Our dogs are just like us... as they get older they lose muscle tone, stamina and movement. But...it doesn’t have to be that way.
A regular schedule of conditioning exercises can help keep your dog fit, active and healthy as he ages.
Balance, Coordination and Mental Sharpness
Hind End Awareness - Where is my rear?
Developing Hind End awareness is one of the most critical things in keeping your dog active as he ages. Hind End awareness is often used in conjunction with the term proprioception - or a self-awareness of how your body is supposed to move. As dogs age, they can often lose proprioception - which shows up in an inability to move their limbs as they once did, dragging feet and rears, and balance issues.
However, with regular focus, you can help your dog maintain and increase their sense of Hind End awareness, balance and proprioception. All of these exercises are easy to do and should be done on a regular basis with your dog. There is a physical component to these exercises, but they are also very challenging for your dog mentally - they really have to THINK to do the exercise.
in its simplest form, you are just standing behind your dog and rocking their hips back and forth until they fatigue. You will know when they are tired when they attempt to sit, move away or no longer continue. You can do this easy exercise for brief periods several times a day as your dog builds up strength.
As your dog gets stronger you can increase the difficulty of this exercise by doing it on an uneven surface (such as a dog bed or pillow). For more advanced exercisers, use a wobble board or inflatable balance disc.
Walking Backwards and Dancing
Walking backwards and then “Dancing” with your dog helps build and strengthen your dog’s gluteal and hamstring regions. These are the muscles that your dog uses for movement in their hips and knees.
Walking Backwards - start in a hallway or other narrow area, facing your dog, small reward in hand and a clicker. I like to shape this by just taking a step toward my dog and pushing the treat toward his nose. As soon as he takes a step back, I click and give a small reward. Just work on 2-3 steps at a time until your dog is solid and understands that he is being rewarded for moving his rear paw back each time. Once he is clear, I name the behavior. I use “beep beep” instead of the word back. This one is harder than you think. While the physical movement of backing up is challenging - it is the mental part... thinking about and placing the rear paws on command, that is the tough part. Keep practicing and challenging your dog on this one!
Cha Cha Cha! The next logical step to this is dancing with your dog. Simply pick up your dog’s front paws and walk backwards with him. Gradually increase your distance, rest and then do again. Over time you can increase the distance your dog can comfortably do and the number of repetitions. You will need to be down on your knees for small or toy breeds. Get dancing!
Can your dog walk through the rungs of a ladder without touching it? Ladder Walking is one of the best things you can do with your dog to help them improve their balance and coordination. This exercise really focuses on foot placement. The goal is to have your dog move slowly through the steps, placing one foot at a time and not touching any of the rungs. For medium to large dogs, you can use a standard ladder or for smaller dogs, a grid built from pvc pipe to step over.
Targeting With Their Rear 2 on 2 Off (perch work)
the purpose these exercises is to get your dog to do different or opposing things with their front and rear limbs. Once you teach your dog the basics of targeting an object (or perch) you can really mix this one up to be quite advanced and fun.
Find the right “perch” for your dog. You are looking for something that just an easy step up, but not so hard that your dog really has to stretch. For small/toy breeds - something 2”-3” high, medium breeds 4” - 6” and large breeds about 8” - 10” high. You want a wide enough surface that your dog can place two paws on it and you want it to be stable. Some ideas of common household items you can use...
- • cardboard box (small dogs)
- • upside down dog food bowl with non-skid surface
- • kids bathroom step
- • concrete block for large dogs
Start by teaching your dog to stand on the ground and place their front paws on the perch. Again, treats and a clicker will get you there in no time. As soon as your dog touches the perch with a paw, click and reward.
Once they have the front down, start teaching them to put their rear on the perch. This can be very, very challenging and may take longer than you think. Use the same method, and if need be, place a rear paw on the perch, click and reward.
Once your dog is able to put his rear on, you can begin mixing it up with different motions such as pivoting on the perch. Try pivoting first with their front paws up and rear paws on the ground. As you move around “the circle” your dog will start to follow. Click and reward! Practice pivoting in both directions with front paws on before moving to the rear paws on.
The key here is patience... it may take a long time for your dog to learn how to do these exercises. They are physically and mentally challenging for your dog.
Fun, Easy Tricks
These are just quick and easy tricks that can increase balance and coordination as well as get your dog thinking.
- • Weaves - going around cones or walking in a figure eight. Easy peasy to do at home with any household objects or even having your dog weave in and out between your legs.
- • Treat/Toy toss - catching a treat or toy in mid-air
- • Wave/high five - from a sit or standing position ask your dog to raise a paw, then switch sides.
- • Spin - teach your dog to spin right or spin left
Just like us, as our dogs age, we want to keep them strong mentally and physically so they can enjoy their golden years. Developing a strong sense of balance and coordination is the key. Get your dog off the couch and start moving and THINKING!
Kathryn Durno's passion is canine sports, nutrition and fitness. She is a freelance writer, the owner of Dog Mamma's Organic Dog Treat Company and is owned by three Brittanys - Biddy, Tristan and Nate. Visit her on the web at www.dogmammas.com