Cross Training Canine Fitness Components

When an exercise program includes each of these components, all systems of the body are trained to work at optimal levels, preventing compensation in one area that may lead to injury.

Posture, Balance & Core Stability

Core stability is defined by having the stabilizer strength to maintain equilibrium and postural control of the spine, pelvis, and scapula during both static and dynamic exercise without compensatory movement that may lead to pain or injury.

Most dogs (like humans) have “lazy” posture – which can either cause or be caused by injuries or imbalances within the body.

Stability training not only strengthens your dog’s core muscles, but also the stabilizer muscles surrounding the other joints throughout the body such as the carpal joints, elbow joints, stifle joints, tarsal joints and so on, reducing the risk of injury in these areas as well.

Canine Strength Training

Canine strength training can both correct and prevent muscular imbalances by integrating the bodily systems to move optimally with appropriate weight distribution.

Muscular imbalances involve the affected muscle(s) performing roles outside of their normal physiological function and thereby placing abnormal forces throughout the body. This can increase a dog’s risk of injuries.

Strength training not only improves the strength of the muscles, but also the tendons, ligaments and bones as well – helping to hold the body in proper alignment and prevent injury.

Strength training can also prevent ‘slip & fall’ type injuries by training the dog’s body how to quickly react to external forces that may otherwise predispose the dog’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints to strain/sprain, fractures, and other types of injuries.

By following the SAID principle, strength training can improve overall function in daily life, and/or enhance athletic performance.

Body Awareness

Body awareness in canine fitness refers to a dog’s conscious and subconscious perception of their body’s position, movement, and sensations during physical activities.

Dogs (and humans) have proprioceptors in their muscles, tendons, and joints that provide information about the position, movement, and tension of various body parts, “in space”.

These proprioceptors send signals to the brain and spinal cord through sensory nerves, where the information is processed and integrated with other sensory inputs. The brain then uses this information to generate appropriate motor responses, allowing for precise and coordinated movements, balance, and posture control.

By incorporating exercises that enhance body awareness into your dog’s fitness routine, you can help them develop better proprioception, kinesthetic sense, balance, coordination, exercise form, and body control. 

Body awareness skills can also help to reduce the risk of accidental injuries, by improving your dog’s ability to understand their body position and how to correctly facilitate movement.


Including safe stretches at the appropriate times helps to prevent stiffnessmuscle knots and soreness (dogs get sore muscles too!).

Long term, flexibility exercises increase the health and elasticity of muscle fibers while preventing restrictions and imbalances within the muscle tissue itself as well as the surrounding tendons and joints.  Not only do flexible muscles decrease the risk of injury, they also increase the body’s available range of motion thereby enhancing athletic performance.

Dogs with muscular imbalances often have overactive/tight muscles within one muscle group, and underactive/weak muscles within the opposing muscle group(s).  In these cases, my preference is to prioritize strengthening the underactive muscles, and stretching the overactive muscles, with the goals of improving joint alignment, posture, movement quality, and ultimately reducing the dog’s risk of pain/injury.

For dogs without obvious muscular imbalances, I instead choose exercises that stretch the muscles they just worked.  During exercise, muscles contract and shorten to generate movement; stretching these muscles after activity helps to restore these muscles to their normal resting length, which helps to prevent muscular tightness and joint restrictions.

Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardiovascular Exercise increases the efficiency of the heart and lungs, while improving blood flow throughout the body.  It is also a great way to release pent up energy while helping your dog maintain a healthy bodyweight. 

Although cardiovascular training has plenty of benefits, it is highly recommended that each dog (and human) participates in a well rounded cross training program that goes beyond simply walking or running alone.
Strengthening and stabilizing the muscles throughout the body that are underused/weak (including “the core”) while stretching the muscles that are overused/tight will decrease muscular imbalances while reducing the risk of injuries.
Most successful *human* runners follow a well designed cross training program in order to improve performance and decrease the likelihood of overtraining/injuries.  There is no reason to think that our canine athletes should be any different!


Reactive/Power training isn’t a component I include in all fitness programs, but it’s definitely important for our canine athletes and it would be unrealistic to think that most pet dogs don’t perform reactive/power exercises in their daily lives too!

Whether a dog is on an agility course or jumping onto the couch, their bodies need to be able to react and generate force quickly to meet the demands placed on their bodies.  

A dog’s nervous system will only be able to recruit muscles at speeds it has been trained to.  If we do not train the nervous system to recruit muscles quickly, when met with a demand that requires one to react quickly, the nervous system will not be able to respond appropriately. 

Reactive/power training can help to enhance a dog’s ability to dynamically stabilize and produce forces at speeds that are functionally applicable to the task at hand. 

Three-Dimensional Movement Efficiency

We live in a three-dimensional world therefore a well designed exercise program should be correctly balanced in all 3 anatomical planes of movement in order to reduce the risk of injuries and improve performance.

The 3 Anatomical Planes of Movement for Quadrupeds (Canines & Felines) include:

  • The Median Plane which cuts through the spine and divides the body into left & right halves.  This includes movements that involve joint flexion & extension; including forwards, backwards, up, and down movements.
    Exercise examples include: Sit to Stands, Back Up, Jumping
  • The Dorsal Plane which cuts through the spine, dividing the body into “belly & back” sections.
    For dogs this is top & bottom halves, and includes movements that involve lateral bending through the spine, as well as internal & external rotation of the limbs.
    Exercise examples include: Spin/Circle, Weaves, Handler weight shifting towards the midline
  • The Transverse Plane which transects the spine in half.  For dogs this is front & back halves, and includes movements that involve rotation through the spine, as well as limb abduction and adduction.
    Exercise examples include: Sidestepping, Pivots, Limb lift into abduction

Please note:  The above is in reference to quadrupeds such as canines & felines.  The planes of movement and their corresponding actions are slightly different in humans who are bipeds and stand upright.

All too often exercise routines lack the correct balance of three-dimensional movements, and this imbalance may increase the likelihood of injury, while also hindering sport performance.

A qualified trainer understands the importance of building three-dimensional movement efficiency in all anatomical planes to keep the body working as a stable and functional whole.

Dog Massage & Canine Bodywork

Incorporating dog massage and canine bodywork into your dog’s routine offers numerous benefits. Massage helps to decrease muscular tension, stiffness, and soreness, improves range of motion, increases blood circulation, and promotes overall posture, structure, and alignment. Massage also aids in restoring normal movement patterns, improving performance, and reducing recovery time. Additionally, consent-based massage can enhance tolerance to touch and cooperative care skills.

Want to learn more?

Our Self Paced Canine Conditioning Course dives deeper into these concepts, and many more!