The fitness of our dogs can have far-reaching effects. How often we end up visiting the vet, how full our dog’s bucket is, how long they live and how stress-free their life is are all impacted by poor fitness levels. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about your dog’s fitness.
Body Condition Score
Is your dog an ideal weight for its breed type? While every breed will vary with respect to body proportions, overall we want to be able to see a nice abdominal tuck from the side and above (can you see a waist?). Being able to easily feel the last 1-3 ribs is also a good sign. When your dog is running and fully stretched out, you may even be able to see those last three ribs (if they have short hair). Managing the amount and quality of food our dog gets every day helps to keep the body condition score in check. Remember that recommendations on dog food packages are a general recommendation for the average dog. You may need to increase or decrease the recommended serving amount you deliver each day to suit your dog as an individual.
Exercise – A Level Plane
Maintaining a consistent level of exercise throughout the week can have a great impact on our dog’s health and fitness. If we only take short walks with our dog on the days we work and then take them out for hikes that last for hours on the weekend, they are likely to feel it (just like we do!). Injuries happen this way and more harm can be done than good. Resiliency to injury develops with consistent exercise, but that exercise does not have to look the same every day. You may take your dog for a sidewalk walk one day, a swim the next, play some games in the yard or allow them to have a play date with a friend. Whatever it is, try to keep overall level of exercise each day relatively consistent.
Make Time for Rest
Every time our dogs engage in an activity there is an element of healing that needs to happen. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated due to excitement (or fear, worry, stress), the body’s immune and healing system shuts down so that all energy to where it is needed at the time and stress hormones are released into the body. Dogs in a constant state of excitement and/stress have bodies that do not have a chance to rest and recover from minor aches, pains and strains. Promoting calmness and building in time each day for active rest gives the body a chance to have the parasympathetic nervous system activate and begin the healing process.
Equipment…Do You Need All That “Stuff”?
There are a lot of pieces of fitness equipment that are marketed to dog owners to use to help their dogs become ‘fit’ (think the big, inflatable peanut). Certain dogs benefit from these, but they can also be detrimental if not used properly. Sometimes reinforcing sustained body positions is just as good. Can your dog maintain a sustained sit, down or stand stay? One of the biggest reasons why dog’s break stays is not because they do not know what they are supposed to do, but because it is physically difficult to hold the position. Working on static body positions can help your dog build muscle without the risk of injury.
Posture and Form
How does your dog sit? Legs tucked in nicely, or splayed to the side? Look at their down position…do they look like a sphinx? Or are legs sticking out in all directions, body slumped to the side? Reinforcing proper posture and form when doing behaviours such as sit, down and stand can test our dogs and build their overall fitness.
The slower our dog does a behaviour the harder it is and the more it engages and strengthens their muscles. Fast and rapid behaviour changes can cause injury if done on a regular basis. Lure rather than shape behaviours and don’t worry too much about speed right off the bat. That can be added later if you need it.
Consider your Dog’s Body Structure
Each breed has different a body structure that might affect the kind of positions that they can hold and the type of activities they should be doing. Short legs, long backs, long legs, and straight rear angulation in the legs can all make certain activities more challenging, Knowing how your dog’s structure affects their ability to move can help you choose appropriate activities for them.
Walk, Trot, Run
It might sound strange, but can your dog slow down enough to walk properly? Some small dogs literally trot or run everywhere (their legs are small, and they have to keep up somehow!). Or, if their human is a naturally fast walker, a dog may spend much of its daily exercise time moving at a speed that is uncomfortable for it. Trying walking with your dog on lead at different speeds and watch how well they transition from one speed to the next. Being able to make a smooth transition from a walk to a trot and back to a walk again is a good sign of musculoskeletal and neurological fitness (are the signals between the brain and spinal cord firing properly?). Do they bounce, hop, drag their hind limbs? Gait patterns tell us a lot about a dog’s overall fitness and can indicate areas where targeted fitness work may be needed.
If you are interested in learning more about your dog’s fitness and want to learn more about how to incorporate something other than a walk, run or swim into your dog’s daily exercise routine, check out the Triple F Program (Fast, Fit, Flex) by Absolute Dogs (digital download):