Cardio Exercises for Your Dog
This week, we continue our discussion of an optimal fitness program for your dog and will highlight the second component of a balanced program: cardio exercises for your dog.
“Cardio”, from the Greek “kardia”, which means heart, is the common term used for aerobic exercise. According to Wikipedia: Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio) is physical exercise of relatively low intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process. Aerobic literally means “living in air”, and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism. Generally, light-to-moderate intensity activities that are sufficiently supported by aerobic metabolism can be performed for extended periods of time. The intensity should be between 60 and 85% of maximum heart rate.
Our definition of cardio is somewhat different in that we like to include high-intensity training into the definition because we have found that highly intense activities (like running all out) can really boost conditioning and fitness in ways that steady state exercising cannot.
Benefits of cardio exercises for your dog
There are many benefits of cardio training your dog including:
- Weight loss/management due to calorie burn
- Stronger heart and lungs for improved and more efficient circulation and respiration
- Increased bone density which can protect against breakage during activity and aging
- Increased number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen
- Improved behavior as intense activity can lead to a ‘runners high’ for your dog
- Longer life as a byproduct of increased fitness and weight management
What a great list of benefits! These (and others) apply to humans as well!
Cardio exercises for your dog
There are so many different ways to cardio train your dog. Make sure to check with your vet if you are planning on markedly changing your pet’s exercise routine. Here are some of our favorites:
- Running: this is by far our favorite way to cardio training a dog. It is easy to do, requires no special equipment, and we can vary the intensity simply by speeding up or slowing down. For more tips on how to run with your dog, read our past articles providing running with your dog tips 1-5 and running with your dog tips 6-10.
- Bootcamp and sports type drills: we use these in our own fitness programs and they are a great change of pace from just running a fixed time or distance. They are fun to practice with your dog and can be highly intense as well. Some examples include:
- Cone to cone. Sprint back and forth between cones that are set out on a field. The simple way to do this is to use two cones, at least 30 yards apart. With your dog, sprint to the far cone, touch the ground, turn and sprint back. Rest 30 seconds and repeat. For those more adventurous, try ‘suicides’,which utilize several cones of varying distance. This is a ‘favorite’ of football teams.
- T drill- shuffle between cones set out in a T formation. Set up 4 cones in a T formation, each cone at least 10 yards apart. Place one at the bottom of the T, one 10 yards straight ahead at the top of the T, one 10 yards to the left of the top cone and one 10 yards to the right of the top cone. The cones should look like a T and the length of the top of the T will be 20 yards. Starting at the bottom cone, sprint straight to the middle top cone, touch, and then shuffle left to the left top cone, touch and shuffle all the way to the right most top cone (20 yards), touch, come back to the center, touch, and then back pedal to the start. While you do this, encourage your dog to move laterally when possible so that they engage their muscles in different ways. We haven’t been able to get SlimDoggy Jack to back pedal yet 😉 We like to do 5-10 sets.
- Steps. Run up a set of steps with ‘quick feet’. Find a set of steps preferably between 20-40 in total. With your dog, run up the steps one at a time until you reach the top. Rest, return to the bottom and repeat. Steps can build strength (thank gravity) but are also a tremendous cardio drill. With our dogs, we prefer short flights of steps of around 20 or so steps, which enhance the cardio aspect and makes it easier for the dog to descend – important with older dogs.
Here is a short video of SlimDoggy Steve and Jack doing the T-drill:
- Swimming: this can be a great cardio exercise for your dog and it is one of the lowest impact options available, which makes it perfect for injured and older dogs. The key is to make sure that your dog is actually swimming and not standing on the side of the pool (or on the shoreline). We find that as long as we are in the water, our dogs will follow suit. Just be careful that they don’t scratch you as they paddle. Our friend Sugar the Golden Retriever is an expert swimmer for those who want to learn from a ‘pro’.
- Hiking: although normally less intense than running, hiking can provide a cardio workout due to hills and uneven trail terrain which can really tax a dog’s muscles. Hiking can also provide extra mental stimulation as you and your dog can discover lots of cool things along the way. Just be careful of wildlife (i.e.coyotes) and go prepared with adequate water and supplies. Chester and Gretel from YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner are experts so check them out for lots of great tips.
- Fetch: fetch can be a great way for your dog to get in some cardio training. Use a ball launcher if you want to increase the distance your dog travels and be aware of their fatigue. Most dogs run pretty hard for the thrown object so fetch is similar in intensity to sprints and the cone drills.
- Chase: this is a silly game that we play from time to time. We get our dog riled up and have them chase (follow) us around the house or yard. Chase is similar to running except that we bolt around and through obstacles and change directions often, both of which are extra beneficial for you and your dog.
- Walking: yes, walking can offer aerobic benefit as long as you keep the pace brisk and steady.
There are actually many other types of cardio exercises for your dog. Have you ever heard of circuit training or “WoDs”? Both of these human techniques can be used to string together a sequence of exercises in rapid succession to raise the heart rate. You can use any of the above exercises in combination with other canine strength, core or balance movement to create custom and effective cardio training routines for your dog that can provide variety and injury workarounds that will keep your dog fit for life.
Stay tuned for more ideas on canine WoDs—we are working on some very interesting tools and technology in this area.
What about you? What are your favorite cardio exercises to do with your dog?
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!