Exercise Alternatives for Senior Dogs
Last week we provided some general tips on exercising your senior dog. This week we are going to provide some specific exercises that you can do with your senior dog to ensure that their muscles are worked in a balanced fashion. In fact, these exercises can be used with dogs of any age, not just seniors; they target often neglected muscles and proprioception (the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position) pathways and are relatively low-impact movements that dogs of any age and physical condition can perform. As always, we recommend that you check with your vet before making changes to your dog’s exercise regimen and work around or skip moves that might not be appropriate for their specific condition.
Components of a Smart Fitness Program
Before we begin with the canine exercises, let’s take a step back and look at how our human fitness routine as changed as we age. As an older athlete who is fast approaching AARP status, I have learned firsthand of the benefits of functional and variable training methods. Our routines are much different than when we were younger (and more naive). In order to reduce injury risk and maintain competitive in our activities, we now incorporate five main ‘types’ of training into our normal routines:
- Strength: preserving muscle mass and strength is crucial as we age. The body will lose muscle naturally as we age unless we do something about it. We use a lot of multi-joint exercises to target the larger muscles and nervous system.
- Cardio: we need a strong heart to live a strong life. Plus, intense cardio can burn a lot of calories and keep our weight down.
- 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: as we age, our balance skills deteriorate and muscle imbalances become more obvious, which puts us at risk for injury. We train unilaterally to make sure that our muscles are equally strong on each side and direction and we use balance drills to hone and maintain our proprioception.
- Prehab/Range of Motion (ROM): we now include lots of ‘prehab’ moves into our routines. These include both ROM movements as well as other mobility techniques to keep our bodies aligned and pliable.
While writing that list, I realized any one of those items alone could be the sole topic of a post or a series of posts, so we will put those in the queue for future FitDog Fridays. For now, we will just say that we use the same overall approach to canine fitness and the example exercises below conform to that philosophy.
4 Great Exercises for Senior Dogs (and dogs of any age)
This one comes courtesy of our friends at DogTread and is a fantastic warm up/ROM movement for your dog (and their human!). Down Dog is done to improve flexibility and to increase circulation. Note: If your dog avoids stretching exercises, you may want to visit your vet as it could be in indication of an underlying ortho problem.
To perform this exercise, you may need a “high-value” treat for a lure. With your dog standing, bring the treat just a few inches below the nose and slowly lower the treat until the front elbows touch the ground. Make sure that the hind legs are still in the standing position, which activates the stretch. We recommend 5-10 reps while holding the down position for 5 seconds or more.
Progressions: Add instability using a balance cushion under the hind legs.
For a more detailed explanation of this move, check out: http://dogtread.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/DownDog.pdf
2. Walk on Log
The walk on a log is a great balance and core movement for your dog. It is similar to the balance cushion drills that we do, but in this exercise, the body is moving and therefore, the stabilizing and core muscles are forced to contract while the dog is in motion—which we believe is a more functional (and difficult) way to train for balance .
To perform this exercise, you need to find a log or similarly shaped item that is long enough for your dog to be able to take several steps. It should be close enough to the ground so that they can easily mount and dismount without the possibility of causing harm. Once your dog is on the log, walk them forward until they reach the end or have taken 5 steps forward with each paw. Turn around and walk back in the other direction. We like to do a minimum of 4 sets. We use treats to help Jack get the hang of it.
Progressions: To make it harder for your dog, you can progress to narrower logs or use a weighted vest.
Here is a picture of SlimDoggy Steve doing a similar movement on his foam rollers.
This is hard but a great drill for humans!
This is another movement recommended by DogTread and one that some of our readers are familiar with. It provides a great way to build strength and will challenge the dog’s core and balance as well. To perform this exercise, start with your dog in a seated position. Using a high value treat, lift the treat slowly straight up and aligned with the center of their body until their front limbs come off the ground. We recommend 5-10 reps while holding the up position for 5 seconds or more.
Progressions: You can add resistance using a weighted vest to make the movement harder. If your dog is very well conditioned and practiced at this move, adding a balance cushion under the hind legs will markedly increase the difficulty.
For a more detailed explanation of this move, check out: http://dogtread.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/SitToSitPretty_Strength.pdf
4. Walk in Water (Strength)
Using water as an exercise tool is smart and provides many benefits to your dog. First of all, water provides buoyancy and thus, as your dog enters the water, they are de-loading and effectively reducing the weight on the joints. Needless to say, water is great for older and rehabbing dogs because it allows for movement with less stress on the body. Water also is an effective resistance tool and can build strength and work the muscles in ways that are often neglected. The water actually makes it harder to move the limbs—almost as if there are weights strapped to the legs. Have you ever tried walking or running in the pool?
To perform the exercise, find a body of water (pool, lake, stream, etc.) with water that is at least elbow high but not so deep that your dog will want to swim. Have your dog walk back and forth for 10 yards in each direction. We like to do a minimum of 4 sets.
Progressions: To make it harder, increase the distance or the depth (but not so deep that the dog is swimming, which is an entirely different exercise).
Here is a picture of SlimDoggy Steve doing a similar movement using knee weights. These weights mimic the action of walking/running in water because the weight load is maximal when the limbs are moving for locomotive purposes.
Work each of these moves into your dog’s regular fitness routine. I guarantee that they will be glad that you did!
How about you – any additional ideas on balanced exercise routines?
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!