How to Do Dirty Dogs: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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The dirty dog is a beginner-level bodyweight exercise that targets the lower body. When done correctly, it also activates the core. You can add the dirty dog to any dynamic warm-up routine or include it in your lower body or abdominal strength training workout.

Also Known As: Fire hydrant, hip side lift, quadruped hip abduction

Targets: Glutes, hips, thighs, quads, and abs

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Beginner

How to Do a Dirty Dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Begin in the quadruped (tabletop) position, with your hands and knees on the floor. Use an exercise mat for cushioning. Hands should be directly beneath the shoulders and knees under the hips. Keep a forward gaze. This is the starting position.

  1. Engage your core and abduct or lift your right leg away from your body, keeping your knee flexed at a 90-degree angle. Move the knee away from the body approximately 45 degrees, or as high as your flexibility allows.
  2. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  3. Reverse the movement by slowly lowering the knee back toward the floor. 
  4. Pause briefly and repeat, finishing your repetitions on the right side before switching to the left.

Keep your upper body and pelvis still during this exercise—the movement should stay in the hips—and try to resist motion from side to side. Also, keep a neutral spine and don't let your waist sag or drop.

Benefits of the Dirty Dog

The dirty dog is a lower body exercise that targets the adductors and abductors (inner and outer thighs), gluteus medius and maximis, psoas, and quadriceps. Since it requires a neutral spine, it also engages the core, including the deep abdominal muscles known as the transverse abdominis.

Research indicates that a gluteal training program that includes the dirty dog can help athletes reach their peak power output. Strengthening the glutes can also decrease low back pain and improve posture.

When performed during a warm-up, the dirty dog's dynamic movement helps get the body ready for exercise. It also assists with the performance of motions that involve hip extension, external hip rotation, and hip abduction.

  • Hip extension: lengthens the front of the hip, such as when walking or running
  • External hip rotation: turns the leg outward, such as when turning your toes out while standing
  • Hip abduction: moves your leg away from the center of the body, such as when stepping to the side or getting out of the car

If you sit for several hours a day, doing a few dirty dogs can help wake up your hips and activate your core. Try squeezing in a few moves at lunchtime or during a mid-day break. 

Other Variations of the Dirty Dog

This exercise can be modified to make it easier or more difficult, depending on your fitness level and goals.

Standing Dirty Dog

If being on your hands and knees is a challenge, consider performing the dirty dog while standing. To do it, stand with your feet hip-width apart, then lift your right leg and abduct it out to the side. Keep the left leg steady and the hips facing forward.

Next, reverse the move by bringing the right leg toward the body. Lower it until your toes barely touch the floor and repeat for the desired number of reps before changing sides. If you have difficulty balancing, place one hand on a wall or sturdy chair.

Increased Range of Motion

The dirty dog is not meant to be a challenging exercise. That said, if you want to increase your intensity, you can increase the range of motion in the side abduction phase of the movement.

This involves lifting your leg higher. When increasing your range of motion, don't forget to keep your back flat and focus on stabilizing your abdominal and glute muscles.

Extend the Leg

To make this exercise even more difficult, you can also straighten your knee and extend the leg out to the side before lowering back to the starting position. Only do this variation if you can keep proper form, which means a neutral spine and engaged core.

Use an Exercise Band

Add a looped resistance band or mini band around your legs to work the muscles harder. Resistance bands are typically categorized by color, with each color representing a different strength. To keep your posture stable, start with a lighter strength and work your way up.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes to keep the dirty dog exercise both safe and effective.

Collapsing the Lower Back

When in a quadruped position, it’s easy to collapse your lower back. This can strain the muscles in the low back area. To avoid this, make sure your core muscles are engaged, your back is flat, and you have a neutral spine.

Looking Up or Down

Looking up toward the ceiling or down under your body puts extra strain on your neck. When doing the dirty dog, try to keep your gaze looking at the floor in front of you. Your chin should not be tilted up or down. This helps your neck maintain a more neutral position.

Moving Too Fast

The dirty dog is not a speed exercise. Going through the movement slowly allows you to maintain proper form and get the maximum benefits the exercise has to offer.

Not Keeping the Core Engaged

Being on your hands and knees puts your body in a position that can potentially increase the tension in your lower back. By engaging your core muscles, you can keep your lower back strong. This prevents it from dipping and adding strain to the erector spinae muscles.

Safety and Precautions

The dirty dog is generally a safe exercise for most fitness levels. But if you have hip or knee issues, wrist pain, or low back pain, this exercise may not be recommended.

In cases such as this, it's important to pay attention to form. Also, take the steps necessary to address any discomfort or limited range of motion when performing the dirty dog.

If you feel any pain while on all fours or at any time during the movement, stop the exercise and try the standing version. If you're still experiencing pain, consult a physical therapist or your doctor.

Aim to complete 10 repetitions on each side. Work your way up to performing two to three sets, for a total of 20 to 30 reps total on each leg, resting 30 seconds between each set. 

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Crow J, Buttifant D, Kearny S, Hrysomallis C. Low load exercises targeting the gluteal muscle group acutely enhance explosive power output in elite athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(2):438-442. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318220dfab

  2. Lane C, Mayer J. Posterior chain exercises for prevention and treatment of low back pain. ACSMs Health Fitness J. 2017;21(4):46-8. doi:10.1249/FIT.0000000000000307

  3. American Council on Exercise. Dirty dog.

By Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on health, fitness, nutrition, parenting, and mental health.