Top 5 Dog Exercises to Keep Fido Fit and Strong for Life
It’s time to get physical! Love it or hate it, exercise is just as important for your dog as it is for you. I walk on my desk treadmill every day to keep my joints loose and muscles toned. The Pet Health Network notes that obesity can lead to future health issues like arthritis, heart and breathing issues, and can even take two years off your dog’s life!
I love sharing pet health tips, and often consult other pet professionals. But always check with your veterinarian about your own dog’s specific issues, to make sure they stay happy and healthy.
Watch out for these dog fitness myths
Exercise is great for both you and your dog! It can help your dog look and feel better, and even make them less nervous when left alone, according to fitness experts at Texas A&M. But there are some misunderstandings about dog weight gain or lack of mobility that can cause pet parents to ignore signs that their dog is less fit.
- My dog is just getting old. Aging is natural, but that doesn’t mean trouble get up and down, or limping are normal. Any change in behavior calls for a vet check, sooner rather than later. Something as simple as a canine dental cleaning can energize a dog that felt bad and turn back the clock.
- Fitness and exercise are for injured/athletic/overweight dogs. Even young or fit-acting dogs can benefit from an exercise plan. Yes, specialized physical activity can help speed up the healing for an injured dog, and regular moderate exercise helps slim down pudgy pooches. Canine athletes get bored without regular exercise, too, and may need a veterinary chiropractor to maintain health. Here are more ways to help aging dogs.
- It’s normal for senior dogs to put on a little weight. Gaining weight doesn’t have to be a given as your pup gets older. Good nutrition, fitness for fun, and regular exercise all work to help prevent it, too. In fact, staying on the lean side relieves the strain on aging achy joints, and has been shown to prolong a dog’s lifespan.
Fitness and exercise go far beyond weight loss. It’s a way to help your canine buddy increase health, activity level, and interest in everyday life. That improves behavior, too. Just include a visit and check up with the veterinarian first.
Work at your dog’s pace for canine fitness
Moderation is key. When working on dog fitness, pick activities that match their ability level, and allow them to choose when they have had enough for that session. They will slowly improve over time. If your dog is done for the day, let them be done, so they continue to enjoy—not dread — their fitness sessions. If it’s clear your dog doesn’t enjoy or is uncomfortable with one of the suggested exercises below, like scary-looking stairs, choose another they enjoy.
Too much exercise can also cause problems, like sore muscles, wear-and-tear on paw pads, joint issues, heat sickness, and your dog could begin to dread rather than enjoy their play sessions with you. Some eager-to-please-you dogs (Border Collies!) may keep chasing that ball as long as you continue to throw it. Keep initial fitness sessions short and watch for signs of fatigue. You may need to be the one who says, “Time’s up!”
5 Easy Dog Exercises for Canine Fitness
The following exercises are probably quite different from how you normally play with your dog. Remember that going for daily walks and other simple activities are also great ways to help your dog stay fit.
- Up and down stairs. Our Shadow-Pup loves running up and down the stairs. He’s also a fetching maniac, so every day we have a stair game to keep him exercised. I send him to “bring” a particular toy (he loves his Tug toy), and he races to fetch it. Then once he thunders up the stairs to deliver it, I toss it over the banister to the first floor again—and he once more races down to retrieve it. If your pooch needs more persuasion, place a bit of a treat on each of the stairs, so he must climb them to collect the prize.
- Sit to stand. Getting up and down doesn’t seem like exercise until you do it repeatedly. Standing up and sitting back down for a dozen times would wear me out! This exercise builds your dog’s back legs and hip strength. Start early before your dog develops arthritis, and the extra muscle will help compensate as they age. Reward them with praise so they know they are correctly responding to your repeated cues.
- Down to stand. Oooh, I feel tired just thinking about this exercise, a sort of a canine equivalent of the human burpee. It’s a full-body workout for Fido! I used to do this with my Magical-Dawg as a puppy, and called it puppy pushups. These exercises not only keep the dog’s body fit, but also exercise dog brains.
- Stand on their cushy bed. “Any time you can get your dog on uneven surfaces, you’re making them move and exercise in a new way,” says Brittni Heywood who is a certified dog trainer, certified professional canine fitness trainer and the owner of Potential Unleashed in the Boise, Idaho region. Brittni recommends you have your pooch stand on their dog bed to have them activate muscles they don’t typically use when they walk across even surfaces.
- The 3-leg stand. Do you have trouble keeping your balance while standing on one foot–putting on socks, for instance? We’re told to practice this as we get older, to improve our balance. And the 3-leg stand does the same thing for dogs. Any time you challenge how your pup distributes their weight, their under-utilized muscles will wake up. Of course, some pets like my Bravo-Dawg developed great balance out of necessity after he lost his leg. When your canines have four-on-the-floor, try this exercise. It’s also a neat trick for keeping the dog’s mind on something other than the vet checking his eyes or ears.
Dogs naturally hold up a front paw to “shake” and usually won’t mind you grasping the paw for ten seconds or so. Extend this to the back paws, rotating in turn the front right to left rear, front left and rear right. Kneel behind your dog, making sure he stands square with all four paws under his shoulder or hips. Steady him with your left arm beneath his tummy, and reach forward to lift the right front paw up for ten seconds. Then, do the same with the left rear, and so on. You can see a video demonstration here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-Ip9m2PQFY
When you’re looking for ways to improve your pet’s health, always double-check advice you find online – even mine! – with your veterinarian. Dog exercise for canine fitness also doubles as cognitive enrichment, and a way to keep your dog’s brain lubricated and youthful.
Got a great dog exercise or fitness tip? Drop it in the comments below.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!