My 17-year-old dog has better core strength than I do. It’s a fact. It’s also a fact that he and I are far more committed to his workouts than I am to mine. I wish I loved working out as much as my dog, but his workouts are so much more fun.
So what is canine fitness? In brief, it involves conditioning workout exercises using balance discs, rollers, and if you have the space, doggie treadmills. For my dogs, it means tons of cookies and playing with toys while getting to do tricks on all the fun candy colored balls, discs, boxes, and platforms.
My four dogs get a lot of off-leash exercise—exploring, hiking, running, and swimming—but even the most active fit dogs benefit from spending some time every week doing specific exercise to strengthen and support their core and joints.
So while my 17-plus-year-old dog, True, is still very active, swimming several days a week and out on adventures almost every day, he is an elderly dog. And like many senior dogs, his old dog knees and back end are not what they once were.
I first started playing around with fitness-specific games with my dogs when I started agility training with True. To help increase his body awareness and confidence on unstable surfaces, I was using a bosu ball, which is a rubber disc people use to work out with. True loves to train, so we had a blast doing tricks on the bosu—standing on the tippy disc while raising a paw, turning in a circle, or doing sit-down-stands were fun for him and good for his body.
The canine fitness world has really opened up over the last 10 years. From full-time rehabilitation clinics to special workshops for dog-sport athletes that train and compete in everything from agility, flyball, ring sports, and dock diving. But any dog will benefit and have fun doing canine fitness exercise. I know mine do. My dogs get to spend a lot of time running off leash in all kinds of terrain, so I know that their cardio needs are met. But I also know that doesn’t cover the finer details of a well-balanced level of fitness.
So we do short regular workouts a few days a week with different pieces of canine-specific fitness equipment from company’s like Fitpaws and Toto Fit. I use all of the basic behaviors (sit, stand, down, come, stay) and the tricks (paw lifts, turns, backing up, head down, etc.) that my dogs are trained to perform. Conditioning isn’t about fast frantic movements; it’s much better to have them hold and move into positions in a controlled manner to really work their muscles. Letting them go crazy looks fun, but it encourages them to not pay attention to what their body is doing and defeats the goal of working those little core muscles that don’t get used as often.
Try This at Home
Photo by Dianne Morey
Today’s workout is focused on rear-end strengthening exercises with my 2-year-old dog and my 17-year-old dog.
Since we are targeting the rear legs, lower back, and core for today’s workout, the front end is always raised a little higher than the rear. This simple concept puts the back end to work big time.
First do a simple stand-stay, then head lifts up to shift the weight to the back legs even more, and then front paw lifts. Even just having your dog hold a standing position for 10 to 30 seconds with his or her front feet on a piece of wood will give their lower back and rear legs a lot to do. For my old dog, I used a K9FITbone, which is an inflated rubber bone-shaped piece of equipment that is covered in knobby bumps. The bumps give the added benefit of making the toe flexors work, and maintaining flexible toes is incredibly important, especially for aging dogs.
With his front feet up on this, his weight gets shifted back to his rear legs. Even just standing with his front feet on the slightly wobbly FITbone is a big workout for him. Do 30 seconds of standing front feet up and then off of it. My guy easily offers the behavior and doesn’t want to stop, so I have to make him step off and lie down to allow his muscles to relax, and then he gets back on.
My 2-year-old dog, Super Sic, is a fit, athletic youngster that made it into the finals at the Splash Dogs Dock Diving National Championship last year, and he has just started competing in agility. Dogs tend to use their front end to do 60 percent to 70 percent of the work when they are moving. My goals for Sic’s workouts is to increase his muscle mass overall and especially in his core and back legs to help give him even more power when running and jumping.
I have him perform the exact same exercises as the older dog, except he starts with 30-second reps on the FITbone then we add another more wobbly disc under his rear feet for 30-second reps. Then we gradually increase the size and wobbliness of the objects he’s using with his front feet always up higher then his rear.
I try to have every dog push a little more each time so each isworking almost to exhaustion so that the muscles are constantly being challenged. For the older dog, each repetition is going to be shorter, and he’s going to get more rest breaks. Still, he loves doing it so much, it’s hard to get him to stop.
After the workout, we drive to the beach and the old dog and the young dog run and swim. Which is really what it’s all about—another chance to run on the beach with my 17-year-old dog.
Dianne Morey, CTC, has been a dog trainer for 18 years and is an honors graduate of The Academy For Dog Trainers. After working at an animal shelter for many years, she started her own private dog training business where she specialized in basic pet dog training and behavioral problems. She is now a full-time agility trainer at Ace Dog Sports in San Francisco and teaches obedience classes at Dodger’s Paws in Pleasanton. She also offers sport dog coaching and canine fitness workshops and classes through her new private training business, Stay True Dogs. Morey lives in the East Bay with her boyfriend and their four dogs Super Sic, Royal, Zero, and True. She and her dogs have successfully competed in a wide variety of dog sports, have performed trick dog shows at children’s birthday parties and sporting even halftime shows. She spends her free time on adventures with her dogs and documents them through her photography.
Main article photo by: Dianne Morey