What is Strength Training for Dogs?

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I recently wrote about the research on humans that links muscular strength to longevity. This research was interesting to me and had me thinking that dogs might also benefit from fitness routines that incorporate strength training more prominently than is current practice; current practice being predominantly lower intensity and cardio focused (e.g. walking).
SlimDoggy strength training for dogs

Strength Training for Dogs

Besides the possibility of a longer life span for your dog, there are many reasons to strength train a dog. According to James Cook, the director of the Comparative Orthopedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Columbia, proper weight management and strength training can really help with a dog’s overall health and quality of life. “First and foremost, and the one that has the most effect on the non-surgical side, is weight management and body condition. …With body condition, we’re trying to get the dogs’ strength built up. That’s because the muscle mass and muscle function will help protect the joints and help the overall function as well”.


Further, strength training a dog can lead to:

  • Stronger tendons, ligaments, and bones
  • Increase in daily calorie burn
  • Increased performance in sporting and working tasks.


What is Strength Training For Dogs?

According to Wikipedia, strength training is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction which builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles. For humans this often nets out to ‘going to the gym’ or ‘lifting weights’. But what does it mean for our dogs?


Strength training for dogs is very similar to that with humans, except that it rarely involves the use of barbells or kettlebells. The underlying concept is to provide progressive resistance to the dog’s movement in order to stimulate muscle growth and strength. The goal of a canine strength exercise is to create an anaerobic muscle contraction that will lead to muscular fatigue, breakdown, and ultimately repair. In my mind canine strength training is very much like human body weight training. The key is to choose exercises and/or equipment that tax the muscular system first (and not the cardiovascular system) and transform the movement into a strength and muscle building exercise. There are some effective canine fitness tools and equipment available to help you accomplish this as well.


Canine Strength Training Examples

How might a dog owner begin to incorporate strength training into their dog’s exercise program? It starts with the idea of taxing the muscular system. Think about what you might do in the gym to build your own strength. You (hopefully) choose exercises, loads, and rep schemes that force the targeted muscles to contract and fatigue way before your cardio system fails. You might do 3 sets of 6-10 reps of squats, using a weight (which might be just body weight) that makes the last few reps hard to achieve.


The same concept should frame your dog’s strength program. Doggy squats, or up-downs are two examples that will work the dog’s muscles more than taxing their cardiovascular systems. Another example is to add resistance to cardio movement, transforming them into strength and muscle building drills. Weighted vests are one tool that can make a typical walk or jog, or almost any exercise for that matter, turn into strengthening movement.


In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some of my favorite strength exercises that you can do with your dog. Remember, strong muscles might just be the key to a long life.

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  1. Looking forward to seeing your other strength training exercises. One of the things we like to do is a sit pretty (sit up on hind legs) to a stand (on hind legs) back to a sit pretty.
    Diane recently posted…2015 Havanese National Specialty Agility Fun!My Profile

  2. We definitely see the value of strong muscles with Katie these days. We worked a lot on back end strength and think it helped her stay strong longer, but these days the strength is waning and she can’t do the exercises much anymore, but she tries and we try to find other ways to keep her muscles as strong as possible.
    Emma recently posted…5 Tips To Make Fitness FunMy Profile

  3. Looking forward to checking out the strength routines. I’ll start with Eko, I’m not sure I want Penny any stronger than she is at the moment…

  4. Excellent post! Strength training sounds as though it has lots of benefits!
    Earl Lover recently posted…YOU – Daisy and PoppyMy Profile

  5. Really looking forward to seeing more strength training exercises. I’ve been training Kilo to walk or dance on his hind legs or to sit up on his bum to increase his over all strength.
    Talent Hounds recently posted…8 Incredible Videos of Dogs SurfingMy Profile

  6. I have been so so pleased with my boy Koda. We had to really work on him with strength training etc… as he was very under where he should have been. His body is so beautifully toned now, I love it!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…4 Reasons Why I Feed My Dogs Raw Meaty BonesMy Profile

  7. Can’t wait to hear your ideas! We mostly play fetch for cardio, and flyball (also cardio) which incorporates jumps and works on their legs, but I’ve got Jack and Dante doing “beg/sit pretty” for their core strength. I don’t think it’s a comfortable position for Ziva though given her knee so we don’t do it with her.
    I was also thinking of building a flirt pole to play with the dogs and I’d like to pick up a peanut to work on their balancing. Gosh…I wish I had a personal trainer!
    DZ Dogs recently posted…Flyball Friday!My Profile

  8. I’m looking forward to your routines, too! I’d love to strengthen Nala’s back end more–I think it will serve her well as she ages.

    Could you answer a curiosity I’ve had about weighted backpacks for me? I know that being overweight puts a lot of undue stress on a dog’s joints, increasing her risk for developing arthritis. Do weighted backpacks carry the same risk?

    • No, not really – a weighted backpack is only on for short periods of time but being overweight is a 24/7 with no respite. It’s the constant excess that would cause the problem. A better choice than the backpack though – for strength training – is the weighted vest. They won’t slip and are always evenly distributed. If you need the backpack for carrying things, it’s fine – but if it’s for resistance and strength training, the vest would be a better choice.
      mkob recently posted…What is Strength Training for Dogs?My Profile

  9. Great post, can’t wait to see your up coming post on different strength training exercise.

  10. We work on sit pretty and the fit bone. Mr. N also likes dancing on his hind legs and hopping across the room.
    Tenacious Little Terrier recently posted…Canoeing with a DogMy Profile

  11. We did a bunch of functional strength exercises with Jasmine after her surgeries. Then after JD’s injury. Doing some with Cookie too. Looking forward to further tips.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Veterinary Highlights: No More Annual Rabies Boosters?My Profile

  12. We just did some K9 Box Jumps in our garage today ~ leg strengthening & fun all at the same time! We have weighted vests and the K9 FitBone on our wish/to-get list 😉
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Trying Something New ~ K9 Box Jumps!My Profile

  13. Can’t wait to see your upcoming tips. The idea of dogs using kettlebells makes me laugh. We joke that the dogs’ Jolly Balls are their kettlebells.
    Kari recently posted…Eight moments of ZenMy Profile

  14. Some great examples of strength training.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Splish Spash Blue Boy In The TubMy Profile

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