Joint injuries are all too common in certain dog breeds. Be they of the ligament, tendon, or bone variety, such injuries can be devastating for dogs, as they can lead to decreased activity levels and health problems such as obesity.
They can be tough on owners too, with knee ligament surgeries generally costing $3000 or more.
But, as with humans, developing your dog’s strength — building her muscle mass and improving her muscle function — can help to prevent and even treat joint injuries. The veterinary community is pretty much in agreement on that one (1, 2, 3, 4).
In other words, you can significantly improve your dog’s health (i.e., prolong its lifespan and healthspan) by building its muscular strength. That’s good news.
The even better news is that muscular conditioning is surprisingly easy for dog owners.
And the best news of all is that strength training can be really enjoyable for dogs.
Let us show you how to do it.
Canine Strength Training Principles
First of all, it’s necessary to understand the types of movements and behaviors that will make your dog stronger.
The most common form of muscle-building activity is resistance training. A working definition of which is “a form of strength training in which each effort is performed against a specific opposing force generated by resistance.” In other words, the ordinary (unweighted) movement of a body part is opposed and made more difficult by the force generated by some additional stressor.
What kind of additional stressor? It could, in theory, be one of many things. The earth’s gravitational force (pulling a weighty object towards the ground). Some rough, frictional surface (making pulling more difficult). The elastic force of a band that wants to contract.
According to the American Sports Medicine Institute, the goal of resistance training is to “gradually and progressively overload the musculoskeletal system so it gets stronger.”
In other words, we need to gradually and progressively load up the relevant movement with our opposing force.