Canine Conditioning: Not Just for Athletes

By January 30, 2018Blog

Canine Conditioning: Not Just for Athletes

Mary L. Cardeccia, DVM, CVA, CVFT, CCRT, CAVCA, CCMT

Animal Rehabilitation Facility, Dexter, MI


Whether your dog is an athlete or a couch potato, Canine Conditioning is something you and your furry friends should probably become familiar with.  Why?  My dog is happy and healthy right now you say?

Here’s why…Canine Conditioning is very similar to physical therapy and sports conditioning for humans.  It uses exercise and/or practice to build the body up for either improved normal performance, as in physical therapy, or in preparation for sports performance.  But for our canine companions it goes beyond these ideas.

  • We can use it to help teach basic social skills to puppies, bolster confidence of shy, nervous or grieving dogs, or burn off excess energy from our working breeds.
  • Conditioning exercises can be used to challenge the minds of super smart dogs, the bodies of super fit dogs, or incorporated as part of a weight loss
  • Our beloved geriatric dogs really benefit from the mental and physical stimulation of a basic conditioning regime.
  • We can also reduce the risk of injury to our canine working partners with consistent and specific conditioning.
  • In essence, a good conditioning program can be used for improving sports performance, improving or maintaining mobility in aging dogs, socializing puppies, a great bonding experience, and everything in between!


At this point, you may be wondering what a conditioning program would look like for your dog, and what it could add to your dog’s life.  That all depends on several factors like:

1.) your dog’s age, breed and structure

2.) your dog’s activity and ability level, as well as your activity and ability level

3.) your dog’s “job”-i.e. couch cuddling companion, running partner, assistance dog, dabbling in sports, competing in sports, etc.

Once we factor that information in, we can formulate a conditioning program to address specific goals for you and your dog as a team, whether that be improving mobility and the quality of life for a senior, preventing injury or improving sports performance in competition, keeping an assistance dog able to perform his/her duties well, or just learning more fun games to keep your smart young dog out of trouble.  No matter where you and your dog fall along this continuum, an appropriate conditioning program can build confidence in your dog and strengthen your bond as a “team.”  It will help stabilize weak areas of the body, preventing injuries, and improving strength, balance and coordination overall.  Maintaining strength and flexibility with a conditioning program can also help to speed recovery from injuries if they do happen to occur.


Building a customized program

Your dog’s conditioning program may be comprised of several different categories of exercises, based on his/her specific needs and your goals with the program.  There are four main categories of exercises that we may use:

  • Strength Training-This is comparable to we humans lifting weights or performing isometric exercises.
  • Endurance Training-Similar to how we would perform cardiovascular conditioning, for dogs this usually consists of sustained trotting or continuous swimming. [Note: Cardiovascular endurance is the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful activity, like running, and should not be confused with stamina, which is the ability to keep working for long periods of time.  For the majority of our dogs, stamina is much more necessary than true endurance.  We improve stamina by incorporating specific exercises to improve skill and increase strength.]
  • Proprioceptive Training- Proprioceptionis the internal sense that tells you where your body parts are without your having to look at them, and is a combination of body awareness, balance, and a sense of joint position. Strong proprioceptive abilities improve performance in a variety of sports/situations and reduce your dog’s chance of injury.
  • Flexibility Training- Flexibility plays an integral part in maintaining proper mobility, which can be especially important for athletic movement. Improving or maintaining flexibility can help to improve range of motion, body awareness, and sport performance, as well as helping to minimize the risk of injury.

A good conditioning program may incorporate exercises from any of the above categories, but not necessarily all of them, depending on our goals with the program.  Often, an individual exercise may fall into more than one category, such as both Strength and Proprioception, so we can select exercises that will streamline your program, and address the specific goals we have set for your dog, without asking you to spend hours each day on your dog’s work out program.  Depending on what your dog likes best, we can use food rewards, toys, play, praise, or any combination of these to motivate your dog to participate.  Above all, we want the program to be fun for both of you!

Now that you are considering starting a conditioning exercise program with your dog, please check in with your veterinarian to make certain that it is safe for your dog. In addition, seeking out a veterinarian knowledgeable in Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, who can help you know where to start, what to aim for, and how to progress your program, is also a wise idea.   Working in conjunction with your primary care veterinarian, we can tailor the most appropriate, and safest, program for your dog.

Interested in booking a conditioning evaluation with Dr. Mary? Give our office a call at 734-253-2722. We also have our very own “gym membership”; check out the ARF Fit Club benefits.