Keeping your dog in shape in the winter months can be challenging but if you are a little creative you can find ways to keep your pup in tip top shape. There have been several research studies in recent years that have found that dogs who are close to their ideal weight live up to 3 yrs longer than their overweight counterparts. When you think about the short life span of dogs, (9-10yrs ) it’s amazing that you could extend their life by a third of their lifespan just by simply keeping them fit !
Believe it or not teaching your dog some fun tricks is actually a great way to improve flexibility and help your dog stay in great shape. The more flexible and strong he is the less likely he will be to get injured or suffer from arthritis and the normal limitations of aging.
Roll Over is a great trick to teach your dog. It’s a wonderful confidence builder and actually helps stretch out the spine and keep it flexible. Use a treat to get your dog to lie down and then move the treat from his nose to his shoulder slowly so that he rolls onto his side. Once he is comfortable with this you can get him to follow the treat a little further so that he rolls onto his back and then when he is comfortable you can use the treat to get him all the way over. Most dogs don’t follow the treat all the way on the first try. Being on their backs is a little scary for some dogs so be patient and don’t be afraid to start from the beginning and lure your dog only as far as he’ll go willingly, multiple times before you ask him to go further. If you go slow he will trust you and be willing to offer more than he normally would.
Spin is another great stretching exercise that will keep your dog flexible even as he ages. Most dogs are right or left handed so you may find he turns one way more easily than another. It’s fine to start with the direction your dog turns more easily, but later when he’s good at turning one way, you should teach him to also turn in the other. Start with a really yummy handful of treats. Lure your dog in one direction as far as he is comfortable going and click and treat. Repeat from the start so that your dog gets some momentum. This will give him incentive to go a little further each time until he is comfortable following the treat all the way around in a circle. The trick to getting your dog to follow the treat all the way around is to keep the treat low, hip height or lower as you make your circle. I always tell my students to aim for under the dogs tail. This gives the dog a chance to follow the treat in a circle instead of backing up to look at it. If you hold it too high you’ll know because your dog will back up with his head up instead of turn in a circle. Once your dog is easily following the treat, time your click for when he is at the half way point but deliver the treat when he completes the circle. By clicking at the halfway point you will speed up the spin because your dog will hurry the rest of the way around in order to get his goodie.
Hind end workout
This is an excellent way to strengthen your dogs back end and help him learn to move it independently from the front end. Most dogs don’t use their back ends as well as they do their front ends nor are they very aware of them. This can be problematic as dogs age because the weaker the back end is the more prone they are to breaking down and having mobility issues. Even if a dog has hip dysplasia he can live a relatively comfortable life if he is kept the right weight and exercised appropriately to build up his rear end muscles. The better shape your dog is in the more mobile and flexible he will stay well into old age.
My favorite way to work on hind end strength is to teach the dog to put his front paws up on a foot stool or hassock and move in a circle around the stool by moving his hind feet. Some dogs are a little resistant at first so take your time and use a treat to lure him up on the stool. Work on getting him on and off the stool multiple times until he is doing it willingly. Once he’s got this part start clicking and treating for him keeping his front feet still on the stool. Next, use your treat and the motion of your body stepping away from him around the stool to get him to move his rear feet in a circle around the stool. Time your click for any rear foot movement at first and then later waiting until your dog takes a full step and then several. In no time your dog will be circling around the stool on his hind legs like a circus dog. Once he’ll follow you as you move around the stool, try taking a step sideways toward him and click him for moving his rear feet away from you. This requires a little more coordination on your dogs part so be patient and click and treat the slightest movement. Once your dog masters these two moves, moving with you and moving away from you around the stool, he will be well on his way to a great workout.
Next time you think it’s a little too cold to go out to play try a trick session instead. Your dog will love spending time with you and he’ll be building his flexibility and strength at the same time.