Strength Training for Dogs: Types and Progression
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.