Canine fitness is important if we want our dogs to be healthy and able to live a comfortable and active life. Dogs, like humans, are becoming more sedentary and can succumb to the same medical conditions as humans if they don’t exercise regularly and eat well. In order to move well dogs need good muscle health. Healthy muscle comes from regular use and a good diet. It is important to maintain your dogs weight at a healthy level and minimise the amount of fat they carry. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily and when you look down on them from above you should be able to see a clear waist between their rib cage and their hips.
In order to maintain good fitness levels your dog needs both strength and stamina. Their muscles need to be able to contract and relax quickly and smoothly in order to allow the joints to move and their heart needs to be working well to allow oxygen rich blood to be moved round the body as it’s needed.
Stamina is built by exercising regularly and gradually increasing the time and intensity of exercise to make the heart work harder.
Strength is built when muscles are asked to perform actions repeatedly to a point where they are tired, but not exhausted. For example, in a human, if you want to build your biceps muscles in your upper arms you might hold a weight in your hand, keep your elbow close to your side and bend your elbow repeatedly so the weight comes towards your shoulder. If you did this 10 times every day with the same weight the muscle would develop to begin with but after a while there would be no more change as the muscle wasn’t being asked to work harder. This would be when you need to use a heavier weight or do more repetitions to make the muscle stronger.
When thinking about fitness in our dogs the same methods can be applied. Regular, daily walks of the same intensity and length are fantastic for maintaining fitness but to improve fitness remember the ABC.
A – add distance – go a bit further each day to build stamina
B – be faster – do the same length walk but do it quicker to also increase stamina
C – change the terrain – walk where there are hills or steps or sand to increase the muscle power used and therefore build more muscle
Introducing new activities also requires muscles to work harder or differently. Try to avoid high impact work as this can stress joints. Instead, try introducing some of the following into your dog’s day.
- more sit to stands
- more lie to sits
- walking across an air mattress
- crawling under a low bar or low table
- walking backwards
- touching their nose to their hip
- touching their nose to their back foot
- high fives
- Balancing on 3 legs – you will need to lift their feet and hold them to start with
Pick 2 0r 3 of these suggestions to start with and repeat 3-5 times. Gradually increase the number of activities, repetitions, distance walked or time held.
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