Upper Back Exercise for a Dog

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A reader recently asked for some suggestion on how to work their dog’s latissimus dorsi muscles (i.e. their upper back). The thought of SlimDoggy Jack doing pullups both made me smile and inspired me to write this piece.


Photo From Wikipedia

Photo From Wikipedia

What are the Lats?

Commonly known as the “lats”, the latissimus dorsi is the large muscle on the upper back. It fans across the spine and helps the dog stabilize their body during movement and pull with their front limbs.


Like with humans, the lats can be best be activated with pulling movements. One of the best exercises to visualize this with the human body is the standing pull. With a straight or slightly bent arm, move the bar in an arc from eye level down to the thighs. The lats must be active to perform this move, and you can see in the picture that they are engaged.


Upper Back Exercises for Dogs

One can target a dog’s lats by performing exercises with similar movement patterns to the human standing pull. A few of our favorite exercises to work a dog’s lats include the wheelbarrow, crawling, and digging. As always, check with your veterinarian to make sure that your dog is cleared to perform these movements safely.


Wheelbarrow This is one we use in human fitness and it can be a lot of fun. Lift your dog by the caudal abdomen until the back paws are slightly off the ground (about 2 inches). This alone will start the lat contractions, along with core and front leg activation. Slowly walk the dog forward, forcing them to pull with their front legs, one by one as you support their back legs. Take up to 5 steps per side to get started and you can build up from there.

The wheelbarrow is an advanced exercise and not recommended for dogs with shoulder impairments or back issues.


Crawling  As the name applies, this exercise forces the dog to crawl, low to the ground, and forces them to pull with their front legs in order to mobilize. In order to perform the crawl, you will first need to create either a low tunnel of other low obstacles for the dog to crawl under. You can use poles or broomsticks set on a series of chairs. Or try the agility pack from DogTread which work for small and mid-size dogs. Make sure the surface if not slippery so that the dog can move through the drill.


This is a very similar movement to our Labby Limbo drill, although in the crawl you really want your dog to be lower to the ground.


Once your obstacles are set, use a treat or other high value item to entice the dog to slowly duck and crawl under the obstacles. You can set the treats up in a line and let them get them as they move under the obstacles. Use verbal commands to reinforce the drill.


Digging This exercise is probably the most similar to the human standing lat pull. The action of digging requires the dog to extend and then pull back with their limbs. If your dog is not a digger, you can incent them by burying a bag with a “stinky” treats.  Once they start to dig, you will see how they must engage the lats and pull the dirt/sand away from the hole and back towards their rear end.

Can you think of other exercises that work your dogs lats?

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  1. I think brown dawgs would definitely pick digging as their exercise of choice. I doubt any of them would let me lift them for the wheelbarrow. 🙂
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Just A Walk In The ForestMy Profile

  2. Hi Y’all!

    Can’t see my Humans, especially my Human Mama, being able to lift even part of me! BOL!!! Besides, I’m here to pick things up for them. (Papa has rods in his back where it was broken in 5 places and Mama has a bad disc in her back.) I’ve never been a digger and the Humans are very thankful! Best I do is crouch to go under stuff on the trails. Great idea for young healthy humans! or ones with smaller pawed friends.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Fun and Fitness Friday!My Profile

    • Yikes, your humans sure are lucky you are healthy and able to run around and keep yourself fit!
      mkob recently posted…Upper Back Exercise for a DogMy Profile

  3. Haha I need to see a video of the wheelbarrow in action! Will have to see if either of my two are up for it.

    • I didn’t have the patience to do a whole video yesterday when we snapped these pics, but maybe will give it another try. I bet Penny would do it.
      mkob recently posted…Upper Back Exercise for a DogMy Profile

  4. I don’t think Barley would take very kindly to me trying to lift her back end up! She’s so squirmy and flexible that I think she’d twist away before I got ahold of her, but she does love crawling!
    Beth recently posted…Fall FascinationMy Profile

  5. Wow, that looks so beneficial. I’ll be sure to recommend this to all my other doggie friends too- the benefits of exercise for both humans and doggies are astounding! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
    Sadie recently posted…Dog “Furr”st Aid: Be PreparedMy Profile

  6. Sounds like an awesome work out. Wonder if Kilo would let me lift his back legs. Will have to give it a try. 🙂 Don’t miss our blog today! You wouldn’t want to miss your cameo in Fit Dogs Rcok!

  7. LOL! This is the first time I’ve heard of a human actually suggesting digging, but it makes sense!
    Emma recently posted…One, Two, Three Steps to #GetHealthyHappyMy Profile

  8. Well, next time my hubby complains about the dogs digging, I’ll have to tell him how it’s good for their backs! 🙂
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  9. I’ve done the wheelbarrow with Mr. N before. He looks at me quizzically but puts up with it.

  10. Yep, mine would prefer the digging as well!

  11. We do crawling, wheelbarrow and also rolling over for doggie lat workouts. Rolling over both directions is excellent core strength and flexibility for front and back.

  12. Laika crawls around all the time, and she loves digging – I’m glad to know they’re working her lats. I’m going to try the wheelbarrow as well, I used to love doing those in relay races back in elementary school.
    Jen Gabbard recently posted…Beginners Guide to Lure CoursingMy Profile

  13. Bentley isn’t a big digger. but Pierre would dig a canyon if he could. ☺ I don’t think the wheel barrow would be good for Bentley’s back. The crawling would be fun though!
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…PrideBites Muddles and Sadie #DogtoysMy Profile

    • Agree – it’s probably not good for certain types of dogs, but I bet you could get him to crawl.
      mkob recently posted…Upper Back Exercise for a DogMy Profile

  14. Hmmm very interesting!
    I can totally picture Jack doing pull ups! hahaha!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Auction time! Supporting K-9 EpilepsyMy Profile

  15. What a fun and insightful post. I’ve never had reason to be concerned about my dogs’ lats but your ideas are great.
    KB recently posted…Silhouette SundayMy Profile

  16. Hehe I tell glory we’re doing the wheel barrel when I pick her up and hike her butt in the air to check her whoo ha to see if she is coming in heat. So we are working her back muscles! 🙂
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Monday Mischief~MK Going Hunting With The Chessie’sMy Profile

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