Do any of these sounds familiar?
Your new puppy’s rear half seems to move at a different speed then its front half.
The sweet senior dog struggles to get to its feet after a cozy nap.
Your high speed “powering through life” sport dog is dropping bars or jumping short of their personal best during a full day of trialing.
A fitness program for your puppy or dog can help with all these things. A program for your puppy can build advanced body awareness and improved coordination. The sweet senior dog could benfit from more muscle strength and joint range of motion to assist with raising up to a stand. And the sporting dog will benefit from exercises specific to activties that you and they love to particpate in. All that and lots, lots more.
Now I wouldn’t have realized any of this until about 5 years ago. We adopted Chase and we knew he was going to grow up to be a big boy. Norman was also late in his senior years and we were reminded of the changes and limitations that aging comes with.
I wanted to give Chase the best opportunity to live a long mobile pain free life. So I dove head first into the world of canine fitness and decided to become a certified fitness coach. Not only did I want to support my own dogs’ health, but since I love all dogs, I wanted to help your dog too.
Fitness for Pet Dogs
Pet dogs more than ever can benefit from a regular fitness routine. It is not the same torture we humans endure going to the gym, drudgingly getting on the treadmil, or lifting stinky weights.
Quite the opposite. Strenght and flexibility training with your dog should be fun and include play. A fitness routine is not only meant to benefit their bodies but also their minds.
- First, it will enhance your bound with your dogs because you will work together to learn the movements needed specifcally for an exercise.
- You will also build trust with each other as you ask them to move their bodies in new ways that at first feels unatural.
- And finally, the less confident dog will be more empowered and become more eager to participate in fitness and training because of the high rate of reinformcement for trying something new.
The most important thing to remember, keep it fun!
Fitness for Puppies
Oh puppies! I think God made puppies so cute so that when they are naughty chewing on your favorite shoes or digging holes in the flower beds we still fall deeply in love with those sweet puppies eyes. Can you honestly say you are not under their spell?
As a new puppy parent you might think that a fitness routine is an answer to your puppy’s antics. Much to the contrary, puppies should not have a formal fitness routine but should be safely exposed to different surfaces and textures of the equipment we use in fitness traning.
Puppyhood is a fantastic time to start training the fitness foundations on the flat. “On the flat” refers to training without balance or strength challengs on inflatable or unstable equipment. Puppies joints and growth plates are still soft and not fully formed so repetive stress on those joints needs to be avoided at all costs.
Below are some puppy fitness do’s and don’ts to help you raise a healthy active pup. Follow these recommendations and you’ll reduce the likelihood of arthritis and dysplasia in the future.
Puppy Exercise “Don’ts”
- Manage your puppies environment while they are younger than 3 months to avoid using stairs. It might seem overkill but carrying your puppy during this critical time can reduce the risk of your pup developing hip dysplasia as an adult.
- Avoid repetitive actions at all costs. This includes fetching the ball, practicing sits or downs, and jumping in/ out of the car.
- Biking or running with your is a big no-no. A puppy will try and keep up with you at the detriment of their developing bodies. Even though they can – doesn’t mean they should.
- Don’t let your puppy exhaust themselves. Just like children, puppies need time to rest for their growing bodies and minds. Use an x-pen or crate to teach them when it is time to relax.
Puppy Exercise Do’s
- Exerise your pup for 5 minutes for every month of age
- Allow puppies younger than 3 month to have off leash, self directed, exercise. Avoid hard surfaces like pavement and choose gently rolling, varied, and moderately soft ground.
- Play tug but only hold on and keep the toy at the natural head height of your pup.
- Schedule play dates with other appropriate sized puppies. Just be sure their play styles and temperments are a good match.
Fitness for the Working or Sporting Dogs
There are a lot of dogs that have jobs. And not only the obvious jobs like police K9 units, military K9s, or search and rescue dogs. Dogs are working to assist humans to travel out in the world without being able to see, assisting persons with disabilities to live an independent life, and work to emotionally support folks during a time of crisis. All of these roles are physically and mentally taxing.
The dog that participates and competes in sports also fits into this same category as it relates to canine fitness benefits. These are highly trained dogs who exert an immense amount of effort to compete in some very demanding sports such as agility, fly ball, and schutzhund to name a few.
Canine fitness needs to be a lifestyle for these dogs during their competing or working years through retirement. A sporting and working dog that has a weak foundation can lead to acute injuries due to excessive wear and tear of the dogs body. Here are some key points to address in a canine fitness program for these sporty or working dogs:
- They require a comprehensive or cross training fitness plan that works the dogs body in all planes of motion: sagittal, dorsal, and transverse.
- A training plan should have focus on strengthening for the movements required by the dogs specific job or sport.
- With extreme activity come the potential for sore and tight muscles. Flexibility is a necessity for their canine fitness plan to help avoid injury or chronic issues down the road.
- Slow it down! Sporting and working dogs are referred to as “high drive”. That is why they are generally ” up for the job”. Slow is the new fast in fitness. Slow, controlled movement allows the dog to activate more muscles instead of using momentum to achieve the completed exercise.
Fitness for Seniors Dogs
I have a sweet spot in my heart for all topics related to senior dogs. They have given so much to us already in their short live. If you’ve had a senior dog in your life you know they start to experience changes both physical and mentally.
It is our job to be very observant so we can catch these changes and “listen” to what they are trying to tell us. Sometimes these “messages” could be the new normal or could warrant a visit to your vetrinarian for an exam. Use your best conservative judgment.
- Senior dogs, or dogs with special conditions, should be cleared by your veterinarian to participate in a fitness program if this is their first time.
- Keep it simple. Start on the flat, low repeitions, progress slowly, and be aware signs of fatique.
- The emphasis should be on achieving proper form for each exercise
- Be patient and go slow. A senior dog can increase their strength and joint function with a regular fitness routine but will require more recovery time between exercises.
- Be their biggest cheer leader and tell them how awesome they are!
I hope this post motivates you to start a fitness routine for your dog no matter what life stage they are in or job that they have.
Check our the Nose 2 Tail Fit page and feel free to contact me to discuss your dogs fitness needs. I can help develop a training and fitness plan for your dog or I can assist you in finding a Certified Canine Fitness Coach in your area.