We've all heard that having a sound cardiovascular system, strong muscles, a strong core, and balance are good for physical and mental health. Well, the same is true for dogs. All dog breeds need a certain level of physical fitness to stay healthy. Most dog owners only offer daily walks or runs, which are great cardiovascular exercises and definitely better than doing nothing, but did you know that your dog could benefit much more from resistance training?
When people think of strength training for dogs, images of ripped Pit bulls for shows or sports usually come to mind. The truth is resistance training for dogs is effective for weight loss and building leaner muscles, as we're going to see throughout this text. This makes it essential for every dog, including yours.
It's a form of exercise where effort is performed by a particular body part against external resistance. Strength training is meant to gradually and progressively overload the musculoskeletal system to get stronger and, in the process, build muscle mass, strength, and endurance.
Strength training for dogs works quite similarly to strength training for humans in terms of weight loss and building lean muscles. A strength-training session can get your dog's heart pumping, which means a greater need for fuel. The more calories your dog burns, the more weight it will lose. Strength training can be pretty intense. Following an intense workout, your dog's oxygen uptake will remain elevated after exercise to help muscles recover and go back to their resting state. The more oxygen and energy are required to help muscles recover; the more calories are burned post-workout. Think of the effects of a strength training session as a temporary boost to your dog's metabolism.
Secondly, by training your dog's muscles against some opposing force, they are forced to work harder to be able to lift the weight. This stimulates muscle growth, which eventually leads to an increase in muscle mass. More muscle mass equals a higher basal metabolic rate or resting energy requirement, which is the number of calories the dog's body can burn just to keep itself running.
Muscles are constantly being broken down, synthesized, and recreated, and all of these processes use up stored energy. Therefore, by building more muscles, your dog will be able to burn more calories at rest. As you already know, increasing calorie deficit is necessary for weight loss. The result is a tighter, leaner body.
Now that you know how strength training for dogs can help them lose weight and build lean muscles, you may be wondering how to go about it. Well, here are some typical resistance training exercises for dogs to get you started:
By having your dog walk, run, or sprint up a hill, they use gravity as a form of resistance, thus building muscle tone and conditioning. This is especially true for overweight dogs as they use their weight against gravity. If there are no hills in your neighborhood, stair climbing offers the same benefits. Gravity training provides two complementary actions; going up the hill or stairs makes the dog use their muscles to propel forward, while coming down requires balance and controlled core stability.
These vests add resistance to any kind of movement, thus turning daily walks into hard-core strength training routines. Weighted vests can also be worn while running, swimming, or simply playing in the backyard. With that being said, start with lighter weights (no more than 5-10% of your dog's total body weight) and gradually increase the weights and the duration of the exercise.
This is another great way to improve strength using gravity as a form of resistance against the dog's body weight. There are various ways to do this. First, have your dog sit and stand. Then, you can hold treats above their heads and have them jump up for the treat. Each jump will challenge their leg muscles to grow and become stronger. Another way to do dog squats is to have your dog go under a low table, bench, or pole.
Water provides natural resistance, so if your dog knows and likes to swim, this can be a great muscle-building exercise for them. It works out all of the major muscle groups in a low impact form, resulting in leaner muscles.
Resistance training exercises will challenge your dog's muscles and entire body system. So, ensure they are healthy enough before starting them on a strength training program. Talk with your vet to be 100% sure.
Secondly, you need to ease your dog into strength training. Start with much lighter weights and short-minutes workouts and gradually increase resistance over time. If your dog does too much too fast, they are at risk of muscle strains and other related injuries.
Warm-up is vital before each workout session as it helps to loosen ligaments and tendons, warm up muscles, and increase heart rate. Injuries can occur if you tax your dog's body without proper preparation. Cooldowns are just as essential to allow the body to come back to its resting state, gradually.
Dogs are different; some are naturally muscular, others have speed, while others have great stamina and endurance. Young, energetic dogs also perform differently than older ones. It is, therefore, important to tailor resistance exercises to fit your dog's strength and fitness level.
Strength training is beneficial to all dogs. In addition to weight loss and building lean muscles, it prevents muscle loss, improves stability and flexibility, reduces fatigue, prevents injury, decreases stress on the joints, and much more. It also offers psychological benefits such as mental stimulation and enrichment.
Your dog should also get quality nutrition filled with proteins for muscle growth and repair for optimum muscle-building results. They also need time to rest and recover, approximately 12-14 hours of sleep every day. In short, exercise, proper diet, and rest are vital for making a dog stronger, fit, and building lean muscle.