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Simple At-Home Dog Conditioning Exercises

Learn how to prevent injury and extend your dog’s lifespan

Dog conditioning is a workout for dogs that aims to improve muscle mass, body awareness, strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. 

It has the potential to increase your dog’s lifespan because well-conditioned dogs are less likely to injure themselves and are generally more mobile in old age.

How can dog conditioning prevent injury?

A well-conditioned dog has the ability to carry more load on their muscles. This is important because injuries happen when there is too much load on a muscle for which the muscle is not prepared. 

In addition, injuries also occur when a muscle is fatigued which leads to stumbles, trips and falls as your dog loses the ability to maintain their position and balance. Muscles of a well-conditioned dog do not fatigue as quickly as those of a dog who has not had any conditioning training.

The forgotten stabiliser muscles

Many dogs get regular walks and runs in the park or at the beach which is fantastic for their overall cardio stamina and for maintaining larger muscle groups. 

Unfortunately, deeper muscle groups which are responsible for balance and stability, are often neglected and remain on the weaker end of the spectrum. When a dog activates these weak stabiliser muscles when jumping, turning and braking to fetch a ball, or when they simply lose balance and try to avoid slipping and sliding, there is a greater risk of injury to these muscles, as well as tendons and ligaments.

I have taught many of my clients simple at-home exercises for their dog’s core and overall strength, and the results are truly telling. Clients of middle-aged and older dogs in particular have reported visible mobility improvements including better balance, stability and coordination. 

There are a whole range of exercises you can do with your dog and some are very simple yet effective. 

If you want to get into more advanced exercises, I recommend you consult a canine therapist that has had training in canine conditioning to teach you the correct techniques of more complex exercises. Implementing correct technique is crucial in achieving desired outcomes and avoiding injury.

Things to know before you start

#1. Floors – Make sure your dog never performs any of the exercises on slippery flooring such as floorboards or tiles. Your dog will tense up and will not perform the exercises correctly if they must navigate a slippery surface. This can lead to injuries which is the last thing we want for your dog. 

If you don’t have any carpeted areas or rugs in your house, you can get a few rubber-backed carpet floor tiles from a hardware store or carpet outlet, or you can use an exercise mat. 

Be mindful however that if your dog is not used to performing the exercises on an exercise mat, they will most likely not stay confined to the small mat. 

If you are just starting out with conditioning exercises, I recommend you make sure you have a larger non-slippery area available where your dog can perform the exercises safely.

#2. Warm up – Always warm your dog up before performing any conditioning exercises by walking and trotting them for at least 5 minutes either around the house or garden, or simply by taking them for a quick walk around the block.

#3. Fatigue  If your dog is no longer able to perform the exercises properly or shows signs of stress such as panting, licking, yawning or a reluctance to perform the exercises, there is a high chance your dog is showing signs of fatigue. This is the time you will have to stop. 

A fatigued dog is prone to injury because their exhausted muscles are too weak to support their body.

#4. Sets and Repetitions – Start with a low number of repetitions and as your dog builds up strength over time, increase the repetitions and introduce sets. Always monitor your dog for signs of fatigue and make a note of how many sets and repetitions you have completed. This will give you a good idea of where your dog is at with their fitness.

Things you need to get before you start

#1. Treats – You will need high value treats to make the exercises worthwhile for your dog. To ensure your dog does not gain weight, I recommend you feed them their dinner (or parts of their dinner) whilst doing the exercises. It gets a bit messy when you are a raw feeder but you can cut up a piece of meat into several very small pieces. This should do the trick.

#2. Step – If you are just starting out, you can use any step around your house (step onto your porch or deck, or stairs in your home). If you want to get more serious, I recommend you invest in an exercise step as you can use this for many other exercises such as pivoting around the step. 

It is also a foundation exercise to teach your dog to step on an independent stable platform which you can later exchange for an unstable platform such as a balancing disc.

FitPAWS Balance Discs (Razzleberry) available from  Super Dog Products Australia

#3. Balancing Disc – make sure you get a balancing disc, not a board. A disc, sometimes also called balancing cushion, is inflatable and you can adjust the amount of air in the disc. 

A balancing board on the other hand is a fantastic prop to work with but most likely too advanced for your purposes if you are just starting out. 
If you have not yet taught your dog to step on an independent stable platform such as an exercise step, there is a high likelihood your dog will not step on either, a balancing disc or board. 

A Wobble Board is a type of balancing board
Most dogs that do not associate a command such as ‘step’ with stepping up onto something, will decide to step around an obstacle.

Exercise #1: Down to Stand

A repetitive position change from a down position into a standing position is a fantastic exercise to strengthen your dog’s shoulders, hips, knees and their core. In order for a dog to push themselves up, they have to engage the majority of their front and rear end muscles, as well as their core to balance and stabilise themselves.

How to perform the exercise correctly

Lure your dog with a treat into a standing position. Reward. Then push with your hand and treat diagonally downwards toward your dog’s chest and once your dog starts lowering themselves down, move your hand and treat even further downward in between your dog’s front paws until they have lowered themselves fully into a down position. Reward. This method works for most dogs. Repeat this several times.

The idea is that your dog does not reposition their legs but fluently moves between the down and stand position with their four legs remaining in the same spot. The movement should be slow and controlled in which your dog evenly flexes their shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. You might not achieve this right away but this is something to strive for.


It is important that when your dog is in the down position, their hind legs are neatly tucked under in a square down position. If you dog has one or both legs held out, even only a tiny bit, I recommend you see your vet to get your dog assessed before continuing with the exercise. Once you get the green light from your vet, you can manually correct your dog’s hind legs in the down position by simply pushing and tucking their limbs under.

Exercise #2: Front Feet Up on Stable Surface

Front Feet Up is a relatively easy exercise to perform and is a great static exercise that strengthens the lower back, the hind end muscles, the core and the hip flexors.

Keeping a static position for a certain amount of time is called isometric strengthening (the most well-known isometric exercise we humans are familiar with is the plank). Isometric exercises engage and strengthen the postural muscles which are incredibly important for stability and balance

Older dogs in particular present often with weak postural muscles which impedes on their mobility and stability.

How to perform the exercise correctly

Lure your dog with a treat to place their front feet on the platform. Reward. Keep them positioned for 5- 10 seconds and then release them off the platform. When your dog’s front feet are on the platform you want to ensure that their limbs are positioned parallel and that their head is in a relatively neutral position (above the spine but not stretched toward the ceiling). It all comes down to where you hold the treat. 

I prefer to squat down in front of the dog to avoid holding the treat too high but it is up to you what works best for you. If you move the treat closer to your dog’s face or even let them nibble or lick it, your dog will naturally shift a bit more weight onto their hind limbs.


Make sure the platform is stable and does not slide on the ground. Similarly, make sure that the top surface of the platform is non-slippery. The hind feet of your dog should not be under their hip which results in a roached back and leads to a disengagement of their core musculature. Your dog should also not lean forward too much to grab the treat as this causes their weight to be shifted to their front end.

Exercise #3: Front Feet Up on Unstable Surface

Using an unstable surface works primarily on the core and postural muscles that help keep your dog balanced and stable. Core strength is crucial for the stabilisation of the spine and for proper hind and front limb work. A weak core puts more stress on your dog’s limb joints and recruits other muscles to compensate for the weakness. This in turn can lead to overload and a potential injury due to compensatory patterns.

How to perform the exercise correctly

Lure your dog with a treat to place their front paws on the balance disc. If your dog walks around the disc, I recommend you start with a stable surface first (see Exercise #2) and teach them a command such as ‘step’. If there are treats involved, you will be surprised how quickly your dog will learn that stepping onto something results in a reward. We want to set them up for success so the stable surface should be big enough that they cannot fail. 

Once they get the gist of the exercise, exchange the stable surface with the balance disc and use the command you taught them. Hold for 5-10 seconds and release your dog off the disc. Repeat. 

A more advanced version of this exercise would be to press onto the inflatable balance disc whilst your dog is standing on it to offset your dog’s balance. This requires your dog to engage their core muscles even more.


Similar to Exercise #2, your dog’s hind feet should not be positioned under their hip. If your dog is recruiting their hind limbs under their pelvis for stability, this exercise is too advanced for them.

Exercise #4: Active Cookie Shifting Exercise

The Active Cookie Shifting Exercise is another fantastic core strengthening exercise that increases strength in your dog’s stabiliser muscles. Shifting weight in a static standing position leads to alternating isometric contractions and, at the same time, this exercise also improves flexibility in the spine and achieves a stretch through the neck and back.

How to perform the exercise correctly

Lure your dog to turn their head toward their rear end. Make sure your dog is not repositioning their hind limbs to achieve weight shifting to one side. Repeat on the other side. Ideally you would want your dog to stand still in the same position whilst turning their head toward their right hip and then toward their left hip. Repeat this several times at a medium speed.


It is important that the movements are controlled and fluid and that your dog remains in a static standing position. If you lure your dog’s head too far to their rear end, they will start walking in a circle. Only ask them to turn so much that they can still keep a stable position.

Key Takeaways

✔️ Always train on non-slippery surface

✔️ Warm your dog up before performing conditioning exercises

✔️ Look out for signs of fatigue

✔️ Build up strength over time with repetitions

✔️ Have fun with your dog!

written by Sandra Bader from Paws4Paws, July 2022 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

About our writer

Sandra Bader
 is a certified Canine Myofunctional Therapist with a background in human massage and acupressure. 

She has always had a passion for dogs, and it was her dog Chito who gave her a nudge 10 years ago to follow her passion and redirect her path from being an academic (anthropologist) to helping dogs live a longer and happier life. Chito is now 12.5 years old and still fit, strong and healthy.

Sandra became a certified Canine Myofunctional Therapist in 2015 and has completed continued professional development in canine rehabilitation and conditioning. She offers therapy sessions in the comfort of her clients’ homes in Melbourne and its suburbs, and combines hands-on techniques such as remedial massage, myofascial pain release and trigger point therapy with rehabilitative strengthening work and conditioning.

To learn more about her service, please visit

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