Updated: Nov 24, 2019
We’ve all heard about how important being in good physical condition is for us. Having stronger muscles, good balance and a good cardiovascular system creates a healthier body, both physically and mentally for us humans.
The same is true for our dogs. The healthier our dogs are, the less likely an injury will occur, the less likely joint diseases will develop, the stronger their heart and muscles will be, and they are much more likely to live longer! Just like in humans, dogs that are involved in a balanced K9 Fitness program can live longer than a dog that does not engage in K9 Fitness.
One of the elements of a balanced K9 Fitness program is strength training. There are many components of strength training, one being resistance training.
So, what is resistance training for canines? Why is it important? How do we do it?
Resistance training is a form of strength training wherein effort is performed against an opposing force generated by resistance. For example, in humans, weight lifting is a form of resistance training as the weight of the dumbbell is the force being opposed to by the movement of a particular body part. The force generated is more difficult and thus increases the strength building of that muscle or groups of muscles.
Gravity can also be an opposing force so jogging uphill is a form of resistance training.
The goal of resistance training is to gradually and progressively overload the musculoskeletal system so it gets stronger (American Sports Medicine Institute). If we continue to do the same thing with our dogs, even those that are doing some type of fitness program, they will stay at a status quo and won’t improve and/or get stronger and thus in better shape.
There are 3 factors that determine the results of the overloading process.
The amount of force being generated by the opposing stressor.
The number of reps performed.
The speed the repetitions are performed.
Of course, it’s important to note that only one of these factors should be increased at a time and only by approximately 10%. Adding more than one of these factors at a time can cause undue stress and potential injury to a dog.
WHY SHOULD MY DOG DO K9 RESISTANCE TRAINING?
As we have talked about before, strength training is very important for all dogs, whether they are working K9s, participate in competitive sports or are companion dogs. We want our dogs to be in good shape, to live longer and to be healthy throughout their lives and into their senior years.
Working and sport dogs need to continue to build strength not only to help build muscle which in turn will help them with jumps, weaves, quick turns, better form but also will increase stamina for better speed and performance.
Conformation dogs can also benefit from a fitness program. The better shape a conformation dog is in, the better they will look and feel to a judge in the ring.
Companion and pet dogs who may not be involved in a sport activity also benefit greatly from a balanced fitness program which includes resistance and other forms of strength training. Companion dogs who spend time playing with other dogs, playing ball and/or Frisbee, or other fun activities benefit from being in good physical condition as they too are susceptible to injuries. The better the physical condition your dog is in, the less likely they will get injured if they misstep or turn too fast to catch the ball, when they leap up to catch the Frisbee and land on uneven ground or chasing or being chased when playing with other dogs.
Starting our dogs in a balanced fitness program early in life (although it’s never too late to start) can also help prevent muscle loss, joint issues and balance issues as our dogs age and move into their senior years!
Resistance training stimulates muscle growth and increases bone density as well as strengthens connective tissues such as tendons that can help prevent injuries. It will increase metabolic rate, burn more calories, increase performance and help reduce or prevent joint pain, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
The very first thing we should always do before doing any kind of fitness program with our dogs is to ensure they are healthy enough to get started. Talking with your veterinarian is always a good idea to make sure your dog is in good health first.
Any time we are asking our dog to use his or her body in a way that utilizes muscles, stamina, ligaments, tendons, cardio – we also need to prepare our dogs for that type of exercise or training. Doing warm up exercises will warm up the muscles, loosen the ligaments and tendons, increase the heart rate – all to prepare the body for the work or exercise we will be asking them to do. Just like in humans, Injuries occur when we tax the body without proper preparation.
3-6 minutes of trotting, fast pace waking, dynamic stretching (the dog doing the stretching through luring or hand targets – not the human manually doing it), leg weaves, spins, twists, lunging like a horse in a circle (both directions) or any combination of these are easy ways to warm up your dog and make sure he or she is ready for the additional exercises and stress (a good stress) in the strengthening phase.
WHAT KIND OF THINGS CAN I HAVE MY DOG DO FOR RESISTANCE TRAINING?
There are many ways of doing resistance/strength training.
Using gravity is a great low impact way of getting started. Walking, trotting or sprinting up hill is a great way to build muscle tone, increase cardiovascular, and burn calories. This is great for dogs that are over weight as they are using their own weight against gravity to get in shape. For dogs that are over weight or have some joint issues, side winding back down the hill will keep the pressure off the joints, especially in the front end.
If your dog likes the water, having your dog walk in water that is just past their belly and at hip level, provides resistance training in a low impact form.
Squat training is also a great way to improve strength, and again, using gravity, it can provide a nice low impact exercise for dogs. A fun way to have your dog do squats is have them go under a pole, a low table or a bench. You don’t want it so low that they end up crawling but also don’t want it so high that they don’t have to squat to go under. This exercise uses their body weight against gravity and strengthens the core, front and rear legs.
Teaching your dog to jump or bounce also provides some strength training. When your dog lifts their front legs when they jump up, they are strengthening front legs and shoulders.
Speed drills are also a great way to build strength as well as endurance. Putting your dog in a sit and you running a specific distance away from them (generally at least 50-75 yards is ideal but 40-75 would be okay as well), and while you are holding their favorite toy or food, calling them to you while you are waiving their toy will cause the to run very quickly to you. If you want to increase their speed, as soon as you call them, and they begin running, run the opposite way and just before they get to you, turn to them and reward with their toy! This will increase their speed even more. You can do this on flat ground to begin with and as they become stronger can begin to add in uphill work.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to do resistance training with your dog is to play tug! You can do this right in your own back yard! By bringing your hands higher you are increasing strength more in the back end. Bringing your hand with the tug toy low to the ground increases the strength training in the front legs.
Increasing the number of repetitions you do for each of these or the speed of the reps will increase the muscle growth and strength in your dog.
ADDING EVEN MORE RESISTANCE
If your dog has been doing some form of K9 Fitness and is in good enough condition to increase the criteria, there are several ways you can add more resistance to these and other exercises to increase the intensity and therefore the muscle strength and increased bone density for your dog.
As discussed in the beginning, one of the 3 factors to increase the results of the strength training is to increase the amount of force or resistance that is being used.
Adding a weighted vest to walks, trotting, canicross, bicycling or bikjoring, skijoring or any of the above-mentioned exercises will increase the resistance and build more muscle and bone density in your dog.
It’s very important to make sure the weighted vest fits properly, is not loose, not sliding but also is not too tight. For example, the Canine Fit Vest by DogTread is a nice vest that can be used by the companion dog during walks as well as the competitive sport or working dog to increase the challenge of the work out.
I’m not a fan of backpacks/harness as many of them are too loose, can restrict shoulder movement and can create imbalances in our dog which can ultimately lead to a potential injury.
Parachutes are another way to add resistance and increase strength training as well as cardiovascular development. There are many different ones out there so doing some research and reading reviews will be important in making sure you get the best one for your dog. I purchased one on Amazon and use it with my dog, Ziva.
Photo credit: Firepaw.eu
By attaching the parachute to a properly fitted harness, and giving your dog an incentive to run, the parachute provides resistance and thus increases muscle and cardiovascular strength in our dogs.
Of course, careful acclimation to the parachute before asking your dog to run with it is important. We don’t want to scare our dogs with what some may perceive as a scary thing following them when they run.
Other forms of resistance training are anything that are dogs have to pull. Attaching a line to a specialized harness (there are specific harnesses made for this type of activity) and the other end to either a cart, a bicycle, a person, tires, etc. and having the dog move forward either walking or running will increase resistance and increase muscle growth. Generally, the muscles that are being utilized when a dog is pulling something are the large muscle groups in the legs (mostly the front legs), neck and shoulders.
Things like weight pulling, canicross bikjoring, skijoring are all forms of resistance training and provide a great way to strengthen and tone muscles as well as improve endurance.
Of course, just as we need to prepare our dog’s body before their exercise work out, we need to do a post exercise routine as well called a cool down!
Skipping the cool down process can cause muscles, ligaments and tendons to shorten and risk tearing the next time your dog just goes out to play. Skipping a cool down routine can also increase chances of over heating as the body isn’t getting a chance to cool down properly and an increased amount of soreness and pain can develop if we skip this important step in our dog’s journey for good health.
A cool down routine is easy! Just walk your dog (no trotting) and provide very small amounts of water periodically until your dog’s heart rate and body temperature are back to normal. End the session with some stretching to break up the lactic acid that built up during exercise to prevent soreness and pain later, and you have just done a cool down routine!
If you would like more information on how to get started in K9 Fitness or would like to advance a fitness program you are already doing with your dog, please contact me for a free consultation to discuss the various K9 Fitness options I offer. As a Certified Canine Athlete Specialist / Canine Fitness Trainer, I will asses the current status of your dog and design a fitness program that fits your dog’s needs and your schedule!