Three Factors to Modify a Dog’s Exercise Levels

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Like humans, dogs require a reasonable and progressive training program in order to ensure that they build capability in the target area (e.g. strength, endurance) and limit their risk of injury. There are three main factors that a pet parent can manipulate in order to progress a dog through a program.  These are 1) volume, 2) frequency, and 3) intensity.  A good rule of thumb when developing a fitness program (for dogs or humans) is to manipulate one of these factors at a time to minimize the risk of overtraining and injury.

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Three Factors Effecting an Exercise Progression

Volume. Volume is determined by the number of sets/reps, the number of muscles worked, the time that the dog is being exercised, or in some cases the distance travelled.  If performing strength exercises, volume I typically measured in the sets and reps.  If performing endurance exercise, volume can be measured in time or in distance (e.g. how many minutes or how many miles).


Frequency  Frequency is by the number of exercise sessions in a given time period (e.g. per week).  Obviously, adding more training sessions per day or week is a simple way to increase the workload for a dog.


Intensity. Intensity is the amount of actual work required to complete the exercise session.  Actual work is harder to measure than the first two factors.  We intuitively know that sprinting is more intense and requires a greater effort than jogging for the same distance, but it is hard to know how much more work is required.  (Note- one way to compare exercises or intensities is to understand the concept of metabolic units or METS).


When putting together an exercise program, it is smart to manipulate one of these factors at a time during any single training session.  For example, if you want a dog to progress from jogging to sprinting, don’t also extend the time duration of the exercise session. In fact, you are better off when raising the intensity (e.g. jog to sprint) to also reduce the duration (e.g. from 30 minutes to 15 minutes).  As the dog builds capability in the sprinting, the session can slowly be increased over time.


I like to think of my workouts in terms of a weekly time period.  Planning over the course of a week allows for a mixture of frequencies (how many days per week of exercise), intensities (walks, runs different resistance levels), and volumes of work (time working out) on any given training day. This will result in a more well-rounded dog at least in terms of their physical capabilities, and will reduce the risk of over training.  Dogs are subject to over training!  They can’t tell you verbally when they are feeling run down, so the pet parent must be careful not to overdo it. Remember to change only one of the 3 factors in a given session when you want to adjust a dog’s workload.


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  1. That’s a good message to me. If anything, I tend toward overtraining myself so I should think about whether I do that to Shyla too. Thanks.
    KB recently posted…Moose, moose, and more moose!My Profile

  2. Great tips. We have a two week rotation for our morning fitness programs which seems to work good for all of us.
    Emma recently posted…10 Reasons We’re Addicted To Nose Work – Celebrating 2 YearsMy Profile

  3. We have not been running as much but are going to start some longer runs again. This morning I felt like I needed a long run!! Good stuff to remember!!
    Julie recently posted…Happy Thursday and it’s someone’s BIRTHDAY!!My Profile

  4. Great tips! I needed to adjust Rocco’s agility training schedule last year, when it seemed like we were overdoing it. The right balance is key!
    Diane recently posted…Why Enrichment Rules for Both You and Your Dog #PAW5LaunchMy Profile

  5. These are important steps in exercising. It’d be a shame to try to help you dog get fit and instead injuring them.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…The Whistle Activity Monitor For Dogs – Take 2My Profile

  6. Volume and frequency I can control, but Penny’s quite convinced the only speed is “pedal to the metal.”

  7. Kind of like interval training for peeps. Makes total sense. I know Sam performs better keeping mindful of these 3 factors, especially as he’s gotten older. 🙂

  8. Great tips! Barley is definitely a creature of habit, so she likes to have a set routine with frequency and length of workouts–if we miss a walk or do shorter walks, she gets a little wacky, so adjusting intensity or adding extra walks now and then is the best way to adjust our workouts 🙂
    Beth recently posted…Shaking Up RoutinesMy Profile

  9. So glad this blog is still around! Exercise was my first prescription for most behavior issues when I was training commercially and its a soapbox I scream from now! Great blog and I’ll be throwing some links in my articles on canine fitness!

  10. Brilliant advice!
    Earl Lover recently posted…Core Strength TrainingMy Profile

  11. Those are wonderful tips – many people don’t think about the fact that it’s important to introduce new exercises gradually.
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Comment on Kibble vs. Raw: An Experiment by K9sOverCoffeeMy Profile

  12. We need to work more on intensity out of the three.

  13. I think Gretel and I might be breaking the rules a little. With the 5k program, our frequency has definitely increased. We’ve added an extra two workouts a week. We’ve also increased the intensity of all of our walk sessions. Although we were never slow-pokes, we increased from a moderate walk to a brisk walk with a few bursts for jogging. I feel pretty safe at this level though because we were no couch potatoes before and we’re starting with the easiest level in the Pooch to 5k training (and it was developed by a veterinarian).

    When people ask me about hiking though I always say start small and increase length and intensity as they go. I was never specific about how to do that though. Now I can point them to this article 🙂
    Jessica recently posted…Pooch to 5k Update: Week 1My Profile

  14. It’s tough to get Sydney to exercise. She doesn’t like to leave the property without at least one of her siblings. And when we’re at home, she just relaxes. So I’ve started taking her on multiple short walks each day. Sometimes the walks last 20-30 minutes, sometimes they’re only 10 minutes. It’s making a big difference.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Only Dog Lovers Get My DogSanity #WhenISeeSugarSmileMy Profile

  15. Good information. Our dogs’ training is really only based on what concept we are training that day for hunt tests. However, within our training we do vary factors as you suggested depending what we are working on.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Winter WorkoutMy Profile

  16. Three great factors. I have to watch Glory now, I want her to exercise to stay in shape but don’t want her to overdo it now that she is preggers. Dogs just want to keep going and going and going at least mine do.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Rooster RoomMy Profile

  17. Jax is an exercise addict. Harley is a couch potato. I’m dealing with two ends of the spectrum here!

  18. Exercise is so important! When we need a nice workout we go up/down the stairs in the park near our house – we run up and down for 20 minutes and our pups get in a huge amount of exercise!

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