Sustained trotting increases endurance, improves physical health, and keeps the lumbar area loose and your dog’s hips rotating independently. Trotting lengthens and strengthens the spine, strengthens core muscles and improves gait function. Trot work is great for dogs that are older than one year old, in good health and not over-weight.
Definition of a Balanced Trot: “This is a rhythmic two-beat gait in which diagonally opposite legs move together i.e., right hind with left front, left hind with right front. Because only two feet are on the ground at a time, the dog must rely on forward momentum for balance. A balanced trot shows an almost imperceptible delay in the diagonal rhythm as the forepaws land gently, minimizing impact as the front assembly absorbs drive from the rear”.
Reference: Dog Steps A New Look, by Rachael Page Elliot, Published by Doral Publishing, Inc. (2001) pg. 11 & 31
Definition of Sustained: “maintained at length without interruption or weakening”
Before starting any type of sustained trot work, I recommend warming up your dog’s major joints as well as feet and toes. See previous blog post about warming up and cooling down your dog before activity dated January 12, 2013. After warming up your dog's joints, I recommend a light trot for 3-5 minutes before starting sustained trot work. Light Trot = slowest trot you can achieve before walking, ambling or pacing. The recommendation is 20 minutes of sustained trotting three times a week. See schedule below for building up slowly over time.
Here are some ways you can trot your dog and a planned schedule to build endurance:
Human Jogs/Dog Trots: Unless you have a tiny dog, most humans will have to jog or walk really fast to get their dog to a trotting speed. I recommend using a leash with harness instead of any type of collar. I like this option as I subscribe to the “two birds with one stone” philosophy. Exercise for me and exercise for my dog. What could be better?
Biking: This typically means a slow bike ride for the human in order to keep the dog at a trot. I recommend purchasing a bike attachment to insure you and your dog’s safety while trotting. Most bike attachment have a lead that fixes to the dog harness and I truly recommend also attaching a lead to the dog’s collar or harness that you can hold onto.Teaching your dog directions cues (right and left) so that you can indicate a direction change before the turn is also very handy. This will keep the dog moving smoothly and eliminate any confusion.
Treadmill use: If purchasing treadmill manufactured for dogs, look for the right length of treadmill to accommodate your dog’s stride length. I have found that many manufacturers are recommending the medium size treadmill for the medium sized dog, but the tread length is not always long enough for many of these 40-70 lb. dogs. Please take into consideration your dog’s leg and stride length when ordering. I always recommend the longer tread length if there is any question about whether or not the tread is long enough. Make sure you are looking at the TREAD length or RUN SURFACE not the full length of the machine.
Most human treadmills are OK for dogs less than 30 lbs. depending on their stride length but are NOT long enough for a 40-50 lb. or bigger dog.
If using a treadmill you want to make sure it is long enough that it will not shorten your dog’s rear stride – this is bad for the lower back and hips and causes compensations that can lend to injury. Generally for a dog over 30 lbs., a treadmill’s running surface needs to be 6-7 feet long depending on the stride length of the dog. It is important to make sure your dog is not dog trotting near the back of the tread. With some treadmills you can easily fix a rope across the back of the treadmill so when the dog’s rear hits it; he knows to move forward on the tread. This should be set up well before the end of the treadmill so the dog’s rear stride is not affected. Another option is sitting at the front of the treadmill to encourage your dog to stay forward. I also know many people with a dog treadmill set up next to a human treadmill so both an exercises together.
Use the following schedule to increase trotting time to build up to 20 minutes 3 times a week. This schedule is very conservative. I put this schedule together for my K9 Conditioning clients who are also working on performance, strength training and improved weight distribution. This schedule will work for most healthy active dogs and was designed with all surfaces in mind (treadmill, pavement, dirt, etc). As with any exercise program, it is recommended to consult with your Veterinarian prior to starting endurance, strength or balance exercises.
Schedule: Start with 3-5 minute slow trot (slowest speed you can go and still get a trot) to warm up and cool down is needed with each trotting session. So when factoring in the warm up trot, your 5 minute sessions are really closer to 15 minutes, 10 minute sessions are close to 20 minutes etc.
a. Warm up exercises to warm up major joints, feet and toes, each time before trotting
b. 3-5 minute slow trot
c. 5 minutes sustained trotting
d. 3 times a week
e. 5 sessions before moving on to Step 2
f. Warm up exercises to warm up major joints, feet and toes, each time before trotting
g. 3-5 minute slow trot
h. 10 minutes sustained trotting
i. 3 times a week
j. 10 sessions before moving on to Step 3
Step 3: 15 minutes, 3 times a week, for 15 sessions
k. Warm up exercises to warm up major joints, feet and toes, each time before trotting
l. 3-5 minute slow trot
m. 15 minutes sustained trotting
n. 3 times a week
o. 15 sessions before moving on to 20 minute sessions
Work up to 20 minutes 3 times a week (it will take approximately 10 weeks). This schedule will acclimate your dog to the trot speed gradually and for sustained periods of time. It is OK to trot on pavement as long as the dog is over a year old, and you are not trotting longer than 20 min, 3x a week. For most dogs this is 1.5-2 miles.
The rule of thumb for puppies is to walk up 5 minutes for every month they are old until they are one year old. Before growth plates close, if you walk or trot a dog for sustained periods longer than recommended, you can cause stress fractures in their bones that will cripple them for life.