When the cold weather starts, for many of us long walks with the dog stops
And that perfectly reasonable. But it doesn’t mean the exercise should stop! I’ve had several comments and from talking to many dog trainers, getting your dog enough exercise in the winter can be a challenge. That’s why I wanted to take the time to talk about that here.
You should still try to get your dog a little exercise even if he or she stays in during the winter months. If your dog likes the cold, by all means take him or her out, but, realistically, that is probably are minority of dogs. Severe temperatures, snow or cold pavement, slippery surfaces, and even rock salt make walking unpleasant for many dogs. And for dogs with joint issues, like arthritis or dysplasia, spending time in the cold will make their condition worse. Cold makes joints stiffer and older dogs have a hard time warming up from the chill. But these are the same dogs that DO need some exercise for 3 reasons:
- Regular exercise keeps joints moving and limber, prevent them from getting even stiffer.
- Exercise strengthens muscles, and stronger muscles brace the joint better which puts less stress on joints.
- The activity itself may provide the dog a little distraction from the pain.
A canine balance ball (stability ball, exercise ball, physioballs, theraballs) is a soft, flexible, air-filled ball made with a durable material for your dog to stand or lean on.
How Exercise Works with a Balance Ball
Simply, balance ball exercises work like this:
- The dog stands with front paws on the ball.
- Because the ball is flexible and filled with air, it will shift when your dog puts his weight on the ball.
- Your dog will try to maintain his balance. In doing so, he is working out several different muscle groups in order to stay up.
Just that simple act of maintaining balance is a workout! But there are many specific exercises you can work on with your dog on the balance ball to help strengthen different parts of the body: hips, back, legs, knees, core, etc.
Examples of dogs using a balance for fitness.
Most balance ball exercises are practically no impact which is perfect for dogs with arthritis. A dog that is resistant to walking may accept doing exercises with this type of ball (once they get used to this weird new thing)! They come in many shapes and sizes to accommodate different dog sizes. Depending on what type of exercises you want to do, you can get a size that is just big enough for your dog to stand on or one for her to lean on, one that rolls or one that is fairly stationary.
Your dog doesn’t need to spend a lot of time on this, especially at first. Twenty seconds might be all your dog needs to start out. But as her muscles and balance grow stronger, you can extend your exercise time, change the inflation, or gently jiggle the ball for more challenge. Balance balls are great for healthy dogs too.
People who train dogs for athletic competitions like agility often use balance balls to help strengthen muscles, fine-tune balance, and improve body-sense. Where to Get Balance Balls? The major manufacturer is FitPAWS and they do make nice balls in a variety of choices
|The basic ball is not quite round–it has a small dip in the middle which is great for dogs who are beginning and for dogs that want to stand completely on the ball..|
|The balance disk is even easier to use. It is flat and basically doesn’t move at all. I don’t like it as much because it doesn’t move and the balls that move even a little give your dog more of a challenge, really forcing those small-twitch muscles to work.|
|The FitPaws Egg|
However, they are not the only ones. Technically, you can use exercise balance balls for people if you find the right sizes and one that is made from durable material so there’s no danger of your dog’s nails puncturing the ball.
|Isokinetics makes a nice fitness balance peanut, geared toward people, but made of durable material and a variety of sizes, so you can work with these with even a small dog. Peanut shape are easy for dogs just learning to use the balance ball or want to keep two feet on the ground. It will roll, but it’s more controlled rolling as it will roll forward or backward, but not out of control to the side.|
|Lastly, just a plain ball that rolls, look at GoFit Stability Balls. They come in a variety of sizes and they are also made of a sturdy material. Dogs that are more active will get more of a workout trying to get their front paws on this.|
All dogs need exercise for a healthy and happy quality of life and there are many tools out there that can work for dogs and owners in all types of situations. If you think a balance ball might be the tool to use with your dog, of course, have a talk with your veterinarian or a veterinary physical therapist to find the best exercises for your dog’s condition. Do consider it as a great alternative way to strengthen your dog indoors. Do you use a balance ball with your dog? We’d love to hear about it.