Do you want your dog to have a healthy body? Do you want them to be able to run, play, and enjoy daily life?
These questions are probably no-brainers for everybody who loves their dog.
If you wish your dog to live a fulfilled life, it’s important that they build muscle.
Not only will your dog be healthier, but proper exercise can even improve behavior.
Let’s dive into all the muscle-building techniques and exercises and explore what role diet plays in this undertaking.
Building muscles is not necessarily limited to the buff “Pitbull” that comes to mind; it can be positive for any breed.
Some dogs benefit more from it than others and you may have to take some precautions which may include consulting your veterinarian beforehand.
Does My Dog Need to Build Muscle?
Some dogs benefit more from building muscle than others, especially if it helps control their weight or regain strength after an injury or surgery, but all dogs can build muscle in a healthy way.
A couple of reasons why your dog might benefit from building muscle:
- To control weight
- Lack of muscle affects daily life
- Senior experiences muscle loss
- Recovering from an injury/surgery
- To battle disease (e.g. muscle atrophy)
So, unless your dog is in perfect shape right now, a stronger body and healthy muscle-building techniques may lead to better quality of life.
Just a couple of ways how building muscle might positively affect your dog’s daily life:
- Lose excess weight
- Have fun exercising
- Able to go on longer hikes and adventures
- Easily able to walk stairs and jump into the car (both done in moderation)
- Protection from muscle loss at old age
- Quicker recovery from injuries
- Strengthened immune system
- Possible reduction in vet visits and increase in lifespan
Breeds who seem to be able to build muscle easier than others include the Pitbull-type breeds (American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pitbull Terrier, and Staffordshire Bullterrier), American Bulldog, Rottweiler, Doberman, Dog Argentino, Boxer, and Rhodesian Ridgeback.
However, breeds like the German Shepherd, Malinois, German Shorthaired Pointer, Weimaraner, Viszla, and many more may not look as muscular but their shape can look really athletic.
Regardless of the breed, bulking up your dog with healthy muscle mass can have just the same benefits.
5 Ways To Build Dog Muscle
The best ways to build your dog’s muscles include swimming, weighted bands or harness, regular exercise, biking or hiking, age-appropriate playtime such as tug-of-war, flirt poles, Agility, as well as a healthy diet.
There’s not exactly a plethora of studies on how to build dog muscle, but the current scientific evidence supports simple methods to help your dog stay active and well-exercised.
After checking out the steps to buff up your dog, you can check where your individual pooch is currently at and how to determine his fitness.
1. Swimming For Building Dog Muscle
Swimming is not only safer for the joints, but it’s also perfect to build your dog’s muscles.
Of course, any owner of a water-loving breed with access to water and the right temperature all year round will have it easier than somebody in colder climates whose dog was born with the spirited hatred for water that cats seemingly inherit.
My Rottweiler is somewhere in the middle.
She seeks out water but requires an incentive to swim.
In my area, swimming is only possible during warmer summer months which accounts for 2 months of the year, maybe 6 months or more for hardened canines.
There’s no indoor dog pool near me. If you have one, that could be a great way to start.
However, when we have the ability, we love visiting the lake as it’s also a change of scenery awesome for bulking up your dog naturally.
Make sure your dog is safe when swimming which includes:
- Avoiding dangerous waters
- Limiting exposure to saltwater
- Forbidding your dog to drink too much lake water (blue algae, I’m eyeing you)
- Putting on sunscreen if your dog has a pink nose or light-colored skin
2. Weighted Bands or Harness
Weighted bands and vests should only be used on dogs whose bone growth is finished (usually happens around 12-18 months) and even then, start slowly.
Additionally, weighted bands should be adjusted to your dog’s weight and even at peak training, they’re only used every other day for up to 15 minutes.
These tools are not intended to be worn every walk.
There’s not a lot of scientific work that supports that weighted bands are the most effective way to build muscle.
Take my anecdotal “evidence” with a grain of salt, but I can tell you I’ve seen dogs successfully achieve muscle growth and a leaner body with mainly quick sessions with weighted bands.
If you keep a couple of rules in mind (!) then training with weight bands might help build muscle but you need to be mindful.
3. Regular Exercise (biking, hiking, etc.)
Well, too many people are trying to build dog muscle without even ensuring the fundament is in place.
Walking your dog and getting rid of excess energy is the first step to building muscle. Conveniently, it avoids destructive behavior and other issues.
How often and for how long you should walk your dog depends heavily on his age, state of health, and breed.
The AKC either gives very low estimates (e.g. “two brisk walks a day” for high-energy breeds) or is quite vague on how much exercise a dog needs.
Don’t go beyond your dog’s limit though. You’ve got to find a balance.
Oh, and check this puppy exercise chart to avoid overexercising a young dog.
Biking, demanding hikes, and similar activities should only happen once your dog’s bone growth is finished.
Climbing manageable mountains, passing through rough terrain, and bouncing around in the undergrowth can help a great deal with building muscles in the hind legs, shoulders, as well as chest.
Biking is your choice for a bit of exercise every other day?
When out and about biking, your dog should only trot next to you, start slowly without a leash in the beginning. Make sure your dog connects biking to something positive and fun.
Believe it or not, regular old playtime alone can increase your dog’s muscle mass if done right.
Think about how much of his body your dog activates when he’s tugging with full force or how the various obstacles in Agility can build shoulder and chest muscles as well as strong hind legs.
You don’t need to win all the prizes in a competition, even if you have a breed that’s less prominent in Agility, you can try out building your own obstacles.
Something simple like teaching your dog tricks can be a great start too, especially if your dog is recovering from an injury.
5. Healthy Diet
This blog post is not about diet but I wanted to shed a bit of light on this since it confuses many people.
Personally, I feed my dog a raw diet and she seems to thrive on it.
That being said, many types of diets can do the trick as long as it’s truly a high-quality diet.
How can your dog build muscle if you’re not giving him the right nutrients?
However, building muscle doesn’t mean costly (and often unhealthy) supplements or high-protein.
Let’s dive deeper.
How To Build Muscle on a Dog with Food
If you want to build muscle on a dog with food, a balanced raw diet would be my ideal starting point, but you’ll still need the physical exercise and adjust your dog’s meal plan now and then.
Many articles with skin in the game (either through having their own supplement company or being funded by industry-related companies) want to stress the importance of supplements.
This is simply not true (or at least not yet proven by science).
A balanced, healthy diet with quality ingredients does the majority of the leg work.
And even if you add supplements, it’s not the ones to “massively bulk up” or super-protein-rich stuff.
Many people believe transferring human supplements to the canine body will work works but it’s not advisable unless your vet has given their okay.
Supplements that might promote overall health can include green lip mussel, spirulina, or probiotics.
This green-lipped mussel study concludes that “All trials reported clinical benefits in the GLM treatment group” and while not all tests were statistically valid, those that were suggested it’s superior to placebo for mild to moderate osteoarthritis.
This study had their subjects fill out a pain questionnaire and mentions “The GLM diet (…) resulted in an increase in concentrations of plasma omega-3 fatty acids (…) and improvement of PVF (…)”. PVF means peak vertical performance.
Most commercial supplements have additives that might not only do nothing but actually worsen your dog’s health condition.
Always research before buying.
Do dogs need protein to build muscle?
Of course, dogs need protein but not the amount that is often mentioned and certainly not from low-quality protein sources.
A raw diet provides plenty of high-quality protein and while some studies try to push protein’s importance in building dog muscle, their comparison group consists mainly of corn gluten.
So comparing 12% protein diets with 28% is actually quite fruitless in this case because it can be better to feed less of a low-quality corn/starch source, as long as the alternative is appropriate and of higher quality.
When left to choose, dogs reduce carb intake while increasing protein but fat still makes up the diet’s majority. Another study also suggests that a high-carb diet is unnatural for the dog’s ancestor.
To bulk up your dog, you can choose a low-carb, moderate-high fat/protein diet.
Why potentially feed a high-fat diet if that’s what makes a dog fat? Because “fat” isn’t what mainly contributes to dogs being overweight.
Many holistic vets believe the high-fat ketogenic diet has a lot of health benefits once your dog starts burning fat for fuel.
Don’t just believe every “study” out there. Check stuff out for yourself and you’ll be able to make informed decisions.
How To Build Muscle Mass in Older Dogs
You can build muscle in an older dog through swimming, exercise, playtime, as well as switching to a healthy natural diet.
Older dogs might need to build muscle mass to fight the natural loss of muscle that occurs with old age.
Swimming can be extremely beneficial for senior dogs so as mentioned above, if you don’t have access to water throughout the year, you might want to check out aquatic therapy centers.
Talk to your vet about the steps you can take to support your dog. Check this article if arthritis plagues your dog.
Can Muscle Wasting in Dogs Be Reversed?
If the muscle atrophy stems from inactivity or a recent injury or surgery, then yes, muscle wasting might be reversed.
However, if a disease is causing muscle loss, then it may not be as easy to regain or even maintain but of course, you should try everything to do so.
Generally, your veterinarian might be able to help you with recommendations if muscle loss is a serious issue.
Have a senior dog?
Well, muscle wasting can be slowed down to some degree, but it can’t be fully halted.
How much is achievable depends on your dog’s age, breed, overall health, and possibly the stadium of osteoarthritis, if any.
How Can I Build My Dog’s Leg Muscles?
While walking up hills for resistance training or short sprints with weighted bands is a great way to build leg muscle, hydrotherapy can be suitable for dogs with issues such as arthritis.
It’s hard to target a specific part of your dog’s body but everything that entails resistance is a good way to start.
While mountain hikes are a natural way for your dog to use his front and hind legs, you can easily replicate that with weighted bands around all four paws.
On the other hand, hydrotherapy can be great for dogs with all kinds of health issues since the dogs walk on treadmills underwater which is really easy on the joints and yet proper exercise.
It’s not widely available but if you do manage to find it near you, consult a professional to see what could be done for your pooch.
How To Bulk Up Your Dog Naturally
All the methods ranging from daily exercise to a healthy diet are natural ways to increase your dog’s muscle mass.
Hiking, trotting for miles, and a healthy diet are the real “natural” that just got lost when pets were introduced to our homes.
These animals are used to roaming around 10+ miles per day so don’t shy away from a little hike (assuming your dog is fully grown and has no health issues, of course).
Bulking up through diet can also help with controlling issues of underweight or malnourished dogs.
For overweight dogs, the diet is the first thing to change.
If you want to consult your vet, make sure to also consult a holistic veterinarian who understands the importance the diet can play.
Dog Muscle Building Supplements
As mentioned above, I’m not a big fan of “muscle building supplements” as they often don’t work and target people who want to make their dog look buff fast.
I would recommend going the natural route, taking your time, and always making your dog’s health the top priority.
Assessing Your Dog’s Muscle – Underweight, Overweight, or Muscular?
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has published a guide in cooperation with the Tufts University to check your dog’s muscle and body condition.
Evaluate your dog’s body condition and take it from there.
An underweight dog needs a different exercise regimen than an overweight dog.
No matter what starting point your dog has, good muscle quality is a goal any dog owner should strive for.
I have created growth charts for these breeds: Rottweiler, Great Dane, Boxer, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Newfoundlands.
How To Make a Dog Grow Bigger
If your dog is just not huge, there’s usually no way to change that. If your dog is still a puppy or has previously been malnourished as a rescue or stray dog, then a proper diet can help with weight gain.
However, your dog is built the way he is and the only way to satisfy the desire for a bigger dog is to choose a puppy whose parents are big-boned dogs with healthy muscle mass.
This breeding craze for massive or extremely muscular dogs is why we have frog-like creatures nowadays labeled as “American Bully”.
Don’t get me wrong, Pitbull-type dogs can be great, awkward 90-degree chest angles in dogs with super flat noses who hover inches above the ground are just not healthy.
To achieve muscle growth, you can check out the ways above, but your dog will not dramatically increase in size if the bone structure just can’t support that picture.
Puppy Muscle Development
Puppies should have age-appropriate exercise, play, and mental stimulation.
Building muscle should not be your concern if you have a puppy. Wait until the adult dog’s bone growth has finished and start building muscle from there if necessary.
If you feed and exercise your pup properly, he’ll have the right muscle mass at the right stage in life.
In case you’re concerned about your dog or if your pup has extremely slow muscle development, please consult your vet to rule out any medical issues.
The same goes for symptoms like weight loss, weakness, or other health-related issues.Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.