There are many reasons to incorporate strength training in your dog’s fitness routine. According to James L. “Jimi” Cook, the director of the Comparative Orthopaedic 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. Cook says “First and foremost, and the one that has the most effect on the non-surgical side, is weight management and body condition”. He also states “ 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”.
We wholeheartedly agree that strength training can be an important part of your dog’s fitness program.
Some of the benefits of strength training your dog include:
- Helps reduce occurrences of health ailments including arthritis, and joint pain.
- Strengthens the muscular and skeletal systems as well as connective tissues (tendons) which can help prevent injury.
- Helps burn calories and increases overall metabolic rate.
- Increases performance in sporting and working tasks.
What Exactly 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. Most of us understand this definition and can relate to it with our personal experiences of ‘going to the gym’ or ‘lifting weights’. But what does it mean for our canine companions?
Well, except for some of the equipment (e.g. machines and barbells) and the mirrors and flexing, strength training for dogs is very similar to that with humans. The underlying concept is to provide progressive resistance to the dog’s movement in order to stimulate muscle growth and strength. I often describe canine strength training as being very similar to a human body weight training program whereby most movements are done using the exerciser’s body weight only. I do not classify unloaded walking and running as strength exercises, even though they are body weight exercise and do build some muscle strength. These fall under the cardio category.
Examples of Dog Strength Training Exercises
We could probably write a book with all of the different types of strength exercises available for your dog. For now, we will list a few easy options to get you started. As always, make sure to check with your vet first if you plan on modifying your dog’s exercise regimen.
- Hills- using gravity is a great way to add a strength component to your dog’s workout. Walking, jogging, and our favorite, sprinting up hills can build tremendous muscle tone and conditioning. If your dog has any orthopedic issues, we suggest winding your way back down the hill which can ease the load on the joints.
- Weighted Vest- to increase the load and make any bodyweight exercise more challenging and burn more calories, consider using a weighted vest like the K9Fit Vest. The vest can even turn walks into a strength exercise.
- Squats- squat movements are great for leg strength. With dog’s you don’t even need a squat rack. Use movements like the Labby Limbo or other drills that force your dog to squat down and back up. Just make sure to work both front and hind legs equally.
- Water Walks/Runs- moving against water is one of the lowest impact strength moves available, which is why it is a popular rehab technique for dogs and humans alike.
- Sprinting- pedal to the medal sprinting, unlike jogging or running, can build incredible strength and muscle tone. Take a look at most human sprinter’s bodies if you want proof. Sprint drills require a well trained dog and, if you are up for joining them, a fast and well conditioned human to lead the way.
- Jumping- to work the fast twitch muscle fibers, which are used for speed and power, nothing compares with jumping exercises. You can use target platforms and perform reps (similar to the human ‘box jump’) or just work with your dog in the open field and have them jump to your hand which you can use to vary the height. If jumping is or becomes part of your routine, we strongly recommend a proper warm up before you start in order to prevent soft tissue injuries.
- Pulls/tugs- nothing like a game of tug to make you laugh and build your dog’s strength. Moving your hands higher to target more of the rear legs or lower to target the front legs.
Steve Pelletier is the Founder of Slimdoggy.com, where he writes about canine food, fitness, and overall health. Steve is also the inventor of the Slimdoggy app, a “Runkeeper” and “Weight Watchers” for dogs, that helps pet owners keep their dogs fit and healthy. Steve has been on ABC TV and several radio shows and podcasts where he shares his insights on how to keep a dog fit, trim, and healthy.