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Canine Conditioning For Beginners

Canine conditioning is an important aspect of a dog's health and well-being. Conditioning exercises help dogs develop and maintain strong muscles, improve flexibility and coordination, improve body awareness and balance, and reduce the risk of injury. Whether you have a high-performance sporting or working dog or even a family pet, incorporating conditioning exercises into your dog's routine can have numerous benefits.


In this blog post, we'll discuss why specific conditioning exercises are an important part of helping your dog be as fit and healthy as they can be. Also why static exercises are crucial for stabiliser muscles, which are often overlooked, and why dynamic exercises are also essential for a well-rounded conditioning program.





The Importance of Specific Conditioning Exercises for Muscle Building


Muscle building is a crucial aspect of canine conditioning. Strong muscles help dogs perform better in all various activities, from agility and flyball to obedience training to gun dogs and step work. Additionally, specific muscle strengthening can help reduce the risk of injuries to your dog and, in the unlucky event that an injury does happen, help to reduce the recovery time from injuries.


When it comes to muscle building, specific exercises that target different muscle groups are necessary. Often we look at dogs with a lot of muscle bulk and think “Wow that dog is super fit!”, but so often I find these dogs have great muscles in some places, but really lacking in others. Different muscles play different roles in a dog's movements, and specific exercises help develop those muscles. For example, a rockback sit and step to stand primarily target the major muscle groups in a dogs back legs. Whereas a duration stand targets the stabiliser muscles in the dog's front and back legs as well as their core.




Importance of Static Exercises


Static exercises are essential for developing stabiliser muscles. Stabiliser muscles are small muscles that help support the joints and keep the body stable during movement. Strong stabiliser muscles can help reduce the risk of injury by providing support to the joints.


Two great static exercises for dogs are the sit and stand, specifically holding them for a set duration of time. Here’s a super crucial part though! If your dog isn’t performing these exercises with good form then holding them for a long duration can do more damage than good. You need to know what good form looks like for each of these exercises.



Correct Form in a Sit

  • Hips, knees (stifles) & hocks should be aligned

  • All paws facing forwards, nice and straight

  • Back legs should be tucked under & kept close to the body, not falling out to one side or the other.

  • Not leaning onto their hips or rocking back onto their tail set or rump

  • Front paws should be in line with their shoulders, straight underneath

  • Topline should be level (as appropriate for breed)

  • Head and neck in a neutral position looking forwards

  • Muzzle parallel to the ground.


Correct Form in a Stand

  • All 4 feet should be under each corner of the dog's body

  • Front paws should be in line with their shoulders

  • Topline level

  • Head and neck in neutral position with muzzle parallel to the ground - looking straight ahead, not up or down or to either side

  • Forearms and rear pastern should be perpendicular to the ground

Troubleshooting

Please be aware that this may look slightly different for certain breeds such as the German shepherd who’ll often need to stand with their back legs staggered and the Bedlington terrier & whippet for another example who will have a slight arch to their spine as a Breed feature.


A good starting place with these exercises is to perform 2 reps holding the position for 3 seconds, have 60 seconds of rest, then perform another set of 3 reps. From there you can gradually increase the duration that the dog holds the positions for.

Not sure which body parts we're referring to? Checkout this post on our Instagram!

Importance of Dynamic Exercises

Dynamic exercises for dogs are an essential part of a well-rounded conditioning program. There are so many dynamic exercises you Cana choose from to target specific muscle groups, the two basic exercises that we will focus on are the Rockback Sit & Step to Stand and the Down to Stand.

The Rockback Sit & Step to Stand is an exercise that targets your dog's rear end, focusing on the quadriceps and glutes, but also targeting hip and stifle flexors such as iliopsoas as well as hip extensors such as the bicep femoris. This can also help increase a dog's range of motion in their hips, stifles and hocks. When moving correctly the dog should also engage their core to help keep their topline level.


To perform this exercise, start with your dog in a square stand, then use a treat to lure them to step their forelimbs backwards to end in a sit. You will want to lift your hand up and back simultaneously to help prevent any movement from the back paws. Their back paws should not move so the key initially is to move slowly and not use a verbal cue so that they gradually step their forelimbs backwards into the sit. Then using a treat lure them to step forwards into a stand again. Their back paws should still remain stationary!


The Down to Stand exercise targets primarily the gastrocnemius, quads and glutes in the rear, the core, and then in the front we’ll be focusing on triceps, deltoids, biceps, lats and trapezius. This also helps improve the range of movement in the Shoulders, Elbows, Hips, Stifles and Hocks.

To perform this exercise, start with your dog in a down position. Using a treat, lure your dog into a stand position with a smooth diagonal movement. Once your dog is in the stand position, reward them. Then, using another treat, lure your dog back down into a down position. Praise and reward your dog again. Key points here are to ensure your dog achieves correct form in both the down and stand positions before starting the movements to make sure they are engaging their muscles correctly. Their paws should not move throughout the exercise, if they are moving their paws it is usually because the handlers hand movement is not correct. Their topline should remain level throughout this exercise.


A good starting place with these exercises is to perform 3 reps, have 60s of rest, then perform another set of 3 reps. From there you can gradually increase the number of reps and sets, though it’s best to consult a professional on this, as you will want the plan to be specific to your sport or activity. For example, with power and strength the reps will need to be low but high intensity, whereas for endurance the reps will be high with low intensity. There are a number of ways in which we can alter the intensity to make an exercise harder or more difficult that isn’t just focussing on reps or sets! We may cover this in a future post, but if you want to get going with this ASAP contact us for 1-2-1 sessions or check out the Canine Fitness App! Also available on Android: click here!


It is important to note that all exercises should be performed in a controlled and safe environment. All exercises should be practiced as groundwork first before you introduce any equipment. Always ensure that your dog is warmed up before performing any exercises, and that they are performing the exercises correctly to reduce the risk of injury. As with any exercise program, it is important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises over time.




In conclusion, canine conditioning is an important part of keeping your dog healthy and happy, whether they are a pet dog, an active dog, or a working/sporting dog. Specific conditioning exercises are essential for muscle building, and we need to target the right muscles to ensure our dog is as fit as they can be! A fitness plan should be tailored to your dog, depending on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their sports, activities and lifestyle. While static exercises are important for developing stabiliser muscles, dynamic exercises are important for building larger muscle groups. By incorporating a well-rounded conditioning program into your dog's routine, you can help them live a longer, happier, healthier and more active life.

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