Core Exercise For Dogs

I am a pretty consistent exerciser, working out about 5 to 6 times a week. There is such an emphasis with people to strengthen our core – the muscles of our abs, spine and supporting limbs. That strength decreases lower back pain and stress on the rest of our body, and helps us to have more upright posture and prevent injuries.

Core strength in dogs is also a good thing, decreasing the incidence of injuries associated with osteoarthritis or other soft tissue issues, of iliopsoas strains, and spinal pain. I spoke with Ginger Jones, CCRP, canine physical therapist at the Care Center about core strength exercises the other day. “Core work,” she told me, “is integrated into everything I do.”

It is that important whether you have a very active, a young, an old, a big or small dog.

Ginger explained how you may notice signs of a weak core in everyday activities. There may be excessive sway in the hind end in movement. You may see your pet have difficulty making the transition from positions such as going from sitting to standing. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a dog’s inability to hold a sit stay could be due to weak core muscles.

Please note: Before you begin new exercises, clear them with your veterinarian/health care professional. You can mix these exercises up, doing several consistently at least every other day. They can also be considered a warm up before other activities.

Exercises to strengthen your dog’s core

Ginger said even simply walking your dog over uneven surfaces causes your dog to shift its body weight, engaging core muscles. When you take that leash out, keep an eye out for things in the environment you can encourage your dog to step on or move over. Walking up and down inclines and stairs involves trunk muscles too.  In your home, you can encourage your dog to walk on pillows or folded towels for example as another surface.

Exercises while standing. Holding a stand can be more difficult than you think in the beginning (think of the plank exercise for humans). Encourage your dog to stand and hold that position for up to ten seconds or longer. You may need to begin with just a few seconds of holding position. These are some of the ways Ginger engages the muscles more during the stand (for all of these, use a non-slip surface)

With a lure, encourage the dog to turn its head in different directions to follow the food.

Gently sway your dog from left to right while supporting it. Note: you are not rocking your dog so hard that it will need to move its legs to regain balance. As your dog becomes stronger, your dog will need less support from you.

Again, while you are supporting your dog, lift one leg for a few seconds and then replace it on the ground. Do this with each of your dog’s legs. For difficulty as your more forward with this, you can increase the time for each leg lift and decrease the amount of support you provide.

Sit to stand. Changing positions is great for strengthening your dog’s core. Encourage your dog to go from stand to sit and sit to stand (and you can incorporate laying down too). You can increase repetitions up to 5 or 10 times on a variety of surfaces.

Walking backwards and in a figure eight. This exercise, while fairly simple, helps a lot with balance and hindlimb strength.

Cavalettis.  A cavaletti is basically walking your dog over a series of raised surfaces. You can make your own or purchase them online. You can even use a ladder. This exercise requires your dog to lifts its hind legs over each surface improving strength, range of motion, balance and flexibility. Ginger said you can begin with a series of two-by-four boards. You can also use PVC pipes or broomsticks, or other poles. Begin with the hurdles laying on the ground and gradually increase the height. You can be creative in hurdle holders. I have seen people use crushed soda pop cans (placing the hurdle end over the crook in the can), laying the hurdle on blocks, ect. The hurdles should be placed one body length of your dog apart, and begin with about a four inch height (depending on the height of your dog). You can have four to seven hurdles. Walk your dog through the course four or five times initially and then increase the repetitions as your dog gains strength.

Elevated paw touch. Practice having your dog stand with its front paws on an elevated surface such as a chair to increase the weight bearing load of the back legs. You can increase the time in small increments as they increase their rear leg strength. When your dog can hold that position for at least 15 seconds, you can practice adding some gentle hand pressure to its body as was practiced with the stand. You can also practice this with your dog’s rear legs on the elevated surface.

Using a wobble board or balance ball.  Practice having your dog sit or stand on a BOSU or balance ball (you will need to support your dog in the beginning, and also just to desensitize your dog to being on it, you may want to wedge the ball so that it does not move when getting started).

Additionally you can teach your dog to put its front or rear paws onto a ball or wobble board. To do this, I first taught our dog to paw target (stand with his front paws on a surface) on a variety of surfaces and rotate his back legs so the behavior itself was not new. Below is a video of me demonstrating clicker training using shaping to teach a Vizsla to paw target, and then a video of me teaching our Sam to put his paws on a balance ball.

Teaching beginner paw targeting

Teaching our Sam to keep his front paws on the balance ball

All of these exercises are not that difficult to practice and teach, but they are so important to the wellness of our pets. A dog that does agility needs this strength to minimize injury risk. A dog that does confirmation will need good core strength to hold positions. For that matter, working dogs, older dogs, and puppies will all benefit. And you will have fun in the process!


Can I be of further help to you and your pet? Please contact me!

Canine Hip Dysplasia: Symptoms and Exercises

Do you know what hip dysplasia is in dogs? And what types of exercise can help a dog that has it? I spoke with Physical Therapist Ginger Jones, CCRP, at Care Center Animal Hospital in Cincinnati about the symptoms of hip dysplasia and some helpful exercises for dogs.

Care Center Animal Hospital in Cincinnati uses a water treadmill to exercise dogs with arthritis or hip dysplasiaHip dysplasia is one of the most skeletal diseases in dogs. It is an abnormal formation of the hip joint, which includes a ball and socket, and which can lead to gradual deterioration and loss of function.

While any dog can develop it. Large and giant breeds such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Saint Bernards, and Great Danes have likelier genetic predispositions to it.

Here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Difficulty rising from a seated or laying down position
  • Reluctance to climb stairs, jump or run
  • Pain in hip joints
  • Having back legs unnaturally close together
  • Decreased muscle mass in the thighs
  • Enlarged shoulder muscles from bearing more weight on the front legs
  • Decreased activity
  • Lameness
  • Shifting their whole back end to move their back legs

 “As soon as you learn your dog has it, it is important to begin exercises to strengthen muscles and stabilize the joint,” Ginger said.

Types of exercises recommended by Ginger for dogs with hip dysplashia:

  • Incorporate into your walks going uphill some so as to shift his weight to his back legs to strengthen those muscles.
  • Practice sitting and getting back up for both strengthening muscles and stability. It is important to begin with a small number of sits in the beginning and gradually increase that.
  • If your dog has not had surgery, be careful with jumps as the pushing off can be painful; however, you can gradually build up to running some. Ginger recommends beginning with three 5 minute walks, adding a couple minutes daily each week. Once you get to a 20 minute walk, THEN she said you can initiate some jogging. “It is okay to run some as long as you build up to it first,” Ginger told me.
  • Swimming and walking on a water treadmill are good exercises.
  • Pushing a ball is a good exercise as it requires your dog to hold his head down, which takes the weight off of his hips and not all exercise should be about adding weight to the hips.
  • Doing an activity that requires your dog to move his head from side to side also helps with stability and core strength as he shifts his body weight with the movement.
  • Balance exercises are great. Smaller dogs can stand on a Bosu ball and practice shifting their weight from right to left. You can also practice having your dog raise one front paw and then the other, and practice walking on uneven surfaces.
  • An exercise to avoid is agility as this requires too much fast paced, quick directional change movement.
  • For front limbs, walking is important. Giving your dog a treat ball will cause your dog to lower his head and put more weight on his front limbs. You can also put something on your dog’s nose, which will encourage him to use his front limbs to get it off. Walking downhill is also good for front leg work.
  • Caveletti exercises are good for arthritis and hip dysplasia as they increase the range in the front and hind limbs, increase flexion, and is good for placement of the feet and balance, and core strength. You want to start at a very low height and build it up. Six caveletties is a good number for that.

Some other additional tips Ginger suggested:

  • A good, well cushioned orthopedic bed goes a long way. For larger dogs who don’t want to lay on a bed due to its warmth, you may want to buy a cooling mat.
  • A slick surface is more difficult for your dog to move on and may limit his mobility further. Area rugs, gym or yoga mats placed on wood floors will be helpful.
  • Extra weight means more pressure on those joints so if your dog is some extra pounds, consider putting him on a diet.
  • With arthritis, the best modality is heat. Before any exercise, Ginger recommends putting a heated rice bag on your dog’s problem joint and doing some warm up exercises before a walk.
  • Your vet may recommend anti-inflammatory supplements.

Underwater Treadmill Is Great Therapy For Dogs

I asked Ginger Jones, CCRP, physical therapist at the Care Center animal hospital, about what it is used for. This is what she said:

The Care Center Animal Hospital in Cincinnati has an underwater treadmill for physical therapy for dogs Underwater treadmill has many benefits in many different situations. We use the principles of buoyancy (which allows dogs to exercise in an upright posture and decreases weight-bearing stress on joints), hydrostatic pressure (provides constant pressure which prevents swelling), and viscosity (provides resistance which promotes muscle strengthening and allows for increased sensory awareness) to provide an optimal environment for the dog to work out in. Some benefits of the underwater treadmill are improved endurance, strength, joint range of motion, cardio respiratory endurance, and reducing pain.

Underwater treadmill is effective in the treatment of chronic pain, decreased strength and endurance, recent surgery or illness, injury, arthritis, neurological disorders, and weight management.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact Ginger at the Care Center, 513-530-0911.

About the Care Center:
The Care Center is a 24 hour emergency, trauma and critical care hospital for pets in Cincinnati and Dayton that offers appointments for surgery, critical care, internal medicine, and cardiology as referred by a pet’s primary care veterinarian. It also includes an in-house blood bank. Please visit to learn more about them.


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