Strength Training for Dogs: Working Shoulders with the High Five

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There are many different exercises that can be used to strengthen a dog’s body and improve their muscle tone and athletic performance. I generally classify canine strengthening exercises into 3 categories: front leg focused, hind leg focused, and core focused. For most dogs, the front limbs take the brunt of the load during the course of normal movement patterns. However, this is not to suggest that the front limbs should be ignored when it comes to strength exercises. Working the front legs through different ranges of motion and under different load patterns can keep the front legs strong and functioning well throughout a dog’s entire lifespan. Today, I will introduce the high five progression, a rather simple, yet effective front leg strengthening exercise for a dog that can really work the shoulder area.


The High Five Progression for Shoulder Strength

The high five progression is a set of exercises that a dog owner can train their dog to perform. The general idea is to have the dog lift their front legs up while they are seated. This movement pattern forces the dog to engage primarily their shoulder muscles, their core, and their upper back, in order to perform the exercise.
high five for strength training


Level 1- Give me your Paw

This is the most basic of the exercises in this progression. The dog is seated, and they will raise their front leg to the handler’s hand. The handler will ‘catch’ the dog’s paw, praise the dog, and then release the paw back to the floor. One of the subtle tweaks that I make with this is to catch, hold, and gently stretch the leg up past the range of motion that the dog would do by themselves, thereby providing enhanced flexibility in addition to the strength work. The handler can also work a gentle stretch in a circular fashion, preparing the dog for the wave, the 3rd part of this progression.


Level 2- High Five

Once the dog is able to give their paw on command, the next progression is the high five. Here, the dog raises their leg and attempts to touch their paw to the handler’s hand. The handler should start with their hand at about the same location as the give me your paw, and then move it up and laterally from there as the dog learns the drill.


Level 3- Wave

The most advanced of the high five progression is the wave. Here, the dog is trained to lift their front leg into the air and mimic a waving motion. This is usually more difficult for the dog because they have no specific target (i.e. the handler’s hand) and they are forced to hold their leg up all by themselves.


Each of these exercises can be made more difficult by having the dog hold the movement for a minimum of 5 seconds, with progression to 10 second or more. It is critical that each exercise is done for the same number of reps for each front leg, unless there is an existing muscle imbalance that is being addressed.


For those of you who might think that having a dog lift and hold their leg up is not much of a strength drill, I will relate my own experience in the Yoga room. There are many yoga postures that require the practitioner to hold their arms overhead (by their ears) or out front (for balance) for extended periods of time. The half-moon and chair poses in the Bikram sequence are two good examples. When I first began practicing, I found that the hardest aspect of these postures was holding up my arms. The burn in the shoulders can get quite intense. Now that I am a bit more experienced, I notice that many yoga students struggle holding their arms up for the entire pose and will often lower their arms in the middle of the posture (not good, Namaste). You can bet that your dog will get a similar type of shoulder workout by practicing the high five progression as well.


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  1. We’ve been doing core strength this week, although I did not blog about it! LOL! I’ve been making them do sit pretty, working on duration.
    Lauren Miller (ZoePhee) recently posted…Phoenix’s Ear Fiasco!My Profile

  2. we made it to level 2 (yay!!!!) but Easy “high-fives” us sometimes in an endless loup without any command just to get a treat :o( either he is a bad student or we are egg-stremely bad teachers and should get a rotten apple :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog THIS&THAT THURSDAYMy Profile

  3. We have high five down, but now you’ve given me the motivation to teach wave. Should be fun, thanks!

  4. I’ve been doing this by accident. Mom wanted to teach me to hold my paw up like I’m raising my paw to ask a question and hold it there for photos. It is not an easy task, but I can do it now for short periods of time. I do real well with my right paw, but the left is real tough to do. I think it goes back to dogs being right or left pawed so my right is stronger since I work it more naturally.
    Emma recently posted…The Annual Family Vet Visit – And The Healthiest Pet Is?My Profile

  5. Glory does this all the time, she always has to be sitting on her butt and putting both paws in the air when we put her collar on to go train, it must be her pre exercise training she is doing. As for your question the other day, the plan is in motion already for Glory’s next breeding. We want to get her on the winter schedule as we much rather have puppies in the winter so we can continue to train during the summer so this winter we are planning on breeding Glory again provided she is healthy and back in shape to have another pregnancy so maybe 4 months from now we will be in the works.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Sand And Water~ FitDog FridayMy Profile

  6. Bentley and Pierre both give high fives but we will have to work on the wave! Fun fitness exercise.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Does Your Dog Think That You Stink?My Profile

  7. Both mine know and love performing high-five!
    Earl Lover recently posted…Mental And Physical ExerciseMy Profile

  8. We do the paw and high 5 every day!!!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Introducing Your Pets To A New Kitten – Week 3My Profile

  9. High 5 was one of Barley’s first tricks–I never thought about it being good for her should strength, though! It always just seemed like a cute trick, so I’m glad that it is beneficial for her in lots of different ways!
    Beth recently posted…PatterningMy Profile

  10. Yay, this is one of the tricks we trained Luke to do, and we do it almost daily! He does both sides, and then at the end we do “all 10” where he even comes all the way up off the ground in a big stretch. Now I can just add the stretch and hold for a few seconds, and we might try the wave too. I’m excited to know this has been good for him, especially since he loves doing it too.
    Jan K recently posted…Getting Our Paws on New West Paw Design ToysMy Profile

  11. I do this with our dogs all the time and have never thought of creating an exercise drill. Thanks for the idea. I also need to create a cool down routine for our dogs to prevent next day soreness.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…My Biased Review of Freshpet Vital Raw PattiesMy Profile

  12. Nala knows high five and wave with her left paw–but since I taught it with shaping, I haven’t taught the other paw. Oops! Thanks for the reminder that I need to balance her out. 😀

  13. The High 5 was one of the very first “tricks” Missy & Buzz learned 🙂 We haven’t tried the waving noting yet, but will work on that!! Thanks for the idea!
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  14. Then doing the high five works both core and shoulders, right? Both my dogs know high five, but I know I don’t work them with it enough.
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  15. Mr. N can high five and wave. He prefers to high five though. Sometimes a high ten!

  16. Hi Y’all!

    I’ve never tried that. I “shake hands”, hand paws, roll over, but never wave or “high five”. Somethink new to learn!

    Y’all come on back,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
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  17. Ah, cool. Not just a trick but an exercise.
    Jana Rade recently posted…The Pet PT Pit Stop: Vaccinosis – A Vexing ConundrumMy Profile

  18. I would like to get stronger in my shoulders so I can play tug of war better. Thank you for such a good wave (snicker woof). Happy Fit Friday
    Cooper the Cattledog recently posted…Cattledog Musings: My Late Assignment about a WubbaMy Profile

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