How to make your dog gain muscle

Many people ask how to make my dog muscular? The reason they wish to build muscle can vary.

– condition for dog sports such as weight pulling, agility and so on
– rebuild muscle for a dog that has lost muscle mass due to an injury in the past
–  prepare a dog for protection work
–  help an underweight dog gain weight and size
–  promote muscle mass to increase metabolism to aid in weight and fat loss
–  strengthen muscle and joints to prevent injury
–  lessen the effects of arthritis and aging in a dog (see “Exercise for an arthritic dog”)

In addition, strengthen and muscle building exercise is excellent to help tire out a high energy dog. If this is the case for your dog read “How to tire a Hyper High Energy dog” and “Tire a dog out quickly” for more

How to make your dog gain muscle

There are three essential components to building muscle on your dog.

1. Feed a high-quality diet that is high in protein. At a minimum, a dog needs 1 gram of protein to every pound of body weight. It is also important to note that excessive protein is not ideal either. This can put additional stress on the kidneys. Before putting your dog on a higher protein diet it may be best to consult with your vet.

2. Provide exercise that causes muscle growth. This is usually by way of exercise that involves some resistance. Working the muscles causes small rips and tears in the muscle fibers. When your dog’s body repairs these rips the muscle is rebuilt making them bigger and stronger

3. Rest and Recovery. For your dog’s muscle to grow it is crucial that the muscles are given sufficient recovery time. This gives the muscles the opportunity to rebuild. Without proper rest, your dog will not gain additional muscle mass.

For best results, it is important to have a balance of all three components. Training and working out hard and not getting sufficient rest and recovery will have a negative effect. The muscles will not have the opportunity to rebuild and grow. It will also increase the risk of injury. Read “Over exercised dog symptoms” for more. The same is true of not providing the right diet. If the muscles don’t receive the necessary protein and nutrients to heal and grow muscle the results will be poor.

We will examine each of these three crucial components in more detail below.

How to build muscle on a dog with food

Proteins are made up of amino acids of which there are 22 essential amino acids that make up your dog’s protein needs. Your dog is able to manufacture half of these but the remaining amino acids must come from diet. Deficiencies of any of the essential amino acids can lead to a weakened immune system. This can result in low energy, poor skin, and coat condition, and your dog may be slow to heal from injury or wounds.

Ideally, you want to feed proteins that are of a high biologically appropriate type which simply means that they are able to digest and absorb the necessary nutrients easily. Poultry such as chicken is a good example of this.

Diet can be a hotly debated topic when it comes to dogs. Personally, I feed a premium quality dry kibble. This way I know exactly what nutrients are in the food and how much protein I am feeding. If feeding a premium kibble ensure that the first listed ingredient is meat. Many foods have a high level of corn or wheat which is essentially a fuller. It has little nutritional value that would give your dog the energy they need.

Raw meat diets are also very popular however you don’t know how much of what you are feeding is protein. Some raw meat can be very high in fat. Fat is not necessarily bad in itself. This can be a good source of fuel for your dog as long as they are active. Chicken is an ideal source of protein for your dog with low-fat levels.

Can you give whey protein to dogs

Whey protein is a popular supplement used by human athletes for recovery and muscle growth. However, whey is a dairy by-product and may not be recommended for dogs. Dogs are in general lactose intolerance. It may not only upset their stomach causing loose stools but is also an allergen which can skin allergies. If you do use a protein supplement for your dog ensure it is a specially formulated product for dogs such as Gorilla Max Protein.

Can you give creatine to dogs

Creatine is another popular supplement used by humans. Creatine is what is called a cell volumizer. What this does is enlargers the cells in the muscle allowing them to hold more water and oxygen. This allows the human athlete to train harder and do a few more repetitions. It can have side effects such as stomach cramps and diarrhea in humans. I am not aware of any studies on the effects with dogs. However, I would not recommend using with your dog and I don’t feel it would provide any benefit.

Recommended supplements for dogs

I would recommend using these supplements. Additional vitamins and antioxidants can aid in recovery and prevent soreness in your dog’s muscles from lactose acid build up. In addition, salmon oil is not only excellent for your dog’s skin and coat, it also aids in joint and overall health.

Exercise to build muscle in dogs

With any exercise program with your dog, it is best to start off easy and gradually increase the volume and resistance over time. This is best to avoid injury. It is also important that your dog enjoys their workouts. This would not be the case if the sessions cause them discomfort.

It is very important to do a warm up with your dog before starting these exercises. A warm-up can consist of five or so minutes of walking starting slowly and then increasing speed after a few minutes and game of fetch or similar. This will increase the heart rate and get the blood flowing to the muscles to prevent doing injury to a cold muscle.

Recommended exercises to build muscles and increase strength

Weighted Pulling

Weight pulling is an actual dog sport but you can incorporate this type of exercise into your dog’s muscle building and strength program. The most important thing is that you use a proper weight pulling harness. These are designed to distribute the weight evenly over your dog’s body.

Start with a light amount of weight and have your dog drag the weight 10 to 20 metres. Give them a rest for 2 minutes and repeat. As with conditioning your dog to run, start off easy and gradually increase the amount of weight and number of repetitions over time.

Other options for pulling type conditioning include pulling a person on skates or a skateboard, pulling a sled or scooter and you can even get a parachute that attaches to a weight vest.


This is probably one of the best all-around exercises you can give your dog. A 10-dog swimingminute swim is equivalent to an hour of walking.

In addition, it works and provides resistance to the whole body especially the front end which doesn’t get as much work from just walking. As your dog’s body is supported by the water it takes the weight off of their joints and bones and is low impact making it suit For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.

Tug of war

A classic dog game and one that is loved by most dogs. Make them use their strength to crouch and pull back. Many dog trainers are opposed to this game as they feel it encourages dominate behavior. As long as your dog takes and releases the tug toy on command and you control the game this is not an issue.

Spring Pole

A spring pole is simply a spring connected to a rope that hangs from a tree branch or beam with a lure or toy attached to the end. This allows your dog to play tug of war with him or herself even if you are not there. Popular with a lot of dogs and particularly terrier type breeds that love a good game of tug of war.

Flirt Pole

flirtpoleA flirt pole is simply a stick with a rope attached with a lure or toy at the end of the rope. It is like a giant cat tickler toy. You just drag the toy around in a circle or in various directions along the ground and your dog chases it. The flirt pole will tire out your dog quickly and require minimin effort from you. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.

For more muscle exercise read “Muscle building and strength exercises for dogs

Recommended muscle building equipment

Rest and Recovery

It is important to not overwork your dog and slowly increase the resistance or activity allowing the opportunity for them to recover fully between exercise sessions.
Read ” Over exercised dog symptoms” to know what to look out for to prevent overworking your dog

To ensure that your dog is getting sufficient recovery time it is recommended to limit strength and muscle building sessions to three times per week. Allow at least a day between sessions with perhaps a light walk or play on between days.

In Summary

Muscle building and strength conditioning exercises are beneficial for all dogs. This includes older dogs that may be showing muscle wasting, dogs that compete in dog-related sports for conditioning training. They are also ideal for your pet to aid with overall good health, strengthening the immune system, and improved conditioning. Don’t forget that quality diet including good levels of protein for muscle growth and repair is important as well as the rest and recovery needed for the muscles to grow.


  • Joseph Coleman

    A lifelong writer and proud dog dad. Joseph started this blog dedicated to helping other dog owners find accurate information on how to keep their pets at their healthiest through exercise and nutrition. His passion for all things canine shines through in his writing, and he believes that every dog deserves the best possible care. If you're a dog owner looking for reliable advice on how to keep your pup healthy and happy, be sure to check out Joseph's work.