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As a responsible dog owner, you’re always looking to keep your pet in good health. One way to do that is by creating and keeping up a fitness plan. Maintaining appropriate canine exercise levels can help prevent injuries, lessen the impacts of age-related issues like arthritis, and help them stay physically active for longer. Here’s how to create a dog-safe and goal-oriented fitness plan.

Get Veterinary Clearance Before Beginning

Make sure the exercise goals you set are safe and appropriate for your dog’s age and physical condition. Strenuous exercise isn’t good for young puppies, and it’s important to be cautious about how much exercise adolescent dogs receive while their joints are still developing. Large- and giant-breed dogs can still be physically maturing until they are two years old. If you have a puppy, talk to your breeder and veterinarian about what kind of exercise (and how much) is appropriate.

Basset Hound puppy sitting in the grass on lead.
chillin/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Similarly, not all fitness plans are suitable for certain dogs, such as pets with a history of orthopedic injuries or senior dogs with age-related health conditions. Some forms of high-impact exercise might aggravate these underlying issues. Before setting any new exercise goal, take your dog in for a check-up with your veterinarian to evaluate your dog’s overall health. They will also determine if your dog has any medical conditions that would prevent your pet from being more physically active or limit certain exercises.

Depending on your dog’s veterinary history, you may be referred to a veterinary physical therapist or rehab professional to assess your dog’s overall muscle tone and fitness. That expert would develop the best kind of conditioning or rehab routine for your dog.

Make Plans for Getting Active

When planning a new fitness routine for your dog, it’s important to be slow and thoughtful. Jumping in too quickly with exercise can lead to your dog being sore and uncomfortable and cause strains or injuries. Follow your vet’s advice on how to appropriately increase your dog’s level of exercise in increments. If you are already training with your dog, many behaviors you are likely already working on (such as pivots) are a great way to work on your dog’s fitness and coordination and build muscles.

Teach Doggy Push-Ups

This gentle warm-up is a fun way to practice basic obedience skills and increase your dog’s muscle tone. Ask your dog to move between the stand, sit, down, and stand positions.

Bull Terriers
©Даша Швецова -

If your dog doesn’t yet know how to change these positions on cue, use treats to lure them into the varied positions while they are learning those cues independently.

Teach Figure-Eight Stretch

Before you go out and exercise, you likely spend some time stretching. The same should be true for our dogs. A gentle figure-eight stretch can also be a fun trick. Not only is this a great simple stretch for your dog, but you can also use it towards AKC Trick Dog titles.

  1. Your dog can start out either in front of you or behind you. Get your dog’s attention with small treats in each hand.
  2. With your dog focused on the treats, slowly lure them through your legs and around one leg. Focus on keeping your movements slow and fluid as your dog follows the treat and wraps their body around your leg. As your dog follows you, give them the treat held in that hand.
  3. Reach your other hand between your legs and get your dog’s focus on the second treat. Using that treat, lure your dog back through your legs and around your other leg. As your dog’s body wraps tightly around you, give your dog the second treat.
  4. After a few repetitions, your dog will begin to understand and anticipate the motion. You can begin to introduce a verbal cue of your choice, like “eight” or “weave.”
  5. When your dog is consistently following your lure and weaving tightly in a figure-eight pattern around and through your legs, you can begin to slowly fade the treat lure. To do this, start by luring your dog without treats in your hands, and then give a treat after your dog has finished the figure-eight movement. With practice, you’ll be able to stop luring, and just use a smaller hand signal or verbal cue.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever being trained in the park.
©Jne Valokuvaus -

Participate in AKC FIT DOG

Consider adding some fitness titles to your dog’s resume by getting involved in the AKC FIT DOG program. AKC offers three FIT DOG titles—Bronze, Silver, and Gold. These structured and individualized fitness plans are designed for healthy adult dogs.

Walking is a safe way to increase the amount of exercise while improving circulation and muscle strength.  To earn a FIT DOG magnet, walk your dog at least 15 minutes per session ten times a week for three months (ideal for senior dogs and dogs that are just starting to build their exercise routines). Or you can walk 30 minutes five times a week for three months. Keep track of your walks on the log form.

Alternatively, consider signing up for a canine fitness class with an AKC FIT DOG instructor, either in person or online. Completion of one of these courses also can count towards titles.

Are you looking to improve your overall health and fitness, as well as your dog’s? Start working towards your AKC FIT DOG title!

Designed to improve the health of both dogs and owners, AKC FIT DOG is the perfect opportunity for you to work towards fitness goals while participating in fun activities, like swimming, hiking, and community runs. Start getting FIT with your dog today.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Ways to Stay Active With Your Dog
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