You can add variety to your training routine and use fitness activities with dogs of all ages, but it’s important to cater exercise to your dog’s age and ability level. Exuberant, growing puppies and outstanding oldsters have different needs and bodies than an athletic adult dog. Read on for key considerations for different life stages.
Puppies and Adolescents
Puppies and adolescents - the dog equivalent of teenagers - have special needs for exercise because they are still growing! The big term you hear often is “growth plates.” Growth plates are the soft areas, called epiphyseal plates, on the ends of long bones. Until fully developed into denser bone, growth plates can be vulnerable to injury and damage from impact. Smaller breeds’ plates close earlier than larger breeds’ plates do and the timeframe is between 9-24 months of age. A veterinarian could radiograph your dog’s growth plates to determine if they are closed.
What should you avoid doing with puppies? Avoid repetitive and/or endurance movements - such as running distance or doing high-paced, long distance walks on concrete - until the growth plates are closed. Skip doing balances for long durations on more unstable surfaces, such as exercise discs, until your pup is grown.
Exercises for Young Dogs
- Work on fitness and obedience skills on the flat. Work on sits, downs, stands, sphinx downs and other skills on the floor, but not on balance exercise equipment.
- Walk on different surfaces and create obstacle courses! For those of you who love balance equipment, you can set up a short obstacle course by setting up objects all in a row and having your dog walk across those objects in a controller manner! This will teach your pup proprioception and give him confidence on different surfaces, but it won’t cause any damage because you won’t hold any positions on the balancing surfaces for long periods of time.
Younger dogs also have shorter attention spans, so just use 10-30 pieces of kibble as treats per training session and end the session when you’re out of kibble! You can do multiple sessions during the day, but give a couple of hours for a “mental break” between sessions. Using this “train until the kibble is gone” method will also help to ensure that you don’t overdo the number of repetitions in one session.
Your adult dog could be a couch potato, an exuberant hound with endless energy or even a performance dog who competes in sporting events. What should you consider?
Fun Exercises for Adult Dogs
- Cater to your dog’s fitness level. Start slowly with only a few repetitions and short exercise sessions. If your dog is already fit, he’ll be able to do more than a dog who is just getting back into his fitness routine.
- If your dog is high-spirited and moves rocket fast, concentrate on slow, controlled movements so your dog learns body awareness. Check out the other Fit Dogs blogs for ideas! Front and rear leg targeting and shaking are especially great for awareness and control.
Your dog could be considered a senior at age 7 and up, depending on his size and breed. Sometimes senior dogs are in better physical shape than younger dogs! However, keep in mind that exercises that are easy for younger dogs may be more difficult for seniors.
Safe Exercises for Older Dogs
- Seniors need fewer repetitions (the number of times you do an exercise in a row) and less frequency (the number of times a week you practice or the number of sets your dog does) than younger dogs do.
- Old dogs LOVE to learn new tricks. You can do fitness skills at varying levels of difficulty based on the surface you use - a carpeted floor, a foam dog bed, a foam pad, an exercise disc, and so on, all have different difficulty levels. Check out the fundamentals in the Fit Dogs blog series for new things to teach your retired rover!
- They will likely need a longer recovery time between exercises and exercise sessions than a younger dog would require.
- Older dogs naturally lose proprioception and muscle mass as they age – just as humans do. It’s so important to do these exercises in accordance with what your dog needs, so find a balance that’s just right. Don’t overdo it or your dog will be sore. Don’t slack or you’ll lose the skill and the muscle. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions about doing too little or too much.
Follow the rest of the Fit Dogs blogs to learn how to teach your dog fitness skills and how to utilize them in combinations! The exercises can be tweaked for any age or skill level. Don’t forget to do your warm up and cool down, too! Remember, it's important to cater your exercise to the age of your dog, just as it's important to cater your dog's pet insurance coverage to the different stages of their life.