Recently I was asked why one should care about canine fitness. Especially if one owned a dog that was a companion pet and not an athlete.
And while I know the benefits are abundant, I have assumed, likely inaccurately, that those who were reviewing our articles, joining our community, and signing up for our programs already knew the many benefits. So let me step back and remind everyone of the many physical and mental health advantages of having your dog “hit the gym” on a regular basis. Not every dog needs to be a canine athlete, but every dog should strive to incorporate some targeted fitness training into their daily lives.
Here are 10 reasons, in no particular order, for advocating canine fitness for ALL dogs, not just canine athletes.
It’s quality time together.
This is your best buddy! Why wouldn’t you want to spend some quality time together? It’s time to bond and enjoy each other’s company. Fitness should be fun and emotionally rewarding for both of you.
It’s mentally stimulating.
The surest way to tire your dog is to have him or her learn something new and stimulate that brain! The more complex, the more tiring. Create new neuromuscular pathways and stimulate those neurons. Balance and coordination exercises are great for this, but strength training like doing squats and push-ups also count!
It helps maintain mobility for day-to-day life.
Please take it from me, an experienced rehab vet, this is absolutely vital to your dog’s daily function and even more importantly, your dog’s quality of life. Mobility depends upon core strength, sufficient strength in your dog’s prime mover muscles, stabilizer muscles, ligaments, joint capsules, and tendons. Exercise increases blood flow to joints and muscles, improves circulation of synovial fluid in the joints and stimulates nerves. These are all critical to mobility!
It slows the aging process.
There really is no better way than canine fitness to help your dog grow old gracefully. While you cannot change their genetics, you can most certainly enhance those golden years when they are more likely to experience age related muscle wasting, decreased flexibility, decreased lung capacity, and decreased circulation. Did I mention cognitive decline? Canine Cognitive dysfunction can be slowed or prevented through physical activity and learning new exercises.
It decreases the risk of many chronic diseases.
Diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis, chronic back pain, intervertebral disc disease, Cushing’s disease, cancer… Inactivity has many consequences including disease and injury. While exercise won’t necessarily completely prevent an injury or illness, it is certainly a healthier option to be active than not to be.
It increases focus and attention span.
Want your dog to pay attention to you? Canine fitness can improve this. Fitness relies on you cuing your dog to physically do something. It’s no different in this aspect than many other types of activities or dog training. It’s just one more benefit of doing fitness- it strengthens the bond between you and your dog as your communication skills become finely tuned into each other.
It reduces anxiety.
Exercise releases “feel good” hormones that reduce stress and anxiety. Canine fitness and in particular exercises that focus on balance, coordination or chaining together movements give little time for your dog to think about scary stuff like that UPS truck that just drove past.
It aids in weight management.
It is very true that you cannot “out train” a bad diet, meaning your dog will not burn enough calories in a workout to counter that puppacino, extra large milkbone, and leftover pizza crust you lovingly handed over AFTER your dog had dinner. BUT your dog will burn off some of those calories exercising. On top of that, adding muscle is known to increase metabolic rate. Increase the lean muscle mass and the metabolism will burn those calories faster. (But remember to fuel your dog appropriately.)
It strengthens muscles and bones.
Canine fitness and especially strength training helps maintain strong muscles and keeps those bones and support structures strong as well. While a nice walk is appreciated by most dogs, traditional resistance training such as squats and push-ups really helps to build muscle and increase strength. Since the body responds to the forces that are acting on it, the resistance training aspect of canine fitness is superb for these results!
It increases flexibility.
Maintaining flexibility throughout our dogs’ lives is just as important for them as it for us. Flexibility helps reduce the risk of injury and improves overall mobility. Canine fitness is perfect for this as well. Active or dynamic flexibility exercises done regularly will not just maintain flexibility but can improve it when your dog is feeling stiff or tight.
Now there are many more reasons why canine fitness is a great activity for all dogs. And since canine fitness includes cardio training, balance and stabilization, body awareness, strength training, endurance training, speed and quickness and ultimately power training, there’s something for everyone! What are some benefits you can think of?