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Go Fetch: Interval Techniques to Improve Your Dogs Favorite Game

Go Fetch with Jasper on the DogTread Dog TreadmilThis FitDog Blog Post is dedicated to a game that my departed Jasper (14 year Lab) and I played on a regular basis…Here is to the endless game of fetch I am sure you are playing right now!

Most dogs and their owners love to play the Fetch Game. Its quality time spent while exercising. But what benefits is your dog really getting from this exercise and how can we make it better?

Fetch -Involves short bursts of running and abrupt stops. Heart rate increases and some dogs jump, up and down, in between retrievals to help build hind leg strength. During the retrieval process your dog must reach down and get the item. Then the dog returns for another round.

This reactive style of Fetch is great for getting the zoomies out, but if you structure your Fetch Game to include a few basic managed canine interval training techniques you will reinforce better movement and a stronger, healthier dog – while still having fun:

Manage Gait Changes and Distance

Speed changes can help your dog to use all of its muscle groups to develop strong shoulders, back and hind limbs. This can be accomplished by using different gaits during the retrieval process. I prefer using both a run and a free trot gait to get the full benefit of using all the muscle groups.

The run gait uses all four limbs in a very short and quick series of suspension, landing and push off, this helps to develop the back of the hind limb (Hamstrings), Hips (Gluteal), lower Back (Lumbar) and Shoulders (Triceps).

The trot gait is your longest suspension gait time and it helps to strengthen the top-line/upper back and shoulders (Lats/Triceps), Abdominals and front of the hind limb (Quadriceps), while building endurance.

To achieve interval benefits – Your goal is to increase the trot to run ratio. In other words your dog will trot twice as long as he/she will run. To accomplish this throw the ball and initiate a run gait for the “out” portion of the retrieval. Then turn and walk away from your dog, increasing the distance your dog must travel for the return. Let him/her return the retrieved item in an easy trot. To do this do not elicit a lot of fanfare on the “return” – stay calm and reward when your dog returns the fetched item. This is also easier to achieve once your dog gets the initial zoomies out.

Go Fetch: Interval Techniques with DogTread TreadmillsWait for it…Add Strong Sits

When your dog returns the ball ask him/her to sit squarely (without flopping into a sloppy sit) and WAIT while you throw the ball. Then release your dog to fetch the ball, this will increase excitement and speed on the out section of the retrieval. Then as recommended, turn and double your distance for the return. If your dog has trouble waiting you will need to work on this obedience technique before incorporating it into this workout. You can still ask for the square sit and wait a few seconds before throwing the ball again.

Make It Even

Final note. Watch how your dog picks up the ball and note which way he/she turns (to the right or to the left) on the return. Some dog’s will balance this on their own if so, congratulations you are halfway there. If your dog chooses to turn to the same side each time he/she fetches and returns the ball; then ask your dog to do a few turns/twirls in the opposite direction from their preferred side. There can be many reasons for a side preference and you might find that the opposite direction may be more difficult.

By adding these small changes to your Fetch Game you can get the zoomies out and turn it into an interval and strength building workout. Watch your dog closely for signs of fatigue and don’t overdo. Fetch like any activity requires a gradual progression.

For more information, or questions about your dog’s fetch or exercise program please inquire about DogTread’s Fitness Coach Programs to get the best advice for enhancing your dog’s fitness. Contact us at so we can schedule a program for you.

About the Author: Erika McElwey, EqCnTPM is a member of DogTread’s Expert Coaching Team and owner of Change Your Range. Erika has been working in the Animal Rehabilitation and Fitness Field for 14 years. She certified in Trigger Point Myotherapy in 1999; Obtained a Bachelors of Science in Animal Science PreVeterinary Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2001. During her studies Erika worked as a veterinary technician at a small animal hospital local to her home in western Massachusetts. Upon graduation she started working for Dr. Michael W. Stewart, DVM in Windsor CT managing the Animal Rehabilitation Center for 7 years. As part of this Vet/Therapist Rehab Team, she provided Hydrotherapy Rehabilitation and Strengthening Programs for both Horses and Dogs, which included canine gait retraining and stride enhancement. Now as owner of Change Your Range, she designs safe and effective home strengthening programs for pet owners nationwide. She works with all breeds performing in Show, Agility, Dock Diving, Herding, Schutzhund, K-9 Police, Search & Rescue, K-9 Veterans and more.

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