Exercise does not exist in a vacuum. The following considerations are present in some form in ALL types of exercise. For instance, when you are doing balance exercises, there is strengthening and cardio happening as well.
Walking, sport participation, swimming, etc all “count” as cardiovascular or endurance exercise.
Realizing, however, that certain sports, like flyball or agility, are not consistently cardiovascular and more intermittent.
Walking and swimming activities could be considered “steady state” cardio, because there generally isn’t a lot of starting and stopping.
The great part about swimming is the efficiency of the activity; you don’t need a lot of it to make a difference, because swimming is extremely taxing on the canine cardiovascular system. If you have access to swim your dog, this is a nice cross-training idea. But remember that we discussed consistency; if this isn’t going to be a consistent part of your program, reconsider it, or do it for a brief period (approximately 5 minutes).
Swimming is low-impact and I use it in rehabilitation to increase flexibility (range of motion) and for endurance purposes. I’m not worried about the lack of ground reaction forces (lack of gravity’s influence) in a buoyant environment affecting strength, because the animal is getting those all day long just moving around.
FUN FACT: Swimming is not the same as underwater treadmill activities even though they both employ the properties of water.
The great thing about endurance or cardio-type exercise is that it does not increase arthritis issues, and in fact can even slow its development!
Proprioception is a concept that is often discussed together with balance but is considered more high-level.
Proprioception can be defined as the ability to sense the position of the body (or body parts) in relation to its surroundings. For instance, a person who cannot see can still tell whether or not their arm is straight or bent.
As both humans and animals age, there is a tendency to lose muscle strength as well as to experience a reduction in proprioceptive abilities. This is important because with the increased physical demands of sports (and dogs are inherent athletes), there is more wear and tear on the body and therefore a greater risk of wear and tear on the joints (i.e., arthritis).
Maintaining strength and proprioception is not only important for competition but for reducing osteoarthritic changes that bring on pain in our pets.
FUN FACT: In a study by Marshall-Pescini et al, they discussed how much and often agility dogs are looking at their owners / handlers / trainers. Therefore, it is crucial that these dogs in particular develop their proprioceptive sense since they’re not relying on their visual sense for “where” their bodies are.
Excerpt from "Optimizing Fitness...in Dogs". Click on the below link to read more!