Three Factors to Modify a Dog’s Exercise Levels
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.
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.