Stair Exercise for Dogs

Are stairs good exercise for dogs

Dog running up the stairsStair exercise for dogs is a great exercise for dogs. Studies show that along with swimming, stair climbing is one of the most effective and quickest ways for dogs to lose weight and get a good overall workout. For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.

It is important to note that it may not necessarily be suitable for all dogs. See down below for dogs that stair exercise is not recommended for.

One of the main advantages of stair exercise is that it is a good strengthening exercise and uses muscles your dog would not normally target going for walks.  It works a dog’s legs, shoulders, hips, and lower back muscles, and also core. As your dog walks up the stairs they have to lift his entire body weight from one step to the next. When they go back down the stairs, they have to control the descent which involves negative contraction on the muscles.

This video gives a good insight into this.

To get maximin benefit from stair exercise the exercise should be done slowly. If they are running up the stairs quickly they are not putting their full weight down on each step. It is also much safer as running up and down the steps at speed may result in injury.

Benefits of stair exercise for dogs

There are numerous benefits to including hill walking or stair exercise in your dog’s routine. These include;

  • Strengthening exercise – helps to work muscle groups they may not normally get targeted such as legs, shoulders, hips, and lower back muscles, and also the core.
  • Cardiovascular exercise – is a good cardio workout working the heart and lungs.
  • Weight loss – has been shown to be one of the best weight loss exercises for dogs.
  • Coordination and correct gaiting – helps to develop coordination and issues with the dog’s gait particularly going down the stairs.
  • Mental challenge – as your dog is focussing on where they are positioning their feet it provides a mental exercise for them also.
  • Balance and range of motion – help improve their coordination and balance. In addition, it aids where their range of motion as it acts like a dynamic (moving) stretch for their joints and tendons.
  • Indoor exercise – is a perfect exercise for indoors on those days when the weather is bad.
  • Time saver – helps to tire a dog out quickly. This way you can ensure your dog is getting sufficient exercise when you don’t have time for a long walk.
  • Builds the hind end muscle – one of the best exercises for targeting the hind end.
  • Rehab after injury or surgery – stair exercise is highly recommended as part of recovery and rehab for dogs that are recovering from an injury or have had surgery such as a tendon injury. Also can be beneficial for dogs suffering from arthritis or hip dysplasia. If using stair exercise for any of these reasons it is crucial that you do so in consultation with a vet or qualified canine therapists. 

This video shows the correct way to perform stair exercises for dogs and the benefits it provides for rehab and recovery.

Stair safety for dogs

When using stair exercise as part of their exercise routine there are some safety issues that you should be aware of. Things to be aware of include;

  • Stair exercise is a strenuous activity. Pay close attention to your dog and watch for any signs of overexertion. Consult your vet if you have any concerns.
  • Ensure the stairs are not slippery. With stairs that are open at the back, it is possible a small dog could fall through. Any dog can potentially get a leg caught resulting in injury.
  • Stair exercise may not be appropriate for puppies, especially those under 3 months old. Their bodies are still growing and developing. Studies show that stair exercise too young can lead to hip dysplasia later in life.
  • Teach your dog how to walk up the stairs. If your dog hasn’t been on stairs before they may need to be trained to do so. If they are frightened, don’t force them. Using a treat encourage them up and then down the stairs.

Dogs that should not use stairs

Stair exercise may not be suitable for all breeds of dogs, puppies, and dogs with certain injuries.

  • Dogs with mobility issues – dogs with issues such as arthritis, hip or elbow dysplasia, or even older dogs, may not find stair exercise suitable. Stair exercise can be great for helping dogs with these issues. However, you must consult a vet or qualified canine therapist before starting a stair exercise routine.
  • Certain body types – dog breeds that have long backs and short legs can be at risk of injury doing stair exercise. This includes breeds such as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, French Bulldogs, and Corgis. These breeds are quite susceptible to IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) and other back and spine-related issues.
  • Puppies – stair exercise may not be suitable for puppies, especially under the age of 3 months old. Puppies’ young bodies are still growing and developing. Their growth plates and bone density is not fully developed and their tendons are not at full strength. Check with your vet when stair exercise may be appropriate for your dog.

Summary – Stair exercise for dogs

Stair exercise for dogs has numerous benefits. It is a great cardio exercise, builds strength particularly in the hind end, and is ideal as part of a weight loss program. However, stair exercise may not be suitable for all dogs particularly breeds with long backs and short legs or dogs with limited mobility. It is also not recommended for young puppies.

It is important to be mindful of safety issues such as slippery stairs or overdoing it. Stair exercise is quite strenuous. Monitor your dog closely and stop and rest if they are showing signs of overexertion.

Let us know in the comments if you use stair exercise as part of your dog’s exercise routine.

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