Exercise to build your dog's muscles
02 Nov, 2016
One of my favourite exercises for canine conditioning is hill walking. Hill walking strengthens muscles and improves a dog’s body awareness: both of which are essential for a symmetrical gait and reducing the likelihood of muscle strain.
Hill walking is suitable for most canine conditioning situations including:
- Rehabilitation after an injury or an operation,
- Conditioning for running, jumping, and swimming activities,
- Keeping older dogs mobile to prevent slips and falls and maintain quality of life, and
- Strengthening supporting musculature in dogs with chronic conditions like hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis and others.
How does hill walking benefit dogs?
By walking downhill, uphill, sideways across a hill and backwards up a hill, your dog can get close to a full body workout.
Up hill walking – the dog walks forward up the incline
This exercise extends and flexes the hips joint which strengthens the muscles supporting the hip including the gluteals and “hamstring” muscles – semitendinous and semimembranous. It also exercises the muscles that extends the knee.
Walking up an incline also increases the range of motion in the shoulder, elbow, carpal joints of the forelimb.
Down hill walking – the dog walks forward down the incline.
This exercise requires the dog to brake with the muscles in the shoulders and elbows thereby strengthening these muscles as well as the muscles of the dog’s thigh such as the sartorial.
Diagonal walking or side stepping down the hill – dog is positioned across the incline and asked to move side ways up or down the incline.
This exercise strengthens the muscles on the inside of the thigh and shoulder to keep the limbs positioned under the joints. This exercise is beneficial to encourage weighting bear on a limb and it builds the dog’s awareness of their limbs which assists with co-ordination.
Walking backward down a hill – dog facing up the incline and asked to walk backward.
This is an exercise to try with agile dogs or much later in the rehabilitation process. This exercise strengthens the hamstring muscles and aids body awareness and coordination.
Tips for effective hill walking conditioning
- Make sure your dog walks. You may keep them on their lead to begin. At the walking gait, the dog is in the stance phase and weight bearing for the longest period. Reward your dog for maintaining a walking gait and not hopping or trotting – which is an easier gait.
- Start out with very short, gentle slopes that provide the dog good friction but not too much resistance. Good surfaces would be concrete, paving, and short grass.
As your dog progresses and gets stronger you can get more from your hill walking by:
- Increasing the distance
- Increasing the incline
- Increasing the difficulty of the terrain – start easy on concrete or even surfaces. Build up to uneven surfaces like sand or longer grass.
Where can you find hills in the suburbs?
Hill walking is an accessible, easy and free way to give your dog a great workout and you can find “hills” even in the suburbs. Here are some tips for finding “hills”.
- Make ramps at home – Place planks over steps or bricks at home. Ensure your ramps are sturdy, provides good surface friction and are wide enough for your dog to feel comfortable.
- Sloping driveways – This is an easy way to start your conditioning programme. The distance is short and the surface even.
- Railway stations and shopping centres – Many public places offer accessibility ramps. They are not too steep and offer good traction.
- Waterways – Often the side of waterways or rainwater runoff drains provide a good slope.
- Skate parks – If you can find a skate park without skateboarders, they offer a good range of slopes and obstacles to increase strength and body awareness.
Remember start out slowly, give your dog a good warm up before hill walking (for tips on warm up, please see http://www.fullstride.com.au/blog/Do-I-need-to-warm-my-dog-up-before-exercise) and provide a couple of days of rest between sessions.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. for assistance with developing a conditioning programme for your dog.
Until next time, enjoy your dogs
Edge-Hughes, Laurie 2007 “Hip and sacroiliac disease: selected disorders and their management with physical therapy”, Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice 22 p 183 – 194
McGowan, C. 2016. Animal physiotherapy: assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of animals. John Wiley & Sons.
Millis, D.L, Levine, D & Taylor R.A (ed) (2004) Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy, Elsevier Inc, Missouri USA