What is dog fitness?
Canine conditioning can play a huge role in keeping dogs healthy but is especially important for working or sport dogs to reduce the risk of injuries and enhance their performance. Appropriate exercises can be started even with young puppies to teach them how to balance and control their bodies while working their brain with low-impact, safe tasks.
Specific exercises can help with body awareness, balance, flexibility, mobility, speed, and muscular strength, leading to improved performance and reduced risk of injury. While regular exercises like long walks or running in the backyard are great for maintaining large muscle groups, conditioning exercises focus on areas prone to injury. Neglecting deeper muscles, which activate when dogs balance or try to avoid slipping, can lead to injuries.
These exercises benefit dogs physically, work their minds, and strengthen the bond between dogs and their owners.
Before you start
It is always recommended to do a vet check and discuss exercises with a professional before getting started with canine fitness. Doing the wrong exercises or not doing them correctly can cause more harm than good for the dog. We also need to recognize that different dogs have different needs - they especially require tailored exercises if they’re young or old or recovering from injuries.
Even if you cannot consult a professional in person, you can arrange online consultations and/or take online classes to learn about the importance and proper execution of each exercise.
I took a few in-person dog fitness classes before, and in the last three months, I followed Clean Run’s Power Up with Platforms and Pads online class with Zulu. Still, I am not trying to make an impression that I am proficient in dog fitness; with Zulu, we just did this as an occasional hobby rather than a regular fitness routine.
She just turned one, so I was careful not to overdo it, but the class helped her to be more aware of her body, learn new positions, and follow detailed instructions. Plus, it was fun doing something different with her! The class includes videos of each exercise, which were really helpful in making sure we were doing them right.
What is a Good Dog Fitness Starter Kit?
Here are a few versatile pieces of canine fitness equipment that can be combined to perform a wide range of exercises and help your dog get started on their fitness journey.
Flexiness SensiMat & Stacking Bars
The SensiMat & Stacking Bars combo is excellent for various dog fitness exercises like balance training, muscle building, and core work.
The pink StackingBar is a perfect choice for smaller dogs or dogs that are advanced in their fitness training. Meanwhile, beginners and larger dogs that need more stability should start with the purple StackingBar. The bars are sold individually so you can combine the two different types.
The Stacking Bars have two sides: a flat one and one with a wave pattern to support a parallel posture. These nubs also interlock for stability when two bars are stacked on top of each other, and if you really want to keep things secure, they also work with their SensiMat V1 or V2 which keeps them firmly in place!
FitPAWS Balance Disc
Zulu’s favorite fitness equipment from Clean Run is the FitPAWS Balance Disc that can be used as standalone equipment or in combination with others.
With a 14" working surface, the Balance Disc can be used for weight-bearing, balance, or core training. It has two surfaces: a flat side with ribs and a textured surface with bumps for added sensory stimulation. The side with the bumps works very well with the Flexiness SeniMat - ensuring the disc is not sliding when the dog steps on it.
Keep in mind that the disc is shipped uninflated, and you’ll need to purchase the needle pump separately. Inflating it with different pressure allows you to do different exercises/ engage different muscles.
Cato Outdoors - Cato Plank Training Platform
The Cato Plank Training Platform is a versatile and practical training equipment that we use for both fitness and obedience training.
It has a non-slip surface that is perfect for fitness exercises. The elevated surface helped us work on changing positions (like sit-down-stand) without Zu moving forward. It also helps guide Zulu’s front sit and heel work by preventing her from being at an angle, a common issue of hers during these exercises.
The plank is designed for indoor use due to its rubber surface that can get hot in the sun; however, it’s also available with a turf surface that makes it suitable for outdoor use. For added functionality, the plank is available with or without a tilt stand, which allows you to transform it into a multi-height teeter with settings for 2", 5", and 10" heights.
FitPAWS Cavaletti Set
The Dog Agility Hurdle or Cavaletti Set of 12 Cones and 6 Poles is another versatile fitness equipment that can be incorporated into many exercises - and of course, used for a variety of cavalleti practices.
Each cone is 18" tall and has 5-hole placements at 3", 6", 9", 12", or 15", so you can easily adjust it to the training application and size of the dog. Plus, you can lay the cones on the ground, so the poles are only raised slightly off the ground. The bars are 36" long but can be unscrewed and folded in half for storage.
Zulu struggled with back leg awareness, so I mainly used them to teach her body awareness and coordination. However, there are countless other exercises you can do with this set!
FitPaws Youtube channel has a video showing and explaining different exercises that can be done only with this set.
The Agility Targets or Spot Markers from Clean Run are heavy-duty, poly-vinyl, anti-slip targets with a 9" diameter. They can be used to mark locations for target exercises in agility or obedience or as foot targets on the fitness equipment. They can also be used in many other scenarios.
They are surprisingly sturdy and heavy (made out of 1/8" poly-vinyl and weighing 4.3 oz. each), so they can handle the dog running up to them without tearing and stay in place very well both indoors and outdoors.
Canine fitness is important because it improves the dog’s health, increases their longevity, and prevents injuries. It can enhance the bond between dog and owner and provides low-impact physical stimulation for the dog that can be done indoors.