog yoga to dog circus seems worryingly short. With my eyes, I can already see yogis competing to see whose female dog performs the cobra or crocodile pose best.

Doing yoga when a dog is around is nice and useful for both the human and the animal. This is because a lot of good energy is generated and calmness appears in the behaviour of the master, which animals probably like best. They then lie staring at their owner, sometimes stretching („dog with head down” or „dog with head up” asana) or stretching to their full length („crocodile” asana). All pleasure when they do it of their own accord and need. The notion that they are then practising yoga is an obvious over-interpretation.

Animals just are like that – it is from observing their behaviour that hatha-yoga benefits. The prototypes of most asanas are poses assumed by animals (’raven’, 'cobra’, 'cat’, 'rabbit’, 'hare’, etc.). So it is not us to them, but them to us that give us this wisdom: how to rest, how to recuperate or quiet the senses in a short time.
A man should take care of his mental and physical condition and the dogs will be fine.


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