I wrote this out for a friend of mine a few days ago, and I figured I’d share it here as well in case anybody is looking for strengthening ideas for their sport dogs. All of the usual disclaimers apply. Use common sense. Keep in mind how sore your muscles can get when you start a new exercise program, and especially if you overdo things. If your dog has a structural or health concern, check with your dog’s vet or rehab person to make sure these are all safe and ok for your dog to be doing.
Some of these come from Steve’s rehab paperwork. Some comes from the Chris Zink seminar I went to. And others still come from Chris Zink’s Building the Canine Athlete DVD. Silvia Trkman’s Tricks for Balance, Strength, and Coordination is also completely awesome and so much fun.
3-legged stands— This is easy, and pretty much what it sounds like. Have the dog stand, lift one rear leg and encourage the dog to bear the weight on the opposite leg (ie, don’t be heavy in the leg you’re holding). Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. (I have also clicker-trained Steve to lift his “good” leg and do this on his own without my having to hold the leg for him.)
Paws up or “cookies on the counter” — Start with having your dog step his front feet up on a low object like a box or a footstool. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 1-3 times. Gradually increase the height that the dog is putting his paws up onto. These days for Steve I use either the arm of the couch, or have him put his paws up on me, but when we first started his rehab, we used a box full of books that was about 10″ tall.
Paws up with leg lifts — Have the dog put his paws up on an object and then lift one rear leg and then the other to encourage weight-bearing and strengthening. Hold each lift 5-10 seconds.
Cross-legged stands (core / hind-leg strengthening) — Hold one rear paw and the opposite front paw up and encourage the dog to stand with minimal balance assistance from you. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. You can move the dog’s legs around a little bit to offer even more of a challenge. (Silvia Trkman has instructions on how to teach the dog to do this without your holding his legs on the DVD I mentioned at the top.)
Para-standing — Similar to cross-legged stands, only you hold the front and rear legs on the same side off the ground. (Silvia Trkman also shows you how to teach your dog this trick without assistance. I need to teach this one to Steve.)
Sit to stands — Just what it sounds like- have the dog push into a stand from a sitting position. Repeat 10 times. You can do this on a soft surface or on a Fitpaws Peanut or equivalent for more of a challenge. You can also do this on a hill with the dog facing up the hill and then sideways in each direction on the hill.
Down to stand — Same idea, and you can make it more challenging in the same ways. You want the dog to use his rear to push from a down into a stand.
Backward walking — Increase the challenge by having the dog walk backward up a hill. (Ignore the people who look at you funny when you do this on your walks around the neighborhood.)
Uphill walking in general strengthens hind legs. Retrieving a ball or other toy up a hill is also a great workout.
Crawling — When we started this with Steve, he was not actually supposed to crawl on the ground army style, but rather to learn to hunch down and duck under increasingly lowered objects. I actually used a babygate set on top of objects of the right height to get him to crouch for a longer distance. I’ve also sat on the floor and braced my legs against a wall and had him crawl under my legs. You can also teach your dog to crawl backwards.
Cavaletti — set up poles (PVC is inexpensive and easy to get) at a distance that is comfortable for the dog to walk through, and 3-5″ high. Slightly dented soda cans laid on their sides make excellent pole-holders. Have the dog walk through the poles, allowing the dog to keep his head down and watch what he is doing. You can increase and decrease the distance between poles, do poles at a trot, increase the height of the poles, etc to add different challenges. Trot poles are excellent conditioning work.
Sit up and beg — This is one of Steve’s favorite tricks, and one that can be tremendously beneficial to dogs, especially in breeds that typically end up with hind end weakness. Not only does it build hind leg strength, but it is a great workout for the dog’s core muscles. I teach it by having the dog sit in front of me, facing the same direction as I am, and then using a lure above the dog’s nose to draw him up while I use my other hand to support him in position. It can take a long time for the dog to build the strength and balance needed to support himself. I think it took Steve close to two months before he could do it independently for any significant length of time.
Additional challenges include doing this trick on a soft surface (bed, couch cushion, Peanut), doing this trick on a hill, and using a cookie to bend the dog’s head to the left and right while he’s maintaining the beg position. Other variations include Beg to down to beg, Beg to stand on rear legs to beg (I am *trying* to teach this to Steve and failing), and “Penguin” which is “walking” while in a beg position (this is a Silvia Trkman trick and absolutely adorable but I can’t get Steve to do it).
Tug — Keep the tug low to work rear end, high to work front end.
I think that’s most of what I have. If anybody else has fun conditioning exercises that they do with their dogs, I’d love to hear them! Steve’s only allowed serious athletic feats like ball-playing and agility three days a week at the moment, so we do a lot of trick-training and conditioning work on his other days to keep him occupied and (hopefully) less annoying. Variety is the spice of life, and the bigger his repertoire, the more engaged he stays.