“Fitness is great for all levels, ages and breeds. Every dog can benefit from fitness,” 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.
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 personally have a love/hate relationship with exercise. My favorite activity is taking my dogs on a long walk, but it doesn't really get that heart rate up. While running is not pleasant AT ALL, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I love cycling! Unfortunately, my pups don't cycle with me so I have to look at alternate ways to give them exercise besides our daily walks. The Pet Health Network points out that canine obesity can lead to future health issues like arthritis, and heart and breathing issues, and can even take two years off your dog’s life!
I love talking to other pet professionals and reading articles from experts about pet health and nutrition, so I decided to share some fitness tips that I have found and tried. Of course, always check with your veterinarian (or trainer if you have one) if you have questions or concerns about beginning a fitness program with your pet.
Watch out for these 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.
There are some misconceptions out there about weight gain or lack of mobility that can cause pet parents to ignore signs that their dog is less fit. Here are just a few.
- My dog is just getting old. Aging is natural but that doesn’t mean limping or problems jumping up on the bed are normal. Our older dog Bonnie used to be highly athletic, but in recent years she has had lots of trouble getting to her favorite spot on the couch. Working with her veterinarian on joint supplements and pain meds has helped tremendously.
- Fitness and exercise are for injured/athletic/overweight dogs. Even young or fit-acting dogs can benefit from an exercise plan. Our small dog Toby is a true couch potato! But, I make sure I get him some play time and a short walk outdoors every day.
- It’s normal for senior dogs to put on a little weight. As our dogs have gotten older, they have started to gain weight too. In response to this, I've tried to vary their foods and treats in order to keep their interest and their weight under control. 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.
Fitness and exercise go far beyond weight loss. It’s a way to help your Fido improve their cardiovascular health, develop strength, and improve balance.
One point that’s definitely not a myth: If you have concerns about your dog’s weight or reduction in mobility, or if you want to significantly increase your pet’s activity level, a visit to your veterinarian for a health checkup is your first fitness step!
“It’s important to start your dog on their fitness journey early. Don’t wait for an injury. Be proactive, not reactive when it comes to their health and fitness,” 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. “A regular fitness routine can help them develop the strength and balance they’ll need to have a great quality of life, even as they age.”
Work at your Dog's Pace
Moderation is key. When working on fitness with your dog, pick activities that match their level of fitness, 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, and heat sickness, and your dog could begin to dread rather than enjoy their play sessions with you.
Some eager-to-please-you dogs may keep chasing that ball as long as you continue to throw it, so keep initial fitness sessions short and watch for signs of fatigue. You may need to be the one who says “Time’s up!”
Simple Exercises for Canine Fitness
- Sit to stand. Getting up and down doesn’t seem like exercise until you do it repeatedly. Standing up and sitting back down 20 times would be plenty of exercise for me! This task is great for your dog’s back legs and hip strength. Reward them with praise so they know they are correctly responding to your repeated cues.
- 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.
- Fetch. Who doesn’t love watching their dog run back to you over and over, with fun and love in their eyes? My dog Harriet would chase a tennis ball for hours if I left her! Some dogs feel compelled to chase a thrown toy even when they are tired, so don’t overdo this if you can see your pup is getting pooped - especially in the hot Texas summer.
- The 3-leg stand. This is a great test of balance, just as a one-legged stand is for humans. Any time you challenge how your pup distributes its weight, its under-utilized muscles will wake up. This is really good my for my senior pup Bonnie!
- Walk backward. When I walk backward, I definitely feel different muscles at work, plus it gives my brain a boost to do something out of my routine. Your dog will likely have a similar experience. Learning and practicing “back up” helps them use their muscles in a new way.
- Teaching something new. Teaching your dog new tricks or standard good-citizen and safety skills like “sit,” “stay,” “down,” “come,” and loose-leash walking, keeps them both physically and mentally stimulated. Have you tried the command "wait" - I can't tell you how many times that command has come in handy with our youngest pup Winston!
When you’re looking for ways to improve your pet’s health, always double-check the advice you find online – even mine! – with your veterinarian or an expert source like the Pet Health Network. You can find even more exercise tips here.
Got a great dog exercise or fitness tip? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During my normal photo sessions, I try to get some action shots of your dog in motion. It adds some fun variety to your final gallery of images. But don't worry, leashes are required! I can even bring really super long leashes to your dog can have a bit of a run while I snap photos. Interested in getting your dog photographed? Just click here to get the conversation started!