Dogs can benefit from a fitness program for all of the same reasons that humans can. One of the main benefits is to live a long, healthy, and active life without injury or pain. Working on dog fitness can also improve performance in specific activities like dog sports.
Additionally, engaging in fitness activities with your dog provides them mental stimulation and a great bonding opportunity with you. Today we are going to go in-depth on one of my favorite dog exercises, "paws-up."
"Paws-up" is an excellent exercise because it encourages your dog to interact with a variety of different items and surfaces. In addition to fitness benefits, this also helps to build confidence.
When a dog places its front paws on something, its forelimb is higher than its hindlimb, which puts more load, or weight, on their lower body. This effect is similar to when a human puts his or her feet on a bench to make the push up more difficult; holding the extra weight on the hindlimb helps to strengthen it.
This movement can also be a great stretch for the dog’s hip flexors, when the object gets high enough to lengthen that area. Tight hip flexors can cause many problems for your dog and stretching can help prevent them from tightening, or loosen them if they are already tight.
Another benefit of putting paws on different types of surfaces is that as the stability of the surface decreases, dogs have to stabilize more through their shoulder girdle and core to keep the body balanced. This works a lot of muscles in the shoulders and throughout the body.
In general, firmer surfaces are more stable, and surfaces with more give are less stable. Examples of surfaces that are less stable are: inflatable items, carpets, pillows, and cushions.
Make sure that whatever surface, both the hindlimb and forelimbs are on a non-slip surface. Dogs can easily hurt themselves when they slip off of something.
Tile can be especially slippery, so please put a yoga mat, small rug, or something with more tread down when exercising your dog on tile.
Here are some fun additions and variations to "paws-up."
Have your dog weight shift by holding treats to the right and left of your dog's body. When your pup moves their head to get the treat, they will be shifting the weight over one limb more than the other. This involves more core and more stabilizing muscles to control as they move back and forth as well as putting more focus on one limb at a time.
Have your dog do a puppy push-up by luring them with a treat to bend and flex the elbows.
Do some lower body work while there is an increased load on the hindlimb. Ask your dog to "sit" and "stand" while it elevates its paws on something. It's kind of like a squat.
Another reason I love "paws-up" is that you can do it anywhere. It is house friendly, park friendly, and mid-walk friendly.
Before you engage in any fitness exercises, it is a good idea to observe what your dog's body looks like in its natural state. Take a picture of your dog standing still from the side, front and back and pay attention to its structure. Do your pups elbows point straight back or out at an angle? Is the top line of its body straight? arched? sloped? Once you have a baseline for what normal looks like on your dog, you can tell when exercises are pushing them outside of their regular stance and form.
As your dog exercises, any deviations from what is normal for them is a sign that you have progressed the activity too far, or that your dog is fatiguing. For example, if your dog's elbows usually point straight back, but start to point out to the side, it is time to take a break. To make the exercise easier, you can:
1. Decrease the height of what they are putting their paws on
2. Increase the stability of what they are putting their paws on
3. Decrease the amount of time you have your dog hold their paws up.
As with any fitness program if your dog has a pre-existing condition that may make this exercise difficult, please consult your veterinarian before starting. The goal is to use exercises to help improve fitness, not to exacerbate any issues or cause pain.
I hope you enjoy this exercise! Check out the video for demonstrations of "paws-up" and the variations. Post any questions or comments below, and I would love to see some videos of your dog putting their paws on things:-)