Benefits of Strength Training Your Dog

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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:


  1. Strength: developing strength and muscle mass can protect the joints from injury and keep your dog energetic for its entire life.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


jack_vestsprintExamples of Dog Strength Training Exercises

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?


fitDogFriday_avatarPlease 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!

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  1. Water runs, sprints, and tug of wars are our favourite strength training exercises. If you work your dog enough you also get to reap the benefits. Happy FitDog Friday…..
    Paws and Pedals (Kate & Scooter) recently posted…Are Dog Toys for Suckers?My Profile

    • Yes, imagine that. Work out your dog by doing some hills, sprints, tugs, etc., and next thing you know, you will look and feel better also!
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  2. Great advice! We all do some hills, I do some sprinting with Mom and Katie is the in house tug a war specialist. We also do some stair climbing, whether that is good or not I don’t know but we do it.
    emma recently posted…A New Adventure Walk | GBGV | FitDog FridayMy Profile

    • Stairs are a great way to use gravity and will build strength. However, you must be careful on the way down– unlike hills, which you can zig zag down, stairs can be hard on the front limb joints on the descent.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  3. Hi Y’all!

    I get lots of hills when we are up in the mountains and at the shore it is the water resistance. Didn’t realize that my Humans were giving me strength training. I thought I was exercising them!

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Friday Follow Up Fun!My Profile

  4. The most common form of strength training for dogs is resistance training and as you reference when properly performed strength training can provide great benefits to overall health. More dogs would benefit from doing it! I have seen huge leaps with my dogs by incorporating simple strength exercises everyday!
    Krista Wickens recently posted…Dog Exercise Log: Weekly ProgramMy Profile

    • Same as with humans, for sure. Both dogs and people can get so much benefit by adding a strength aspect to their fitness routines.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  5. Informative post. I guess we do some strength training while hunt test training. Hills and water especially. Jumping—Storm loves to do that. It has been hard convincing her not to jump while her incision heals. 🙂
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Follow-up Friday 8-30-13My Profile

  6. So many dogs get some cardio and maybe some strength in regular play time, but I think the rest is often missed. Great information, and while we’re helping our dogs, we can benefit too!
    Peggy Frezon recently posted…Keeping Up with K9 Kamp- Walk this WayMy Profile

    • Yup, even active dogs are often very one-dimensional with their exercise routines. There are a lot of benefits to mixing it up and creating a more comprehensive and rounded program.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  7. I’ve been trying out your widget and comparing it to the approximate calories I feed my dogs (they each get roughly 1 pound of raw meat per day). It is surprisingly accurate, I am very impressed.

    Also, in the summer, one of my favorite games to play with the dogs is to run through knee deep (to me) water and have them chase me or run with me. It makes for great photos with the GoPro camera, and it hilariously fun. I might need to look into a weighted vest for running during the winter, since water in the river will plain be too cold to play in. But I think our weight pull and spring pole work is also considered strength training.
    Crystal recently posted…Cape MearesMy Profile

    • Thanks Crystal. Glad to hear that you like the widget. Remember that you can grab the code and put it on your site if you want to share it with your readers.

      The vest is a great option for you in the winter as well, good thinking. Give it a try.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  8. Great post. Rita does water walking when we go to the bay, and also sprints! She enjoys a good game of tug as well. Used to let our 3-legged dog dig like crazy at the beach, since it was a great core workout!
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted…Keeping Up With K9 Kamp: A New, Old HikeMy Profile

  9. A lot of great exercises. Jack you are so handsome with the weight.
    joann stancer recently posted…Follow-up FridayMy Profile

    • Jack is pretty handsome. He has come a long way from 105 lbs on Prozac, hasn’t he? THAT is what proper exercise and feeding will do for a dog.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  10. I think those are some good, easy ideas. I have a friend who competes in weight pulling with her dogs. Those dogs are ripped. I have seen a toy poodle pull a 1,200 lb cart. The way they practice though is to get a pulling harness (similar to that of sled dogs) and hook up a weight to the back of the dog. Then you call your dog to you and they have to pull the weight. You would have to start small, and it would involve training, but the premise would be to get your dog used to pulling a weight around.
    Jessica recently posted…August Keeping Up With K9 Kamp Wrap-up: We’re OverachieversMy Profile

    • Yes, pulling is a great strength workout. It is also a very advanced one that requires proper equipment and fitting and loading knowledge. That is why we omitted it from the list this week.

      I would love to see a photo of your 2 weiners pulling a sled/cart. That would be priceless.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  11. I know…I didn’t claim it was an “easy” exercise 🙂 It’s too advanced and time consuming even for us. I like that the activities you listed are a good place to start and obtainable for a lot of people and dogs.
    Jessica recently posted…August Keeping Up With K9 Kamp Wrap-up: We’re OverachieversMy Profile

  12. These are awesome tips! We do lots of hills, sprinting (Kayo sprints A LOT with her friends), water runs and jumping. We have a weighted vest that I used to use to give her a “job” when she pulled a lot. Now as a non-puller I haven’t been using it. But I may go back to it after reading this. She’s not as excited as she used to be about tug-o-war but maybe we’ll try that again too! Love all the SlimDoggy tips!
    BoingyDog recently posted…Can Kids Walk Dogs? 5 Things to ConsiderMy Profile

    • Be careful of the cerivcal spine when tugging. Some dogs yank their neck back and forth so violently that they can actually tweak their neck.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  13. Great info! So would you consider jumping — like over an agility jump — strength training? I would think jumping onto an agility “table” (like the platform you mention) would also provide a strength workout . Sound like we might also be working on strength when Rocco drives the end of the teeter and then learns to shift his weight back so he can ride it down. We do all these things!
    Your pals,
    Diane and Rocco
    Diane recently posted…The Dieting with my Dog Guide: Inspiration to Get Active with Your Dog!My Profile

    • Yes jumping over things is a strength workout. Any form of jumping provides an amazing strength workout as it hits the fast twitch muscle fibers like few other exercises can.
      steve recently posted…Benefits of Strength Training Your DogMy Profile

  14. I just wrote today about adding the water walks to our routine, and Cricket and I had started adding some uphill sprints too. There’s still more I’d like to do. Does jumping to catch the ball count for jumping? Cricket especially does A LOT of that!
    Jan K recently posted…August K9 Kamp ChallengeMy Profile

  15. We do sprinting and jumping and play tug. I’d like to add some water exercise but the pup thinks water will melt him.

    • So glad to hear that your dog is doing all of those strength moves. Keep trying with the water. Maybe it will be an ‘acquired taste’?
      steve recently posted…SlimDoggy MythBuster #2My Profile

  16. We think its pretty amazing all the ways you have to keep your dog fit. Unfortunately in our house we are probably considered slackers! I’ll probably be as fit as my mom is and your dogs are going to be as fit as you and we can live with that! Love Dolly
    Dolly the Doxie recently posted…Learning to SlideMy Profile

    • Everyone has their own fitness level. Just stay active in a way that will allow you to sustain it for a lifetime.
      steve recently posted…SlimDoggy MythBuster #2My Profile

  17. My favorite one of these is walking in water, but sometimes I incorporate strength training into my walks by carrying a big heavy stick for a mile or so! It sounds like a game of fetch can also provide strength training since it involves all-out sprinting and often jumping. We don’t play tug often, but this is a good excuse to do it more! I love that strength training for dogs can be just like playing!

    Garth Riley recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – BarkWorld EditionMy Profile

    • Garth- I think you hit on the key to keeping fit for life. Have some fun with it. And let those endocannabinoids (that cause the ‘runners high’ in dogs and humans) kick in! The end result will be a longer and healthier life.
      steve recently posted…SlimDoggy MythBuster #2My Profile

  18. Wonderful post! Frankie and Beryl do get awesome workouts in the sand dunes at the beach. Beryl doesn’t do much in the water at any time but when it warms up Frankie will fetch sticks in the sea. Frankie will tug and we should do more of that because it’s a good work out for me too 🙂
    Greyhounds CAN Sit recently posted…Black And White Sunday – Sky HighMy Profile

    • Yes, tug can be a good workout for the human. Maybe you should fetch sticks in the sea also? That would be fun.
      steve recently posted…Black & White Sunday 9-1-13My Profile

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