Exercise has significant physical and psychological benefits for dogs. One of the most important is extension of healthspan, the length of time that a dog remains healthy and active. Rehabilitation professionals are frequently asked to design tailored conditioning programs for young dogs before starting athletic training, for adult canine athletes that need a more comprehensive, sports-specific conditioning program, and for dogs recovering from injuries or surgery. There are two components of conditioning after an injury or surgery: the initial rehabilitation period that returns the dog to pet-level fitness, and sports retraining, which carefully prepares the dog for athletic competition again while preventing reinjury and compensatory overuse. To design an appropriate conditioning program, the rehabilitation profession must first evaluate the dog's structure, informing the owner/handler of the dog's structural strengths and weaknesses and current fitness level so that the conditioning program can target specific areas that need improvement. A balanced exercise program includes strength (anaerobic) training that targets the forelimbs, pelvic limbs and/or core body muscles, endurance (aerobic) training, proprioception and balance, preparation and recovery (stretching and flexibility), and skill training. The program should balance duration, frequency, and intensity of training while avoiding overtraining. A sports retraining program requires that the rehabilitation professional have an understanding of the training requirements for the sport(s) in which the dog participates and provide specific guidance to the owner/handler as to what exercises and activities should be trained in what order and on what time schedule so that the dog is gradually and safely prepared to compete again.
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