While attending the Purina Sporting Dog Summit, several experts gave advice on ways to keep your dogs healthy and injury free. Jennell Appel, DVM, CCRT; James L. Cook, DVM, PhD, DACVS, DACVSMR Purina’s Arleigh Reynolds, DVM, PhD, DACVN all stressed the importance of warming a dog up prior to competition/hunting/exercise and then cooling down afterwards. They also stressed cross-training conditioning – swimming, running, strength training, balance and more – with the thought that a well-rounded and conditioned dog is less likely to undergo a serious injury.
During Dr. Cook’s seminar, he mentioned core conditioning. Puppy Pilates, if you will. Like humans, a strong provides a strong foundation for the rest of the body and keeps in aligned. A few simple daily exercises with your dog can help your dog maintain flexibility and strengthen its core, which can reduce the chance of injury. These are exercises that can be done from puppyhood throughout life.
Nose to butt: With your dog sitting, use a treat to get him to twist his head towards his seated back end on each side. The dog must remain seated during this exercise. The goal is to turn the trunk of the body, stretching the off side and contracting the muscles of the flexing side. You just go back and forth with your hand to get the dog to turn that direction. At first it’s just the dog turning and reaching back there while maintaining a sit position, and then you gradually increase the time he must hold it.
Leg lifts: To help with balance lift one of your dog’s legs so it’s standing on the other three. Rotate around the dog, lifting each leg in turn. Hold the leg aloft for 5 to 10 seconds and do 10 to 20 repetitions three or four times a week. This is a great one for puppies – they learn spatial awareness and how their body fits into the world around them, as well as better balance. Both things help reduce injury.
Weight shifting: Simply nudging your dog, rocking him back and forth slightly can help build core strength, balance and body control. This isn’t a shove; it’s gentle press against one side so the dog rocks away and compensates for the action by pushing back. Do it on all sides and front and back, if you can. Have the dog put its front feet up on a step to take it to the next level.
Leash walking: The most important exercise that you can for both physical and psychological exercise. It teaches obedience and, once learned, gives the dog a time to mentally relax and feel confident in his position – it’s important psychologically for the same reason.
Hill work: Walk or trot your dog in big figure eight on a hillside; the slope and turning of the body in both directions works the core, balance and weight shifting. Make smaller and smaller figure eights to exaggerate the efforts – you can even have the dog perform them between and around your legs for a great core-stabilizing exercise.
Cavaletti’s: The old football drill of stepping through a row of tires with each foot quickly has been adapted for dogs, only instead of tires, the dogs step over obstacles. These aren’t high obstacles (which can consist of knee-high or lower broom sticks, string, etc.), but rather just high enough to get them to lift all four legs; it’s the stepping over action that’s important. Begin with your obstacle course step-overs two full stride lengths apart and then cut it down to one stride as the dog understands the concept. Eventually you can get it to a half-stride and the dog will really have to work all four limbs simultaneously.
Swimming: Low impact, resistance exercise that works the entire body, swimming is one of the greatest things you can do with your dog. From core strengthening to warm up and cool down to conditioning and rehabilitation, swimming is an important exercise all dogs should undertake – put a life jacket on your pooch if you must.