Strength Training for Dogs: Types and Progression

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Strength training a dog is a great way to improve their overall fitness and to build strength and muscles, all of which can help keep a dog healthy and living long. Just like with humans, there are many strength exercises that a dog can perform, each of which can target a specific area (or muscle group). Also like humans, dogs can perform either isotonic or isometric exercises.



Strength Training Target Areas

When thinking about strength training a dog, it is sensible to group exercises by their target region. I think of canine strength exercises as being either front leg, hind leg, or core targeted. Many exercises will target more than one region and can be classified in multiple ways. Obviously these are broadly defined areas and a dog owner might want to target specific muscles, like the left hamstring or the upper back (i.e. lats), for example. Targeting specific muscles, instead of areas, is particularly useful when addressing injury rehabilitation or overall muscle imbalance.


When creating a strength program for a dog, it is important to create a balanced program so that the dog’s body is worked proportionately in all three regions. Focusing on just front leg drills, for example, will lead to strong front legs, but the dog’s back legs will be disproportionately weaker, which is a recipe for injury.


Isotonic and Isometric Exercise

Isotonic exercises are movements that strengthen the muscle through its entire (or at least a good portion) of its range of motion.  The actual range is dictated by the specific movement. A good example is a sit to stand, where the dog will work their muscles throughout the range of sit to stand and back again.


Isometric exercises strengthen the muscles when they are in a fixed position and require a counter force that is equal to the force created by the muscle. A good example is when a dog is on a balance cushion and they are asked balance on their front legs and to hold steady. The opposite force to their muscle contraction is the actual instability created by the cushion.



Importance of Progression

One of the keys to productive strength training is to keep in mind the concept of progression. Like with human strength training, canine strength training should gradually and safely overload the target muscles in a progressive fashion. Strength progressions can include more reps, adding levels of difficulty (e.g. adding instability), shorten rest time, or by adding resistance in the form of a weighted vest, or some other resistance equipment like a pull sled.


Like with humans, as a canine strength athlete’s body responds to the program, failing to progress the movements will lead to a slowdown in muscle and strength gains. Exercise progression will ensure that the dog’s body and mind are constantly challenged, which is the only way to ensure continued success.


In the next part of this series on strength training for dogs, I will describe some of the more beneficial strength exercises that a dog can perform at home or in the yard.


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  1. I always like it to relax with a fango pack after long walks or runs. do you think it makes sense to share it with Easy? not as hot as mine, just lukewarm and supervised of course :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog FRACTURED FRYDAY HAIRY TAILSMy Profile

  2. Once again, so interesting!
    Earl Lover recently posted…Teaching Weaves On The RightMy Profile

  3. Very interesting. I can see this could be beneficial to a dog.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Hills Add Challenge To A WorkoutMy Profile

  4. Hi Y’all!

    My Human uses up and down hill retrieves on days she wants to work my front and rear quarters.

    Y’all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Friday! Already! Again!My Profile

  5. Good point about the balanced program. Work all those parts equally and go to the left and right, too!
    Diane recently posted…A New Place to Hike With DogsMy Profile

  6. some great information, way to go Maggie you are doing a fine job supervising. Your looking good!
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Tunnel And Truck Puppy Fitness~FitDog FridayMy Profile

  7. OMD…..I tried doggie yoga once but I got stuck and couldn’t get up…BOL 😉
    Amber DaWeenie recently posted…Remembering on Rainbow Bridge Remembrance DayMy Profile

  8. In a way it reminds us of Katie. She has been having chiropractic treatments for 3 months now, first her back left leg issues were resolved but then she had back right leg issues. Now the back legs are getting stronger and her front left leg is having an issue. We are waiting for the final leg so we know the adjustment is complete. She is getting stronger as she is using her legs and paws so much better these days, but it is a slow process. Not a plan like yours here, but the same concept.
    Emma recently posted…3 Friends And A Pink Pig Hit The Dog ParkMy Profile

  9. We have a couple of inclines on our walks that get us working. Bentley thinks climbing up on the couch is a terrific leg strengthing exercise. For him, it is like scaling a mountain! LOL!
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Rainbow Remembrance Day #FFHTMy Profile

  10. This is great info, thanks!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Remembering Lost Pets On #RainbowBridgeRemembranceDayMy Profile

  11. Progression would occur to me, but I wouldn’t have thought about a balanced program and it’s importance but I can see now how much sense that makes. Looking forward to learning more!
    Jan K recently posted…Winding Down Our Summer of FitnessMy Profile

  12. Mom is more concerned with her strength training right now than me, but she thinks I get a pretty good work out, we hope! Love Dolly
    Dolly the Doxie recently posted…Dolly’s Playground FitnessMy Profile

  13. Looking forward to seeing those exercises. I think Mr. N’s rear legs get more of a workout.

  14. I’m looking forward to your strengthening exercises!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…5 Reasons Why My K9s Walk The (Daily) WalkMy Profile

  15. Really great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

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