How to Condition a Dog on Hills, Stairs and Agility

by Lydia Janssen
Help your young dog succeed with the right conditioning.

Help your young dog succeed with the right conditioning.

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Proper exercise will help make your young dog healthy, confident and less prone to behavior problems. Agility training is one great way for you and your pal to work as a team while exercising vigorously, but your dog must be conditioned for the work. If you start your pal on an ambitious work program without prior conditioning, she can suffer injuries and exhaustion. You can use hills, stairs and agility obstacles appropriately to get your pal in great condition, ready to enjoy many years of play and exercise with you.

Step 1

Talk to your veterinarian about your canine buddy's physical condition and your planned exercise regimen. Ask about any breed-specific or age-specific concerns.

Step 2

Take your pal for short walks once or twice a day, using a 6-foot leash attached to either a standard nylon collar or a harness to keep her safe by your side. Be aware that dogs can't cool themselves by sweating, and your pal can't tolerate work on warm days as well as you can. Loyalty will compel her to try, so you must protect her. Avoid walks during the hot part of the day. Take short breaks for water every 10 to 15 minutes. Avoid concrete and asphalt surfaces on warm days, as these can become painfully hot. Even on cold days, the unyielding surfaces can be hard on your pal's joints and foot pads.

Step 3

Increase the length and speed of the walks gradually. Make sure you give your dog a slower 3- to 5-minute warmup before you start picking up speed. Different dogs will get conditioned to exercise at different rates, so be attentive to how your girl is doing. End the work any time she is panting heavily or is reluctant to continue. If your canine pal is a puppy, don't have her jog with you. The work can harm her developing joints and bones.

Step 4

Add hills and stairs into your daily routine. Increase the intensity of the hills and the number of the stairs gradually. Coax your young dog patiently up and down stairs until she feels comfortable negotiating them. Include short sprints in your routine to help improve strength training, if your pal is old enough.

Step 5

Introduce your buddy to agility obstacles. Let her explore and sniff the hurdle, A-frame and see-saw until she is comfortable around them. If she's skittish at first, use treats and a positive, upbeat voice to encourage her to approach the obstacles. A nervous dog is more likely to hurt herself, so give her the time she needs to develop confidence around these strange new additions to her world.

Step 6

Add agility obstacles to your dog's workout. Walking with her on leash, use treats and a happy voice to encourage her to hop over a lowered hurdle, walk over the lowered A-frame and carefully cross the see-saw. Be especially encouraging and supportive with the see-saw. Reward her with abundant treats when she crosses it, as she probably will find the see-saw's movement startling at first. Keep sessions brief at first.

Step 7

Increase obstacle height and your dog's speed gradually, as she builds stamina and confidence. Let her take a break whenever she seems hesitant or tired. Don't introduce a puppy to these obstacles until she is at least 12 to 15 months old; jumping and and difficult climbs can damage growing bones and joints.

Step 8

Keep your pal hydrated. Offer her small water breaks throughout any exercise session. Don't let her drink too much at once, as this can cause upset stomach and bloat.

Step 9

Help your dog cool down after every exercise session. Walk with her slowly until her heart rate goes down and she stops panting. Consider giving her a massage after a good workout, and help her stretch by gently extending each of her legs, one at a time, and holding them for a few seconds. Offer her a small amount of water every few minutes to help her hydrate without causing an upset stomach.

Step 10

Check for injuries after the workout. Watch to see if your dog starts limping. Check the pads of her feet for blisters, cuts or scrapes.

Items You Will Need

  • Collar or Harness
  • Leash
  • Stairs
  • Agility hurdles
  • See-saw
  • A-frame
  • Treats

Tip

  • Pay attention to your dog's behavior. If she is slow to respond, panting hard or having trouble with the obstacles, it's past time to take a break.

Warnings

  • Over-exercising growing puppies can permanently damage their bones and joints. Avoid sustained running, and don't introduce hurdles until your dog is at least 12 to 15 months old.
  • Dogs with short muzzles, such as pugs or bulldogs, can have trouble breathing during strenuous exercise, and will suffer heat exhaustion much more readily than longer-muzzled breeds.
  • Exercising shortly after eating, or eating too soon after vigorous exercise, can cause stomach upset or even bloat, especially in large-breed dogs.
  • Consult your vet before starting agility with dogs who are more than 6 years old.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

About the Author

Lydia Janssen began her career writing news articles for the SPCA to connect adoptable pets with their potential owners. She moved into professional writing in 2009 and uses her experience as a dog trainer, SPCA kennel worker and veterinary technician to bring quality information to responsible pet owners.

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