Creating an Endurance Training Progression for a Dog
Dogs are natural endurance athletes. Their bodies contain significant proportions of slow twitch muscle fibers and thus, they are able to engage in long duration physical activities. However, like with humans, dogs need to gradually build up their endurance training so that they can safely and effectively build endurance capability over time.
The most basic methods to progress a dog’s endurance training program is to gradually increase either the duration (or distance), or the intensity of the endurance exercises.
Add duration and distance gradually. Because dogs appear to have boundless energy and are willing to do whatever you ask, it is tempting to assume that they can handle large amounts of exercise without proper training. However, dogs need to build up their endurance over time just like humans.
Begin a dog’s training by starting out with 5-10 minutes of low intensity exercise a day and add no more than 20% more total exercise time each week. For example, if for the first week a dog is exercised for 10 minutes a day, 3 times per week, then the second week would allow for an extra 5-6 minutes of exercise, or 12 minutes per day, three times for the week. Continue to add duration each week until you reach an appropriate amount of endurance training.
For those that measure distance instead of duration, stick with the 20% rule. Add no more than 20% additional total weekly distance each week during the endurance build up.
Here’s an older video of Jack & Maggie running with me. Maggie, you can see keeps her own pace. We built up slowly to the point where she was able to run with us.
Add intensity gradually. Like with duration or distance, increases in intensity should also be introduced gradually. Some examples of how to increase endurance intensity include moving faster (i.e. running more and walking less) or by adding resistance via a weighted vest.
For beginners, one way to add intensity is to introduce run/walk intervals into the walk. Start with 2/3 walk and 1/3 run intervals. This means, for example, that you walk your dog for 40 seconds and run for 20 seconds, and then repeat for the duration of the exercise session. Each week, add 10 seconds to the running interval and subtract 10 seconds from the walking interval. In a few weeks, the dog will be able to handle the entire distance at a run. Hopefully, you will as well.