Pets recognize all the same health benefits of physical activity that humans do: increased performance, decreased risk of injury, lowered stress levels, better sleep habits and a healthier body and mind. With more than 50 percent of dogs in the U.S. being overweight, and 20 percent of those being considered clinically obese, it’s clear to see why canine fitness products are a growing market. In addition to health concerns, common problem behaviors and issues such as anxiety, boredom chewing, nuisance barking and more pressing behavior concerns, can be linked back to a lack of exercise and training.
Before starting any fitness program with your dog it is recommended to consult with your veterinarian. Dogs with pre-existing injuries or health conditions, including obesity, should be treated under the guidance of a veterinarian and/ or rehab professional. It is important to note that dogs under 18 months of age should not do repetitive actions. Drilling and practicing skills or performing high-impact behaviors such as jumping can cause harm to growth plates and muscle structures that are not fully developed.
One of the simplest forms of exercise is walking. The American Kennel Club developed the Fit Dog Program to encourage dog owners to engage in regular exercise. Walking is considered a safe activity that improves muscular strength and promotes weight loss. Retailers should provide walking gear that allows free range of motion in the forelimb such as harnesses with a Y-shaped design in the front. Loose leash walking tools such as front attachment harnesses treat pouches, and multi-function leashes can help dogs and owners have a more enjoyable walk. The AKC also offers a Fit Dog Instructor program which includes a six-week group class curriculum that can be used to teach fun fitness classes. These classes include exercises like puppy pushups and performing fitness exercises on balance equipment to enhance the workout.
You may be familiar with yoga balls for humans, but there is also inflatable exercise equipment specifically designed for dogs. New to the market is the Propel Air Platform by Blue-9 Pet Products. In fitness, form matters. This is why the company designed the Propel Air Platform with Pro-Gridlines to help dog owners and trainers alike develop an eye for proper form. Proper form is imperative in any good conditioning program. Without proper form, some exercises can do more harm than good.
Three key areas to focus on are the topline, front and rear limbs and weight distribution. The topline or spine should remain neutral, not roached or overextended. The forelimbs and rear limbs should be a natural distance apart both front to back and left to right. The forelimbs should be under the shoulders and rear limbs under the hips. Avoid exercises that encourage the dog to have a wide stance in the rear, or have a “goats on a rock” appearance. The dog’s weight should be evenly distributed. Any signs of off weighting or limping is a sign of pain or weakness and should be addressed by a veterinarian.
Simple fitness exercises stimulate the dog’s brain and body, helping curb boredom and eliminate problem behaviors. With the right equipment, fitness is made simple and easy.
Why should we use balance equipment with our dogs? We do bicep curls with weights in the gym. This works our prime movers, but whoever hears about bicep tears as an injury? It’s rare. Torn rotator cuff and ACL injuries are far more common. These are just two stabilizer muscles located in our joints. By working on balance equipment, not only do we engage the prime movers, but we also engage those stabilizer muscles and tendons that are more commonly injured.
This goes the same for dogs as well. When working on balance equipment we’ll ask them to do static holds in position and simple weight shifting. As they progress in their conditioning journey, we can build up to more challenging skills that also engage the prime movers by doing exercises like puppy pushups.
Retailers should consider carrying items designed to enhance fitness in dogs. Balance equipment and gear designed to help teach loose leash walking can inspire owners to start their canine fitness routine. Dog trainers and pet boarding and daycare facility owners should consider offering Fit Dog classes or group pack walks for their clients and students.
Whether your dog is a weekend warrior or canine athlete, increasing daily exercise is sure to lead to healthier dogs and happier humans.
With a formal education in canine conditioning and strength training, Jamie Popper has been working within the pet training industry since 2011. She is a registered therapy dog evaluator and has collaborated with the Orlando Health therapy dog program on curriculum and program development. Since 2015 Jamie has dedicated herself full-time to Blue-9 Pet Products, where she is involved with the development and overall growth of the company.