Extreme Canine Conditioning Exercises — They may be Possible, but are they Safe?

I just finished watching the movie Everest, based on the true story of one of the expeditions in 1996, and it has me thinking about the quest of so many of the climbers.  Unfortunately, some highly experienced climbers were lost on that expedition due to weather and other unforeseen circumstances.  This makes me question whether things that are absolutely possible are absolutely safe.


The internet allows us the opportunity to watch so many videos posted by canine fitness enthusiasts, owners, and others on exercises they are performing with their dogs.  There are no disclaimers on any of these videos indicating the average person should not try them with the average dog.  Not surprisingly, there are many disclaimers on things people do that may seem a bit outrageous.  ‘Do not try this at home’, and ‘This should not be attempted alone’, etc. are commonly heard and read with many activities in the human world, but not in the canine world.  Many people are very eager to do whatever they can to help their dog, and in turn their dogs will do as much as they can to please their owner.  Unfortunately, this may often be to the dog’s detriment.  Just because a dog CAN do something and it is POSSIBLE to train them to do it, does not mean it is APPROPRIATE and SAFE for them to do.  Many children would love to jump off the top of the playground set onto the sand or practice pitching baseballs for hours on end, However, while they may not all become injured, the probability is high that many of them will.

We have all most likely learned from our mistakes in the past and realize we should not do one thing or another.  I am sure many of us have over worked our dog, or done something we should not have done with them and regretted it.  I remember walking my Dalmatian for way too long when he was a puppy and letting him jump off things that were too high.  I have no doubt I contributed to his osteoarthritis.  I completely regret it, but learned from my mistakes with him.  It is up to us, our dog’s biggest advocate, to choose the safest and smartest way to do things with them.

Having worked with many wonderful owners and trainers, what I see is that those who have the dog’s best interest at heart are the ones who know when to stop – they realize that their dog’s health and safety is more important than one performance, an award or a title.  I have more respect for a dog owner/handler that prevents their dog from doing something they think is harmful than one who pushes the dog beyond its limits.

Canine fitness is becoming a competitive sport – and it is odd because I do not know who made it that way or any reason for competing in the first place.  Is a dog bored with an exercise, or is it really the owner that is bored with the need to move slowly and repeat the same thing in order to safely build muscle?  I would be willing to bet the dog would be pretty happy doing the same ‘boring’ activity for a treat or your praise while building a foundation for more ‘exciting’ things.  We have moved into a world of flash, immediate gratification and constant stimulation.  Slowly but surely, we are discovering this is not beneficial on so many levels.

I spent my first four years of human Physical Therapy practice with professional dancers, the New York City ballet, the San Diego Chargers, and other professional athletes. One of the things that will always stick in my mind is that at no point in the athletes’ training, conditioning or rehabbing was movement compromised.  Their strength and foundation was the basis for everything they did, the basics that kept them sound and helped prevent injury. If they could not accomplish the basics, they did not progress physically or within the sport.  Building on a stable foundation was always the key.

In my opinion, ninety percent of the conditioning dogs I work with on a regular basis are not initially ready to move onto dynamic activities – but instead need to work on their basics first.  “D” cannot be completed without first successfully performing “A, B and C.” Anyone that has ever tried to assemble something and skipped steps, knows the end result of their building project:  at some point, the build will fail.  My concern is that a canine asked to try something that their body is not physically prepared for will fail sooner rather than later…

Keeping it in the Best Interest of the Dog,
Dr. Debbie paw_18_pad

** You should always consult with a veterinarian before starting any exercise program with your dog.


  1. I’m growing more concerned about dog weight pulling. It seems to be a growing trend and when questioned… the people who put theirs dogs into this sport appear to read from an auto que. They all have the same response as each other. The common ones being… it’s the best way to bond… the dog is mentally stimulated because it’s taught recall.. the dog wants to pull 100 pound weights… it’s the dogs choice… it’s healthy and won’t cause long term problems…. and so on. I’m sure it’s not all that bad but I’m not sure it’s good. Just wondered how you feel and is there any research on the effects on the dogs physical being. I come from a human sport background and have know many human weight lifters with many long lasting detrimental problems due to not working the body correctly… pushing too hard too fast… blood pressure becoming so night they pass out and suffer hurts veins/arteries etc. Spending too much time on a bicep for instance and forgetting triceps and wondering why their arms become constantly bent. It worries me that dogs joints and muscle will become put of line let alone other problems. Would just like to see some propper facts from both sides… at least people could make an informed decision then before turning their dogs into heavy weight pullers.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lisa — we think this requires more than an answer that may not be seen by enough people. So we’ve got it on our list to Blog about. Stay tuned.

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