Benefits of Strength Training Your Dog
A few weeks ago we described what we consider to be a well rounded fitness protocol for dogs (and humans). This approach is based off of 30 + years of working, learning and a lot of trial and error with our own body, as well as our work with our dogs. To recap, we believe that your dog’s fitness routine should include 5 main components:
- Strength: developing strength and muscle mass can protect the joints from injury and keep your dog energetic for its entire life.
- Cardio: we need a strong heart to live a strong life. Intense cardio can burn a lot of calories to help keep our dogs fit and lean.
- Core: the core is the key to our alignment and power. Having a strong core and knowing how to engage it during activity increases performance and lowers injury risk.
- Unilateral and Balance: training unilaterally to make sure that the muscles are equally strong on each side and direction reduces injury risk. Balance drills help hone and maintain proprioception.
- Prehab/Range of Motion (ROM): ‘prehab’ moves can help the dog warm up and increase mobility, both of which can reduce injury risk.
This week we will focus on the benefits of strength training your dog.
Strength Training for Dogs
There are many reasons to incorporate strength training in your dog’s fitness routine. According to James L. “Jimi” Cook, the director of the Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Columbia, proper weight management and strength training can really help with a dog’s overall health and quality of life. “First and foremost, and the one that has the most effect on the non-surgical side, is weight management and body condition. We’re trying to get the dogs to an ideal weight so we decrease the stresses on the joints. We also actually decrease the inflammation because fat is a source of inflammation in the joints. With body condition, we’re trying to get the dogs’ strength built up. That’s because the muscle mass and muscle function will help protect the joints and help the overall function as well”.
Key benefits of strength training your dog:
- Helps reduce occurrences of health ailments including arthritis, and joint pain.
- Strengthens the muscular and skeletal systems as well as connective tissues (tendons) which can help prevent injury.
- Helps burn calories and increases overall metabolic rate.
- Increases performance in sporting and working tasks.
What is Strength Training For Dogs?
According to Wikipedia, strength training is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction which builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles. Most of us understand this definition and can relate to it with our personal experiences of ‘going to the gym’ or ‘lifting weights’. But what does it mean for our canine companions?
Well, except for some of the equipment (e.g. machines and barbells) and the mirrors and flexing, strength training for dogs is very similar to that with humans. The underlying concept is to provide progressive resistance to the dog’s movement in order to stimulate muscle growth and strength. I often describe canine strength training as being very similar to a human body weight training program whereby most movements are done using the exerciser’s body weight only. I do not classify unloaded walking and running as strength exercises, even though they are body weight exercise and do build some muscle strength. These fall under the cardio category.
We could probably write a book with all of the different types of strength exercises available for your dog. For now, we will list a few easy options to get you started. As always, make sure to check with your vet first if you plan on modifying your dog’s exercise regimen.
Hills: using gravity is a great way to add a strength component to your dog’s workout. Walking, jogging, and our favorite, sprinting up hills can build tremendous muscle tone and conditioning. If your dog has any orthopedic issues, we suggest winding your way back down the hill which can ease the load on the joints.
Weighted Vest: to increase the load and make any bodyweight exercise more challenging and burn more calories, consider using a weighted vest like the Canine Fit Vest by Dogtread. The vest can even turn walks into a strength exercise.
Squats: squat movements are great for leg strength. With dogs you don’t even need a squat rack. Use movements like the Labby Limbo or other drills that force your dog to squat down and back up. Just make sure to work both front and hind legs equally.
Water Walks/Runs: moving against water is one of the lowest impact strength moves available, which is why it is a popular rehab technique for dogs and humans alike.
Sprinting: pedal to the metal sprinting, unlike jogging or running, can build incredible strength and muscle tone. Take a look at most human sprinter’s bodies if you want proof. Sprint drills require a well trained dog or, if you are up for joining them, a fast and well conditioned human to lead the way.
Jumping: to work the fast twitch muscle fibers, which are used for speed and power, nothing compares with jumping exercises. You can use target platforms and perform reps (similar to the human ‘box jump’) or just work with your dog in the open field and have them jump to your hand which you can use to vary the height. If jumping is or becomes part of your routine, we strongly recommend a proper warm up before you start in order to prevent soft tissue injuries.
Pulls/tugs: nothing like a game of tug to make you laugh and build your dog’s strength. Moving your hands higher to target more of the rear legs or lower to target the front legs.
What about you and your dog? Anything to add to our list of ideas?
Please enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts Peggy’s Pet Place and To Dog With Love. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!