Showing a dog in conformation refers to being judged on the visible details of a dog's structure, appearance and movement as defined by the breed standard for each breed. When a judge is evaluating a dog, the dog’s muscular development and overall appearance will be looked at and scored.

Canine fitness training can improve how a dog moves by making him more aware of his feet and improving the overall use of each limb. A dog that knows how to move and has the strength to move fluidly will show in the conformation ring with stronger attributes.

Benefits of canine fitness for both handler and dog:

  • Improved movement and length of stride
  • Improved posture, balance and shape
  • Improved musculature
  • Improved stability as the trunk becomes stronger
  • Increased power in the center of gravity
  • Improved performance during exercise and sports activities
  • Improves overall stability while decreases the chance of injury

Canine fitness training uses inflatable balance props, cavaletti poles, boxes, platforms and other things naturally found in the environment to improve a dog’s limb awareness, balance and over all strength.

It is important to understand how to build a proper fitness plan for your dog that provides a full body workout. This will teach efficient use of each limb, activate the core muscle group to assist in movement and maintain and/or build overall muscle while improving muscle tone, size and strength. All of these things will improve the dog’s appearance and movement.

Exercises that I use regularly for my conformation clients include:

  • Cavalettis (stride poles set in a straight line or in a curve only 1-2” off the ground) – improves length of stride and limb awareness.
  • Weight shifting on balance props – improves core strength and limb awareness
  • Pivoting front and pivoting rear to strengthen the inside and outside muscles of the forelimb and hind limb for stability
  • Front and rear foot targeting to improve the dog’s stacked position and improve communication with the dog for other strength exercises
  • Soft Planks - improves core and spinal strength while also increasing strength in the shoulder and hip stabilizers
  • Side Stepping or Lateral movement to improve muscle tone and joint stability
  • Down Stands and Squats – to improve hind end strength
  • Push ups – to improve forelimb strength
  • Circles and figure eights around trees, cones or garbage cans – thoughtfully and at speed
  • A variety of stretches to improve flexibility and movement

Completing a circuit of exercises with your dog on a regular basis is fun and rewarding for both dog and handler. Dog’s LOVE participating in canine fitness. Your goal should be to complete a strength training circuit three to five days a week. Each fitness plan should take about 15-25 min. It is important to give your dog TWO active rest days per week. Active rest means that you are not doing any organized fitness training, but you are still taking your dog for walks. Rest doesn’t mean that you want your dog to be a couch potato. You want to make sure that your dog is moving during their active rest.

There are many exercises to choose from, but it is important to get advice from a qualified canine fitness coach. I personally have 14+ yrs experience teaching canine fitness. Although I am based in Portland, OR, I teach online classes and online one on one lessons. If you would like more information about my lessons or classes, please emails me at [email protected]. There are a variety of classes available online taught by very skilled fitness professionals. For the best instruction, search for classes or lessons offered by a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer, educated by the University of Tennessee, a veterinarian or rehabilitation professional who specializes in sports medicine.