Know-How for Dog Fitness: Understanding Weight Distribution Is the Key

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If you are already doing fitness exercises, or are interested in starting them with your dog, you need to understand the dog’s neutral position, weight distribution, and what is happening during specific actions, activities or sports performances – how and why something as simple as the direction your dog is looking in can affect your dog’s body, AND how to use this to your advantage when doing fitness!

I find people often struggle to find, for example, a knee on their dog, or measure how high the dog is at the withers vs. at the shoulders etc., so why not explain it all in one place!

Let’s look at the picture, and try to find the most important points of the dog’s body. Go ahead and try and feel them on your dog!

  1. withers (top of the shoulder blade / scapula)
  2. shoulder joint
  3. elbow joint
  4. wrist / carpus
  5. pelvis: 5a – tuber sacrale, 5b – tuber ischii)
  6. hip joint
  7. stifle / knee joint with patella
  8. hock / tarsus
  9. cervical vertebraes
  10. thoracic vertebraes with rib cage
  11. lumbar vertebraes

Dogs carry 60% of weight on his front end, and 40% on rear end while standing. The front is therefore built to support the weight, while rear end works more as “an engine”, pushing forward when the dog starts to move.

Now, let’s move on to a trotting dog. Can you tell the difference in weight distribution between the two pictures of the same dog?

Look more closely at the head position, and the weight distribution between front and rear end – in which picture do you think the dog is loading the front end more? Which head position requires the dog to put more weight on the hind end?

Remember, the head held above the spine level makes the dog shift more weight to his rear end, as in the example pictured on the right side. 

The head below the spine level, as in the picture  on the left side, promotes more weight shifted to the dog’s front end.

How can this knowledge benefit my fitness training sessions?

By understanding the relation between the dog’s head position and weight distribution in fitness, we can deliberately change and load a particular body part more, and therefore really target the desired strengthening effect.

Having a dog stepping on an object with front feet up is a fantastic exercise to start with on ANY object or piece of equipment, it’s easy and the dog has time to get familiar with something new. If a dog is afraid of the piece under his feet, you cannot do fitness, so spending a session like this to get the dog confident with the object is certainly a good foundation!  

Front Feet up on an object

What to look for:

  • You want to have a nicely balanced body and neutral head position (above spine level, we can also lean a bit towards the dog to help with shifting weight to the hind end).

  • The back should be straight (you do not want to strengthen muscles in a crouched position!)

  • Rear feet should be fixed and positioned nicely behind. If your dog puts them under the belly and arches the back, it is usually a sign of poor core strength – something for you to work on! Placing a target under the rear feet can be helpful in such cases.

“Front Feet up on an object” is a perfect foundation exercise, and it engages the dog’s rear end and core.

Now, look at the pictures below, and think about whether the left and right photos are having the same effect on the dog. Are they both working the same rear end and core muscles?

In both cases, the dog has front feet up, so there can’t be any difference, right? WRONG. Look at the head position in relation to the spine.

In the photo on the left the dog has her head above the spine, which shifts weight to the rear end – engaging hind feet musculature to work more.

Just the opposite happens in the photo on the right, where the reward is lower, and she shifts almost all her weight to the front end, which makes this exercise totally different from the previous one! 

So – if you want to work on the rear end in this position, you need to keep the head higher up! 

The position we want our dog in, and the body part to which they shift their weight, is highly dependent on our reward (or target focus/touch) placement. 

Remember this the next time you enjoy your fitness training session with your dog!

Author: Jana Gams, DVM, CCRP