Business of FitnessCertified Personal Trainer

Gym Dogs: Walk or Stay?

Bringing your pet dog to work, or anywhere for that matter, seems to have become the norm. But what about the fitness realm? Have you thought about bringing your dog to the gym or to a workout with you? Some locals have their own four-legged (or three-legged!) gym mascot that greets the clients, or clients themselves might bring their own leashed exercise partner to a session. Below we’ll take a surface look at the benefits and a few precautions of adding a dog to the exercise equation. Please note that this is looking at “pets” versus the unique aspects of service and therapy dogs.

I’m sure many of you have seen social posts of local studios with their dogs or even programs, such as K9 Fit Club, that focus on working out with your dog. Two of the four fitness businesses I go to frequently have dogs on site. Some research highlights that dogs can help bring a sense of well-being and other potential health benefits, including: 1,2,3

  • Increased physical activity (e.g., more walking)
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Lowers stress (e.g., anxiety, blood pressure, relaxation)
  • Social support
  • Companionship
  • Improved performance on various tasks

*Note: There have been challenges with study replication and also some studies indicating no differences or conflicting results between pet and non-pet owners.3

Dogs can also be helpful in improving the social interactions within the community that studios and personal trainers aim to foster among members.2

A tail-wagging greeting, a friendly non-judging nuzzle, a playful nudge during a warmup can all put a smile on a client’s face and help to dissolve the tension of the day. But this may not be the case for all clients, or even members of your training team. Some may have allergies, fears or phobias of dogs. They may not want to workout with a dog on site or have a less than positive response to dog hair and dander (which just seems to magnetically attach to athletic apparel).

Here’s some small bites (pun intended) to consider for canine gym participation.

Do you have a dog policy in place? We’re not offering legal advice, but formalizing your dog policy – and having it reviewed by a qualified person (insurance, legal or other) – makes good business sense. This policy applies to your team staff and the clients who might bring a dog to the site.

What does your liability insurance policy cover in regards to animals on site? Some potential incidents to consider would include trip and fall situations, property damage or even bites. After speaking with a fitness industry liability insurance provider, we discovered that their general liability policies do not cover animal-related incidents. Exploring other posted information sources on the topic, responsibility for an incident typically resides with the dog’s owner (and their homeowner’s insurance policy) but each state, and situation, can have different laws and considerations.2

Is the dog well mannered? There are various tests to make sure your dog, or a client’s dog, are well mannered and are candidates for participation. Ask your veterinarian or insurance provider for their recommendations or who they accept. One source is the American Kennel Club (AKC) and their Canine Good Citizen test. It includes these 10 key items that are scored by an AKC CGC® Approved Evaluator:

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger
  2. Sitting politely for petting
  3. Appearance and grooming
  4. Out for a walk
  5. Walking through a crowd
  6. Sit and down on command, and staying in place
  7. Coming when called
  8. Reaction to another dog
  9. Reaction to distraction
  10. Supervised separation

Will the dog’s owner/client need to sign a release to participate? Will they need to show proof of insurance and that they are well mannered?

Is there a limit as to how many dogs are allowed on site at once? Is there a safe place for dogs to wait while their owner’s workout? Dog owner responsibilities-yes, the clean up after your dog mantra- but also a designation for where to dispose of the present so it doesn’t linger in the gym air and things stay clean.

What will you do if a client complains about a dog (any dog) or not wanting to workout with a dog on site?

So where do you stand, or sit, on the topic of dogs at the gym? What insightful exercise experiences have you had with canine partners that might help others decide?



  1. Mubanga M., Byberg L., Nowak C., Egenvall A., Magnuson P., Ingelsson E. & Fall T.(2017). Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study. Scientific Reports 7(15821).
  2. Foreman A., Glenn M., Meade B., Wirth O. (2017). Dogs in the Workplace: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Challenges. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14(5):498  doi: 10.3390/ijerph14050498
  3. Herzog H. (2011). The Impact of Pets on Human Health and Psychological Well-Being: Fact, Fiction, or Hypothesis? Current Directions in Psychological Science. 20(4):236-239  doi: 10.1177/0963721411415220


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The Author

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FNS

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FNS

Stacey Penney is the Content Strategist with NASM and AFAA. A 20+ year veteran of the fitness industry, she's worked with the top certification and continuing education groups. At NASM and AFAA she drives the content for American Fitness Magazine, blog and the social media platforms. Stacey received her degree in Athletic Training/PE from San Diego State University and an MS in Exercise Science from CalU, plus credentials in Health Promotion Management & Consulting (UCSD), Instructional Technology (SDSU), group fitness and yoga. Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she’s developed continuing education curriculum for fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, and co-coaching youth rec soccer.


  1. November 10, 2018 at 12:41 am — Reply

    Great article! We have a resident pup at our facility in St. Louis, MO Achieve Wellness. She is a small West Highland White Terrier named Mini.

    She welcomes all who come through the door, she is pretty amazing actually as she knows exactly who is in our facility and makes sure each and every person is greeted.

    Beyond the warm welcome, she provides a valuable service as comforter. It is very common to see people on the floor doing their stretches or foam rolling while petting or holding her.

    I would personally recommend considering having a dog at your facility but there are certainly major considerations. Our terrier fits well due to her small size, non-shedding coat, her loving nature and excellent behavior. Cheers!

  2. Jeanne
    November 18, 2018 at 9:11 pm — Reply

    Dogs are not everyone’s idea of an appropriate exercise buddy. Personally, I am highly allergic, and would be miserable in any facility that allows dogs. Some of my clients are allergic, afraid of dogs, or simply do not care for them. Many municipalities in the US have strict animal control laws prohibiting, among other policies, unwanted contact (a hefty $500 fine is charged in the county in which my clients live!).

    Facility owners would need to review local laws, conduct proper research, poll their clients, and do a thorough vetting of appropriate fitness-friendly dogs.

    My guess is that a facility would have to market itself exclusively as dog-friendly to appeal to a demographic that would be amenable to their presence.

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