German Shepherds are large, energetic dogs that need strong back legs to support their bodies and allow them to run and jump. As German Shepherds age or if they have certain health conditions, their back legs can weaken, causing mobility issues and pain. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to strengthen your German Shepherd’s back legs and improve their quality of life.
Why Back Leg Strength Matters
Your German Shepherd’s back legs contain some of the largest and most powerful muscles in their body. These muscles allow them to:
- Stand up and bear weight
- Walk, trot, and run
- Jump up and down
- Play, exercise, and be active
Weak back legs limit your dog’s movement and prevent them from engaging in activities they love. It can also lead to secondary issues like:
- Obesity from lack of exercise
- Arthritis due to uneven weight distribution
- Spinal problems from incorrect posture
Building your dog’s back leg strength helps avoid these problems while allowing them to move comfortably and freely.
Signs of Weak Back Legs in German Shepherds
Look for these signs that indicate your German Shepherd’s back legs need strengthening:
- Difficulty standing up, or taking a long time to rise
- Trouble jumping up on furniture or into vehicles
- Bunny hopping while running instead of a trot
- Lagging behind or tiring easily on walks
- Stiffness, limping, or favoring one hind leg
- Shifting weight backwards to their hind end
- Splaying legs outward when standing
If you notice any of these issues, it’s time to start building their back leg muscles. The sooner you start, the more mobility your German Shepherd can preserve.
One of the best ways to strengthen your German Shepherd’s back legs is through targeted exercise. Perform these training exercises a few times per week to improve muscle tone without overdoing it.
Sit to Stand
This simple exercise strengthens the major rear leg muscle groups.
- Have your dog sit squarely, not slouched to one side.
- Say “stand” and have them rise to a standing position without taking a step.
- Give treats and praise while they hold the standing pose for 5-10 seconds.
- Release and repeat 5-10 times.
Leg weaves build coordination, balance, and stability.
- Have your dog stand with their side next to a wall or fence for support.
- Say “weave” and gently lift their rear leg up and forward, crossing it in front of the other rear leg.
- Place the leg down and repeat by lifting the opposite leg up and crossing it behind.
- Do 5-10 reps on each rear leg.
Walking over poles or low rails helps dogs lift their legs higher while engaging the right muscles.
- Set up several low poles or rails spaced roughly 1-2 feet apart on the ground.
- Have your dog walk over them at a controlled pace, lifting legs high over each pole.
- Start with 5 repetitions and build up to 10-15 over time.
A slight incline challenges legs to work harder while building endurance.
- Find a gentle grassy slope or hill on a walk.
- Walk your dog up and down the hill 5-10 times at an easy pace.
- Focus on proper posture, not speed.
- Take breaks as needed to avoid fatigue.
Fun, creative moves get your dog activating their rear in different ways.
- Lure your dog’s nose from side to side to “dance” in rhythm.
- Sprinkle in backward movement or circles to work the back end.
- Keep sessions low-key and limit to a minute or two.
- Make sure your dog is engaged and having fun!
Once your German Shepherd masters the basics, try adding these exercises into the mix 2-3 times per week to further challenge their legs and build strength.
Back Leg Lifts
- Have your dog lay on their side.
- Keeping the knee bent, gently lift their outer rear leg up towards the ceiling.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then lower leg back down.
- Repeat 10 times then switch sides.
Hind End Circles
- Have your dog stand facing you.
- Say “circle” and lure their hips around in a controlled circle to one side, then the other direction.
- Start with small circles and gradually make them bigger.
- Do 5 circles each way.
Rear End Side Steps
- Have your dog stand with their side next to a wall.
- Say “step” and lure their hips to take a step sideways so rear legs cross.
- Take 5-10 steps in one direction, then reverse and take 5-10 steps the other way.
Balance Disc Exercises
- Have your dog stand or sit on a cushioned balance disc or ball.
- Gently rock or tilt the disc in different directions, forcing them to engage the back legs to maintain balance.
- Start with 30-60 seconds and work up to 5 minutes.
- Say “bang” then gently nudge or tip your dog sideways so they have to quickly catch themselves.
- Switch directions to work both sides.
- Keep sessions short and fun.
In addition to exercises, adjust your dog’s daily lifestyle to support leg strength.
- Maintain a healthy weight: excess pounds strain the back legs. Work with your vet to determine an optimal weight for your dog and adjust food as needed.
- Provide rest and recovery: just like human athletes, dogs need down time between vigorous activity to rebuild muscle. Plan leg-strengthening sessions every other day and give them a day off each week.
- Use ramps/steps: minimize impact on the back legs by providing stairs, ramps, or steps to get on/off furniture or into vehicles.
- Try supplements: chondroitin, glucosamine, fish oil, turmeric, etc. may help reduce inflammation and discomfort. Check with your vet first.
- Massage: increase blood flow and relax muscles by gently massaging rear legs for 5-10 minutes daily. Focus on major muscle groups like thighs.
- Controlled leash walks: use a front-clip harness and keep walks at an easy pace on level terrain. Hills and sudden movements can overwork the back legs.
- Provide good traction: give your dog secure footing indoors and out with booties or rugs/runners. Slick floors strain the back legs.
- Maintain hip and leg flexibility: do gentle range of motion exercises during massage or rest periods. Never force limbs to move further than your dog can comfortably handle.
- Hydrotherapy: swimming and underwater treadmill sessions take pressure off joints while building muscle. Vary swims with walks for cross-training benefits.
- Mobility aids: carts, harnesses, or slings can assist dogs who need more support while building leg strength. Talk to your rehabilitation vet.
- Nutrition: ensure your dog’s diet provides complete and balanced nutrition to nourish muscles and joints. Ask your vet about supplements that support mobility.
- Mental stimulation: keep their mind engaged with trick training, food puzzles, and new toys to prevent boredom and frustration from lack of activity.
Work closely with your veterinarian if you suspect your German Shepherd’s back leg weakness requires medical intervention. They can help diagnose underlying issues and provide personalized treatment options that may include:
- Prescription medications to reduce pain, inflammation, and arthritis.
- Joint injections like Adequan to restore cushioning.
- Physical rehabilitation with stretches, therapeutic exercises, and modalities like heat/cold therapy.
- Assistive devices like harnesses, boots, or carts to improve mobility.
- Surgery in some cases of severe arthritis, ligament/tendon injury, or degenerative joint disease.
Starting rehabilitation and management early maximizes the chances of improving hind leg strength without surgery. But your vet may recommend operations like hip replacement or knee repair when conservative treatment fails to keep your German Shepherd mobile and comfortable.
Questions for Your Veterinarian
When meeting with your vet, come prepared with questions including:
- What is the exact diagnosis for my dog’s back leg issues?
- What treatment options do you recommend?
- Would my dog benefit from seeing a canine rehabilitation therapist?
- Are there any restrictions on exercise or activity?
- Should I give supplements or change their diet?
- Is their current weight putting more strain on their legs?
- Could braces or mobility aids help for now?
- Is surgery advisable at this time?
Don’t be afraid to be your dog’s advocate and voice concerns about managing pain, quality of life, and mobility. The more information you gather, the better you can participate in their care.
At what age do German Shepherds start having back leg problems?
German Shepherds can develop rear leg issues as young as 5-6 years old. Signs tend to appear when they are middle-aged between 5-8 years old. But with proper care and conditioning, you can keep their legs strong well into their senior years.
What causes weak hind legs in German Shepherds?
Common causes include hip and elbow dysplasia, ligament tears, arthritis, degenerative myelopathy, obesity, and normal “wear and tear” aging. Certain injuries or autoimmune diseases can also contribute to back leg weakness.
When should I be concerned about my German Shepherd’s back legs?
Contact your vet if you notice limping, difficulty standing up, decreased activity level, muscle loss, trembling or instability in the hind legs, or obvious pain signs like whining. Sudden inability to bear weight on a back leg requires emergency veterinary care.
Can German Shepherds recover from weak hind legs?
Yes, in many cases targeted exercise, medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes can significantly improve mobility and strength – especially when started early. Even dogs that can’t be fully cured can often be managed for a good quality of life.
What are the best exercises for weak back legs in German Shepherds?
The best exercises focus on core strength, balance, and low-impact controlled movements. Examples include cavalettis, leg weaves, sit-to-stand, ramp/step walking, and dancing. Swimming and water therapy are also excellent choices.
How much exercise can I safely give my German Shepherd with back leg issues?
Work closely with your vet to determine safe exercise limits. Start with 5-10 minutes of training 2-3 times a week and gradually increase duration and frequency based on your dog’s needs and tolerance. Avoid high-impact activities like jumping.
What kind of massage is best for strengthening German Shepherd back legs?
Gentle circulatory massage to promote blood flow to the hips, thighs, knees, hocks, and paws is most beneficial. Always stop if your dog shows signs of discomfort. Never force range of motion beyond your dog’s limits.
Should I buy a orthopedic bed for my German Shepherd with weak back legs?
Thick orthopedic foam beds or mattresses can provide cushioning comfort and support vulnerable joints. Look for beds that are waterproof and machine washable as well. Elevated/bolstered beds make it easier for dogs to stand up.
What kind of harness is best for German Shepherds with back leg problems?
The best harnesses evenly distribute weight across the torso instead of straining the back legs. Front-attachment harnesses are ideal, along with wide padded straps and adjustable fittings. Avoid choke collars or standard leashes attached at the neck.
Is acupuncture helpful for strengthening German Shepherd back legs?
Yes, veterinary acupuncture can stimulate nerve receptors, increase blood circulation, reduce pain, and improve function in dogs with hind leg weakness. It’s most effective alongside exercise, medication, and other treatments.
German Shepherds are prone to back leg weakness, but you have the power to improve your dog’s strength and mobility starting today. Work on targeted muscle-building exercises together, adjust their lifestyle to support joint health, and engage your veterinarian as a partner. With consistent effort over time, you can give your German Shepherd the strong, capable back legs they need to play, work, and enjoy life by your side. The steps in this article will get you off to the best start in this rewarding process. Here’s to many more happy, active years with your loyal companion!