Spring Circuit Training for Your Dog

By Dr. Laura Hady

With the longer days and warmer weather, I can’t help but think of starting a new exercise routine for myself and my dogs so that we look and feel better by summer. There is no need to go out and buy expensive equipment because many exercises can utilize items that are in most households. Here are some ways to help you and your dog exercise safely and enjoy a new routine as you take hikes in the mountains or walks along the Bosque.

  • Weave between objects about twice the length of your dog. Objects can include poles, chairs, and buckets. I often keep a treat in front of my dog’s nose and give it right away to encourage them to walk between the objects. You can also use a leash and harness to guide the dog and then provide a treat at the end of each repetition. Weaving improves balance by shifting the weight from side to side, engaging shoulder and leg muscles on when climbing up a hill.
  • Step over objects of various textures (wood, metal, hoses, rolled blankets), heights, and spacing. For this exercise, I recommend objects between one and four inches high, depending on the height of your dog, and placing thee treats in a straight line, flat on the floor. Space them at a distance that is two to three inches longer than the length of your foot so that you don’t trip or twist an ankle. This helps your dog with flexion and proprioception (knowing where the body is in space). The wider apart the objects and the faster that you both go will help with extension. Some owners do these in circles around a big tree or in a straight line using a ladder, by stepping between ladder rungs.
  • Try tire in-and-outs, which help build leg and hip muscles and are similar to a human wall sit or squat. If you don’t have a tire, you can use a set of pillows or pillow rolls in a square. The object is to have the dog step into the middle, take a seat on the pillow, hold for 10-20 seconds, and then step over the pillow in front of them. The two pillows on the opposite sides help to create a boundary for the animal. If your dog doesn’t like soft objects to sit on, then use a recycled tire with a middle diameter double the width of your dog and low enough that it can easily step in-and-out. For super small dogs, you can use pool noodles with the ends taped together to form a circle.
  • Walk backwards to engage the flexor muscles of the legs and improve proprioception. I often teach this exercise between the couch and coffee table. Have the dog walk forward in the area, and when you get to the end of the couch, stand in front of your dog with a treat. Give the “back” command, and then walk forward while your pet takes steps backward. Reward the dog with a treat or praise for each step taken back. Some dogs perform better when using the same boards for the regular stepovers so that when the animal starts to back up, the foot touches the object and the dog is reminded to pick up its leg.
  • Do rollovers and the military crawl, which are basic exercises that help to work your pet’s core. I tend to teach rollovers when a dog is young by having the animal sit and go down on all fours in a flexed position (sphinx like). You can gently push the dog to one side while giving a treat, and then scratch the hair on the abdomen and give them a treat. The next step is to have them follow a treat while being gently pushed all the way over. Military crawls involve crawling forward and backward with the dog in the sphinx position.
  • Go “around the world.” For this weight-shifting exercise, have your dog stand next to a wall or couch and lift one leg at a time by a few inches. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds. Move around its body (around the world), holding up one limb at a time. The “challenge round” is when you are able to hold up one limb in the front and the diagonal limb in the back. This builds muscles by working against gravity.

These are just a few exercises to help your dog move more easily, especially when in rocky or unfamiliar terrain. Start with three to five repetitions of each exercise, either at one time or one rep per station and go down the list five times. If you have any concerns about your dog’s ability to do these exercises, contact your family veterinarian. Making a game out of circuit training can give your dog an extra spring in his or her step and help reinforce the bond that you have when conquering unknown territories.

 

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