6 Exercises To Strengthen Your Dog's Legs

Boston terrier

Always check with your veterinarian before beginning an exercise program with your dog.

Unfortunately as our beloved pups get become senior dogs they are not always able to move around as easier as they once did. Your once crazy dog who ran zoomies around the dining room table is now starting to move more slowly, walking less, and even possibly having difficulty getting up and down due to leg weakness.

Weakness can come as a part of the natural aging process or due to a disease/problem which requires potential further treatment. There are many possible causes of leg weakness in dogs which include:

· Arthritis

· Injury

· Degenerative myelopathy (a disease of the spinal cord which can be present in any breed, but common in Boxers)

· Herniated disc in back/degenerative disc disease

· Tumor

Pugs can experience a spinal condition which is thought to be unique the breed resulting in rear leg weakness and paralysis.

It is important to identify why the weakness may be occurring, particularly if the weakness comes on suddenly. An evaluation by your vet is essential and can help guide you as to potential treatment options.

However, once the source of the leg weakness is identified and treatment begins, it is important to address the weakness itself. Regardless of the source of the weakness, there are some exercises that you can do with your dog, at home to help improve and keep the strength of the legs.

Using treats can help you work with your dog on his exercise routine, so have some of his favorite small training treats on hand. If your dog is resistant to do his exercises, having a super special treat (like chopped up bits of bacon) can be the motivation they need!

You want to start slow and build up over time. You certainly do not want to overdo it with your dog and promote exhaustion or pain. If at any time, you feel your dog is in discomfort, stop the exercise. Allow for rest periods and gauge how your dog is doing during each session. You can then slowly add repetitions as your dog is able to tolerate it.

These exercises should be done on carpet, grass or a mat-do not practice these on a tile or wood floor, as your dog will not have good traction and this can put too much strain over the hips or knees.

1. Sit to Stand

· Have your dog sit on command. You want to make sure that he is not side sitting, as dogs with arthritis will often do (or just by habit as with Bulldogs and Boston terriers). If he does side sit, have him stand up and sit again until he is sitting with equal weight through both legs. THEN REWARD.

· Take a step backward, encouraging your dog to stand up and take steps toward you. Then give the “sit” command again. REWARD. (only do this if he is equal sitting)

· Repeat this for 5 to 10 repetitions and do this 1-2 times per day.

2. Backward Walking

· Have your dog standing in front of you

· Using a treat, step forward towards him, encouraging him to step backwards

· Do 5 to 10 steps. REWARD. Repeat for 2 to 4 passes of 5 to 10 steps.

3. Step Up-Front Legs

For this exercise you will need a step, low bench, or pile of books. Basically anything that is about 4-6 inches tall for small dogs and 6-12 inches tall for larger dogs.

For this exercise you will need a step, low bench, or pile of books. Basically anything that is about 4-6 inches tall for small dogs and 6-12 inches tall for larger dogs.

· Using a treat, have him step up onto the step with front legs only. REWARD.

· Then bring the treat over his head to encourage him to step back down off the step.

· Repeat 5 to 10 repetitions, 1-2 times per day.

4. Step Up With Rotations

Using the same position as you did with #3:

· Holding the treat in your closed hand, let your dog smell your hand so that he knows you are holding one. While holding the treat, bring your hand around to your dog’s right shoulder. This should cause him to rotate his head to his right.

· Bring your hand back to the middle and then move it towards your dog’s left shoulder, encouraging him to rotate to the right.

· Bring back to the middle and then REWARD only if he keeps his front paws on the step AND does the rotation.

· Repeat for 5 to 10 repetitions, 1-2 times per day.

5. Step Over

Use a step or line up several books so that they are in a row. If you need further height, stack books on top of another for the length of the row. Ensure your row is long enough so that your dog does not easier just walk around it.

· Have your dog stand in front of the row of books while you are on the other side.

· Using a treat, have your dog step over the row of books while you walk backward. REWARD.

· Turn around and repeat for 5-10 step overs, 1-2 times per day

6. Stand on three legs

You will be physically helping your dog with this one, so if you have a shorter dog, you can put him up on a higher surface so you do not have to bend over.

· Standing next to your dog, lift his right front paw, so that he has to balance on 3 legs

· Hold for 10 seconds and then put his foot down. REWARD

· Repeat while lifting his left front paw, holding for 10 seconds. REWARD

· Repeat 5 times with each leg.

Progress can be measured in how well your dog is able to perform these exercises and the ability to tolerate more repetitions.

If you want to track progress, you can measure the girth of your dog’s hind leg muscles every two weeks. This will help you to know if he maintaining his muscle mass (in degenerative conditions we do not want to see loss of mass) and/or if he is gaining muscle mass.

Using a tape measure, measure approximately ½ inch from the top of your dog’s leg the circumference of the thigh. Do this every 2-3 weeks and look for either the measurement to remain the same (no loss) or an increase of the circumference.

Dr. James St. Clair has excellent information and videos on dog rehabilitation. Visit his website for more advice and resources.

Of course, the conclusive gauge of your dog’s progress is to see maintenance or improvement of your dog’s daily function. Managing/increasing stability or tolerance to walking and getting up and down is the ultimate goal for your pup’s exercise program.

These can go a long way in improving quality of life. Here are some other ways to help your senior dog. Try these and let us know how your Baby is doing!

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