How should I begin a conditioning program to help my dog achieve the best performance possible?

First you must decide what activity you want to pursue with your dog. Conditioning a running dog is different than conditioning a dog for work. Speed conditioning emphasizes one thing while conditioning for endurance emphasizes another. After you have decided what you want your dog to do you can begin to look at conditioning programs. Always be sure your dog is in general good health and in good condition, especially proper body weight. It is advisable to have your dog examined by a veterinarian prior to beginning any exercise program. Also it is important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise periods.

What kinds of exercises would benefit my dog?

There are two classes of activity each intended to promote a different type of conditioning. Both are important in any activity. Again, one may be emphasized over the other depending on the desired results. Strength conditioning involves one type of muscle fiber and is designed to increase strength and speed. Aerobic activity on the other hand involves a different type of muscle fiber and promotes endurance.

What are some strength exercises?

Any short burst activity such as short retrieves on land or water is excellent for strength conditioning. Short uphill runs are also effective. Weight pulling and weight carrying gives good results but is difficult to accomplish and must be approached with caution to avoid injury.

What about endurance exercises?

Any aerobic activity is good such as long distance running (road work or treadmill). Long distance swimming is very effective for building good endurance.

How much exercise and how often?

The following guidelines can be used, but, keep in mind that any conditioning program must be tailored to your individual dog and its activity. In general endurance exercise should be performed a minimum of 5 days per week for 30 minutes at each period. Strength training should last for only 10 to 15 minutes and never be done on consecutive days, i. e. every other day, or MWF, etc.

What about a warm up? 

It is critical to avoid injury, especially prior to very strenuous activity. Five minutes of very light jogging is adequate. In summary, a little thought and effort is required to develop a conditioning program for your canine athlete. However, if optimum performance is your goal, conditioning can be a large part of your success. Along with genetic selection, training, and nutrition, conditioning can make the difference between winning and just competing.

Leave a comment


  • TheCoach

    Swimming is actually not a very good form of strength training since a lot of the contractile force is lost to the water.
    Strength is best developed through contractile force against a solid and stable surface.
    Look at the body of a swimmer vs the body of a sprinter. Very athletes have the muscularity, size, shape and density of Olympic sprinters.
    Shallow water sprints are incredibly demanding as well as being low impact on joints.
    Breathing against water does offer some cardiovascular benefits. Long distance swimming is a very good way to increase and maintain capillary density, which is what “endurance” is on a physiological level.