How to Exercise Your Dog When You Feel Like S**t

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Being sick sucks – but how do you exercise your dog when you’re sick? Owning a high energy and smart dog usually makes me feel great. But Barley’s boundless energy and intelligence is a drag when I’m sick.

I came down with a nasty but mundane head cold this week. For the first time in months, I slept in until 11 am. My lips bled from breathing through my mouth. You know the deal. As I realized how sick I was, I also realized that I didn’t know how to exercise your dog when you’re sick. Luckily, dog exercise is a passion of mine, so I figured out a plan.

Barley felt just fine and still needed some exercise. So we compromised with:

  1. Puzzle toys. I can always pour Barley’s kibble into a toy as a way to give him some mental exercise.
  2. Scent and Searching Games. Even when I’m pretty sick, I can hide some treats around for Barley to find. This is one of his favorite games and doesn’t need the muscles of tug or the walk to the park for fetch.
  3. Getting help. This was one of those days where the new rash of dog walking apps and on-demand walkers was a Godsend. It’s ok to admit that you need help exercising your dog. I use Wag.

Our Day Wasn’t Very Exciting

As I hauled myself out of bed, Barley’s tail thumped. He looked up at me expectantly. It was the weekend. What was our adventure for today? Maybe a hike? Or a run? If not that, at least we’d go for a long walk to a swimming area, right? Right?

I groaned and stuffed my feet into shoes. I took Barley for a 30-second walk, just long enough for poop and pee. Then I climbed back into bed, feeling like absolute junk. Barley good-naturedly flopped back down, but I knew this wasn’t going to be good. I adopted Barley in March and haven’t been sick since owning him.

I didn’t even have the energy to do some training or shaping games, one of our go-tos when I’m really sore. My head was too foggy and my eyes too heavy to deal with a clicker and treats.

After a nap (yes, after being awake for just a few minutes), I got back up and stuffed Barley’s food into his toughest puzzle toys. Oops – breakfast at noon. This would keep him busy for a while. As an added challenge, I hid his puzzle toys under other toys, making him search for them. Then I rested again.

A few days later, Barley and I are out and about again! Hopefully, I’ll have the energy for a short run today.

A few hours later, I got the energy to venture out again. I had in my pocket a piece of string cheese. Barley waited in a down-stay while I hid the string cheese around our apartment’s big courtyard. He spent 10 minutes running around, tail waving like a flag, as he searched it all out. We did this twice more. This was an activity I could muster – wandering around after him with a snot rag in hand, making sure he found all of his goodies. It wasn’t a run, hike, or even walk. But I could do it.

As I sat in bed contemplating how guilty I felt about Barley’s lack of exercise, I got a text from Wag. They offered 30% off a walk today at 4 pm since a neighbor booked a walk as well. Normally, I ignore these promotional texts. But today it was exactly what I needed. I booked it, and Barley got out for a proper walk.

By evening, I had enough energy to take Barley for a 10-minute walk – still shorter than our usual 30-40 minutes. He went to bed with energy to spare, but at least I hadn’t made myself sicker by exercising him. I also can be creative and get some of his needs met even though I felt terrible.

Being sick is rough enough. Don’t make yourself sicker by trying to exercise your dog. Just get creative and do what you can. Most dogs will survive a day or week of lower activity to let you bounce back from your sickness. Stick to low-level activities if you exercise your dog when you’re sick. Don’t be shy about getting help if you’re really ill!

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