Strength Training for Dogs: Working Upper Back with the Crawl

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One of the most infrequently targeted muscles on a dog’s body is the upper back or lat. This doesn’t mean that the upper back is not an important muscle. Rather, it is indicative of the fact that the motion that is needed to target the lat, are not part of the movement patterns in most of the common canine strength exercises.


The upper back in a dog provides a similar function as it does in humans. It is used to pull the limb down and in toward the body. Secondarily, it can be used to stabilize the torso while in plank type or other positions where the body requires stabilization from top to bottom.


With that in mind, exercise that target a dog’s upper back will require a pulling in motion. The Crawl progression is a good way to hit the lats (and other upper body muscles) and can be fun for your dog as well.

jack digging

Level 1- Digging. The first level of the progression is to start with digging. Digging requires that the dog use their front legs to pull the dirt back toward the body, the exact motion that is needed to hit the lats. It is easy enough to train the dog to dig on demand by burying smelly treats just under the dirt’s surface. Digging in the sand on the beach is especially fun, for those who have that option.


Level 2- Crawl. Crawling, also known as the Labby Limbo, is a great way to force the dog to pull with their front legs. Use Cavaletti poles or any obstacles that can be set low, which will force the dog to be low to the ground. If they are low enough to the ground, they will have to use their front legs to help them achieve the obstacle.

jack_latissimus dorsi
Level 3- Wheelbarrow. Once digging and crawling are mastered, the wheelbarrow will provide a new challenge to the dog. Here, the pet handler will stand behind the dog, grab the hind legs so that the legs are slightly flexed but relaxed, and then walk forward. This motion will force the dog to pull forward and through with their legs. It will also load the dog’s weight onto their front legs, which will create a strong stimulation to the front legs and shoulders. Make sure to keep the dog’s body aligned and their spine straight when performing this drill. Start out covering short distances and work up to longer distances as the dog builds strength and endurance.


Try the crawl progression with your dog. They will enjoy it and their (most likely) neglected lats will be happy to receive the attention.

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  1. Hi Y’all!

    Think I’ll stick to wheelbarrow and crawl. Never been a digger and the rocky earth here in the mountains isn’t conducive to diggin’. Y’all are lookin’ good!

    Y’all come on by!
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…In the SpotlightMy Profile

  2. Some great easy exercises. I do the wheelbarrow on my girls when it’s in heat time to check them daily, I also do it to check their butt and clean it. I should be doing it every day. Have a great weekend.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Saying Goodbye To The Puppies With More Puppy ExerciseMy Profile

  3. Our pups have both mastered the crawl, but we’ve never tried the wheelbarrow! We’ll start working on that this weekend 😉

  4. I’m going to try this with Sydney. She’s doing so well. Playful, happy, and more active. We’ve doubled the distance of our walks and she’s doing great. I’ve also started massaging her muscles before and after our walks, which helps.

    Thanks so much for these tips.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Surviving a Morning of Extreme Dog Walking #WalkDogsLoseWeightMy Profile

  5. I think I would be in big trouble with my condo board if I taught these two to dig. Crawl and wheelbarrow sound great though. We can have wheelbarrow races.

  6. Thanks for this info! I usually incorporate a few short crawls into my pre-competition warm up. It seemed like a good idea, but I lacked the knowledge of how/why it was beneficial. I know someone who has trained her Cocker to crawl both forward and backward. I have not achieved backward with my Lab (haven’t tried to train it). Maybe you can tell me if that would have the same effect as crawling forward?

  7. Ha! My huskies LOVE to dig!! I think we’re good in that aspect! LOL!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…My Kitten Thinks She’s A Husky – Week 4 IntroductionsMy Profile

  8. Interesting. Mom says they used to do the wheelbarrow as kids in gym class. Never thought of it with us dogs.
    Emma recently posted…Happy 9th Birthday To Me – A Celebration And GiveawayMy Profile

  9. Thanks for sharing, my humans and I need to get to work on strength training! Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  10. Kilo likes digging. I did not think about the benefits. I have tried to get him to crawl but not keen on crawl or roll over on command. We will have to try these 3 exercises as he has a long back and short little legs so I’m sure it is vulnerable.
    Talent Hounds recently posted…You Won’t Believe These Dogs in WaterMy Profile

  11. Looks like a nice exercise series!
    De Hufford recently posted…Fit Dog Friday, Aussie StyleMy Profile

  12. Earl can crawl on command! 🙂
    Earl Lover recently posted…Have Fun Keep Fit Series #1My Profile

  13. I love having Laika crawl and dig (and she seems to enjoy it as well) and it’s so nice to have a natural-ish type way to get some extra exercise in. We have a ton of rabbits in the yard that make a complete mess of things; I’d never think of actually hurting them, but I do the passive aggressive thing of letting Laika dig for them..
    Jen Gabbard recently posted…Are Squeaky Toys Too Stimulating For Your Dog?My Profile

  14. Mr. N crawls around when his toys are under things. I wheelbarrow with him for fun sometimes. Didn’t think about which muscles it was working!

  15. Storm does digging but with her toys. I guess I will encourage her now that I know it has fitness benefits. 🙂
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Keeping Fit And Cooling OffMy Profile

  16. Pierre is a master digger and mole catcher! LOL! Bentley is so low to the ground and with his long back, would it be wise to try any of these exercises?
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…The Scary “C” Word #ThePucciniFoundationMy Profile

    • These should all be safe for Bentley. However, when it comes to wheelbarrow, you will need to be lower to the ground, either crouched over or even on your knees. For that reason, you might want to skip that one, lest you hurt yourself while trying to keep Bentley in shape!
      steve recently posted…Changes to our Routine: Casual WalkingMy Profile

  17. Boy are mine adept at the digging and crawling! Their backs should be super fit! 😀
    Rama’s Mama recently posted…One Month MeasurementsMy Profile

  18. I’m going to do this. Thanks for the great ideas!
    KB recently posted…Recall Races by the LabraduoMy Profile

  19. At least now when my hubby complains about the dogs digging in the yard, I can tell him how good for them it is! 🙂
    Jan K recently posted…Fun with “Feet” #52Snapshots of LifeMy Profile

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