Dog Conditioning Basics: How To Build Up Your Dog’s Muscle Slowly & Safely

Is your dog carrying a few extra pounds, recovering from injury, getting on in years or just needs a bit more exercise? Are you considering competing in one of the many dog sports? A muscle building for dogs conditioning routine may be exactly what they need to improve their joints and improve their overall health.

Muscle deterioration can cause your beloved companion to recover slower from illnesses and their immune system to become weaker. If your pooch is a couch potato, recovering from surgery or is starting to suffer the effects of ageing, it may be time to consider a conditioning programme.

To build muscle, you can incorporate some strength training exercises into your dog’s daily routine. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need on how to build muscle on a dog. From puppy conditioning, athletic conditioning to gentle exercises for elderly dogs.

Read on to see why body conditioning is important whatever your dog’s breed.

Benefits of Dog Conditioning

Prevents Injuries

Just like us being in prime physical condition can prevent a dog from injuring themselves, Body conditioning promotes better balance, body awareness and coordination, preventing pulled muscles and other injuries.

Rehabilitates

If your furry friend has recently had surgery or an illness, don’t try to guess what they need. Your vet or physical therapist can recommend fitness routines for core strength training or aid muscle building and get Fido moving again.

Better Behaviour

When a dog is receiving plenty of physical and mental stimulation on a day to day basis, they are less likely to exhibit unwanted behaviours like chewing or barking,

Structured canine fitness for dogs is a mental workout too, as it teaches your dog to focus and follow basic commands; this will translate to them obeying you more even when you are not training.

Builds a Bond

Any time you and your dog spend together improves your bond, and a fitness programme is just the same. You will learn how to best communicate your commands to the dog and he will need to watch and listen to understand what you want of him.

Improves Overall health

Just as humans benefit from regular exercise, a dog also needs to be active to help maintain their weight and keep their bodies in prime condition. A Dogs’ metabolism slows down as they age, just like ours and as they don’t play as much usually, it’s essential they get exercise so they can live a long healthy life.

Cardiovascular exercise burns calories and strengthens the heart and lungs, whilst strength training helps develop muscle mass and protects their joints.

Step 1 -Evaluating your Dog’s Starting Condition

The best way to evaluate your dog‘s condition is to feel around the spine and tummy areas, as these core muscles are crucial for the coordination of the limbs. Did you know a dogs front legs bear 60% of its weight? Therefore they get much more exercise than the back legs during regular walks.

The Dog’s Structure

Dogs are the most varied species on earth, with hundreds of different breeds of different shapes and sizes, from huge Mastiffs to teeny teacup pups, so it makes sense to understand your dog’s structure before designing conditioning challenges to suit them.

For example, a Corgi has a very different structure to a German shepherd, which has a long stride enabling them to jump efficiently. Whilst this is an excellent advantage to a police or military dog, this flexibility also means they can suffer from hyperextension and trauma when they hit the ground too hard. On the other hand, Corgis shouldn’t jump at all; their long backs and short legs mean they can easily hurt themselves.

Take it Slow with the Dog’s Muscle-Building

The key to conditioning your pup is to build up his muscle slowly and safely. It’s crucial that they don’t develop any muscle or joint issues from being pushed too hard too soon. Like humans, you need to gradually build up their stamina by feeding the correct dog food and increasing activity levels.

Preparation and Recovery is a Key Step

If we are planning on lifting weights at the gym, we would need to do some stretches to loosen us up before we start and if your dog is exercising to gain muscle, the same applies.

Warming Up & Cooling Down

An Olympic athlete wouldn’t consider running a race just after waking up, they would need to warm up first and the same goes for your dog. Performing strenuous exercises without some stretching first can be detrimental to your dog’s health and lead to injuries like pulled muscles.

Cooling down at the end of the session is equally important to prevent the muscles from contracting and tightening up.

These should only take a few minutes before and after the exercise sessions. Begin by massaging your dog’s entire body focusing on the spine area; you could then maybe have your pooch turn to each side, then gently raise each of their hind legs, repeat with the front legs, gently stretching them slightly. Then do a few doggy push-ups; bowing is also a great warm-up exercise.

This video shows how to train your dog to bow.

Athletic Conditioning Dog’s Body: Know Which Breed is Capable of What

Some breeds of dogs are able to bulk up much easier than others; you will never get a Pomeranian to achieve the same muscle mass as these bruisers.

The breeds below are naturally muscular dogs

  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers
  • Dobermans
  • English Bull Terriers
  • Rottweilers
  • French Bulldogs
  • Boxers
  • Greyhounds
  • English Mastiff
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Cane Corso
  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Jack Russells
  • Huskies

12 Tips on How To Build Up Your Dog’s Muscles

1. Dogs are naturally strong, but they can become weak if their muscles are not used enough

Suppose the muscles are not being used, for instance, after injury or through improper exercise. In that case, the muscle tissue will naturally become weaker, leading to muscle atrophy, which is often seen in senior dogs. Your veterinarian can often advise specific exercises for building muscle that won’t harm your precious pooch.

2. Make sure your dog is getting the proper exercise for his size and age

Different dogs need different amounts of activity while a Husky may be happy on a 10-mile hike, a portly Pekingese not so much. Do your research and find out the appropriate amount of exercise for the breed. It’s not always a case of size; Jack Russells, for example, can cope with much more exercise than a Great Dane.

As your dog gets older, they will need less exercise, but it’s still necessary to keep your dog’s limbs working correctly, so short walks regularly are better than long treks. You could also try some simple strength exercises at home; just make sure there’s a rest period between them and don’t do too much.

3. You should help your dog upstairs or hills to build muscle in his back legs

Many owners find that going up a small hill or some stairs increases the strength of a dog’s muscles; many dog harnesses have a handle on the back that you can use to help them take some of the strain.

4. Use a ramp to make it easier for him to get into the car or onto furniture

Controlling your dog’s movements going up a hill is very different from them jumping into the car or onto a bed and if your pup is finding these things difficult, don’t force them; get a ramp or some dog stairs, so they are not jarring themselves unnecessarily

5. Feed your dog smaller meals more often instead of one big meal every day

Your dog’s diet is essential for their health if you are trying to build up your canine companion, high protein dog food is vital and it’s better to feed several small meals a day

6. Have him fetch objects that you throw so he can use his mouth muscles as well as his limbs

A variety of different exercises is the best way to gain muscle; bending to fetch a ball, tugging a toy or running a treadmill all use different muscle groups, so mix it up a bit

7. Get more protein in your dog’s diet

A high protein diet is essential for dogs doing intense training as they will be burning more calories, feeding the proper diet will help them cope with regular conditioning routines,

8. Find a toy that is just right for your pup

Toys can help your dog get more exercise too, tug of war, for example, is an excellent game for resistance training, as are spring poles

9. Keep an eye on their weight and adjust accordingly

Just like us, an overweight dog is prone to all sorts of health issues such as heart disease and diabetes, so it’s vital to keep an eye on their weight

10. Try to avoid walking them in the heat or cold

This one is pretty obvious, but it can be dangerous to exercise with your dog when it’s too hot, especially for flat-faced breeds like bulldogs; the same applies when it’s too cold, muscles tighten in the cold and can tear painfully something nobody wants

11. Exercise with them – take walks, hike, go swimming

If your pooch enjoys the outdoors, make the most of it, take them swimming, climb hills or go jogging; if they are very fit, you could even increase the difficulty by using a weighted vest

12. Be aware of any signs of injury and seek veterinary care when necessary

Always run your hands over your dog’s body before starting any fitness training to establish there are no injuries and again, when you finish, watch for limping and contact your veterinarian immediately if you have any worries

5 Easy Exercises for Dog Conditioning you Can do at Home

Cavaletti

Used in the equine world for years, Cavaletti with dogs is now a thing, this is a fantastic exercise for body awareness and balance and many dog parents now realise the benefits for dogs. It’s easy to practice at home and requires no equipment (just a few PVC pipes or wooden poles.) although Cavalettis can be bought relatively cheaply in pet stores and online, they’re not essential. Simply arrange the cavaletti sticks in a row, a square or zig-zag pattern on the floor or raised slightly and get your pooch to walk between the sticks. These motion exercises improve the joints as the dog has to lift their feet differently to regular walks

Core Exercises

Core exercises are important and should be integrated into every exercise session. A good core exercise is to have your pooch move their head from side to side and up and down gradually increase the reps until your pup can do 10-15, then increase the difficulty by standing on an uneven surface like a cushion. Walking on any irregular surface is great for a dog’s core as they have to shift their weight. Stepping over branches and climbing hills when out walking is also a good core workout.

Walking Backwards

These exercises help a lot with hind leg strength training and balance; it’s relatively simple just hold a treat in front of your pup and walk forwards. This will usually cause them to start backing up, adding a few twists and turns into the routine as you get the hang of it.

Elevated Paw Raise

Another exercise for building muscle in your dog’s back legs, all this one requires is an elevated surface such as a low chair, box or dog steps, get Fido to stand on his hind legs with the front paws resting on the raised object. Start slow, then gradually increase the time increments.

Use a Balance Board

A dog needs to use a lot of muscles to balance on a wobble board, so this is an excellent exercise for core strength; they can take a bit of getting used to though. Maybe wedge the board to start with so as not to scare your dog; once they can stand on it, you can add challenges like raising a paw or doing a sit to stand on the board.

Conditioning a Canine Athlete

Of course, not all dogs need conditioning because of injury. Working dogs and ones that compete in dog sports like agility and canicross need regular training to improve performance, balance and agility, and build muscle.

These sporty dogs benefit from plenty of physical exercises; however, they are more likely to suffer injuries than their less active counterparts. The best way to avoid this is by designing a specific conditioning programme; with sports specific exercises, cardiovascular exercises and ones to improve any weaknesses.

Remember, a puppy shouldn’t begin training for any sport until they are at least a year old. Your vet will always be happy to give advice about the appropriate fitness routine for your dog.

Supplements for Canine Fitness and Muscle Building

You’ll often see people who do weight training to build muscle taking supplements and you may be surprised to learn that these bodybuilding supplements are available for dogs too.

Products like the Bully Max Muscle Builder and the high protein Prodog Maximus range are specifically designed to improve your pups physique and overall health. Of course, these are unnecessary for most dogs who will be happy with a few high protein treats.

Understanding Muscle Mass in Dogs -The Last Word

Dogs rely on us for most things; just like a healthy diet, exercise is essential, so if you’re looking for a way to gradually build up your pup’s muscles and strength without risking injury or over-straining them, this article is the one for you! We hope that these tips will help keep your dog happy and healthy while giving their body time to adapt.

Of course, you need to discuss this with your vet to make sure the exercise your dog gets is suitable for their breed, age, and health. When assessing the condition of a dog, vets will look at things such as diet, weight, body condition and muscle mass.

Remember that it should take at least six months of consistent training before expecting any significant changes in muscle tone. Make sure to have rest days in between training sessions so your dog doesn’t get bored.

We hope you found this article helpful and these few pointers have given you some tips on how to make your dog muscular and get you started on the right path towards healthier living together!

John Devlin

Blogger and owner of George and Henry. Two gorgeous goldens that couldn’t be more different. One is a dream loving and caring, and his sibling is as naughty as can be. When I am not blogging about dogs, I love watching sport and travelling with the family.
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