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We all know the importance of exercise for our dogs.  It is as important to get your dog’s daily exercise as it is to feed him  breakfast or visit the vet.  For your dog’s daily exercise, you probably take them on long walks, play Frisbee or even run with if they are up for the task.

Just as we humans try to run or do some cardiovascular training to keep our heart strong and weight down, we know that keeping our core strong is just as important.  To keep our muscles limber and  strong, some of us go to yoga, Pilates and/or lift weights to keep injury free and help our overall fitness.

Dogs are just the same.  When they are sleeping all day long and suddenly get up or try to catch a Frisbee that is flying in the air, they can twist their body in an awkward way and hurt themselves.  Canine Fitness can help prevent your dogs’ from getting injured and stay flexible.

What is Canine Fitness?

Canine fitness is a way to help strengthen your dog’s muscles, tendons, and overall conditioning so that your dog can engage in his favorite activities without getting hurt.  A good Certified Canine Fitness Trainer will help your dog improve his strength, flexibility, and even mental alertness .

The best trainers will do an overall assessment  to see where your dog’s body needs strengthening and how to help them use their core or leg muscles properly.  A good trainer will  create a plan and give you some exercises that you can do at home with your dog.

Canine Fitness Can Help Prevent Injury

Canine fitness is not just for dogs who are athletes that compete in sports, but for all dogs.  The dogs that have a stronger core and overall body strength are less likely to get injured.

For example, if you and your dog are playing a game of Fetch and your dog runs too quickly, skids, or moves in the wrong direction, he can seriously hurt his paw or knee.  However, if your dog’s core and overall body strength is more flexible and stronger, than your dog will probably recover more quickly and even better, won’t get injured.

Older Dogs Can Benefit From Stretching

Core training can help all dogs, particularly older ones.  A good, solid Canine Trainer will know how to stretch your dog properly so your older pup can sit up and walk more readily.

Even certain breeds, like Labradors, that tend to have hip or elbow issues early in life, canine fitness can help with their overall gait.  With strength training and stretching, your Labrador will become more flexible as will his hip and elbow muscles stronger.

Watch Your Dog To See What He Does Naturally

Some of the best core conditioning training tips will come straight from your dog. Just watch to see what he does naturally and what he enjoys the best.  Maybe it’s even a simple warm-up routine before you play Frisbee or engage in any other physical activity.

As always, only use positive reinforcement to encourage the activity that he likes so that he will do it even more on his own.

Your Dog’s Weight Is Equally Important

By keeping your dog on the slimmer side, it can help with any running, jogging or even daily walks.  The heavier the dog, the more inflammation and pressure that he is putting on his joints.  Make sure your dog is at his proper weight.

Some Other Things to Consider:

  • Always consult your veterinarian before starting your pup on any new exercise program.
  • Start slowly and carefully, particularly if your dog is older or overweight.
  • Use positive reinforcement to motivate your dog to learn new exercises to help strengthen his core muscles.
  • Consult with a certified canine fitness trainer professional

If your dog is injured, make sure to take him to the vet immediately.  And, hopefully, if you have pet insurance, it can help pay for this or any injury that might occur with your dog.  If you don’t have pet insurance consider it because an injury can cost $5000-$30000 for rehabilitation.

There is a lot to know about pet insurance and this guide from Consumers Advocate.org can explain not only how pet insurance works, but the best companies that offer pet insurance.

Fitness is as important for puppies as for adult dogs.

Puppies can benefit from fitness exercise by helping them coordinate their nervous system, have good body awareness, and mentally challenge them.  

There are some cautions with puppies as you work them. 

First be patient and have fun!  Puppies are like kids in learning.  It takes time to allow them to figure things out with repetition and treats. They will learn what you are asking with consistent action and rewarding when they do it correctly. Rewarding is a whole different topic that I will write on later or give some references.  Have FUN!  Puppies are about play. So play with them and bring out your inner child again.   

Second be aware of their joint health. Puppies have growth plates on the end of their bones that allows them to grow tall and strong. Growth plates are soft areas at the end of long bones, like the femur and humerus, with rapidly dividing cells regulated by hormones that slows down at puberty.  If those growth plates are injured while they are growing the dog is more at risk for arthritis later in life.  What can you do?  Allow your puppy to play at their own pace. DO NOT run long distance with your puppy unless you have a cart or sack to carry them when they get tired.  Allow the puppy to run when they play at their pace so they can stop when tired.  DO NOT jump with them.  Allow them to play and jump at their own level so they can rest with fatigue.  Gentle play is best until the growth plates close about 1-2 years depending on the size of the dog.  Puppy culture has a great brochure with guidelines as to what activity to work with your puppy as they grow up.

Exercise fun with your puppy

Fitness exercises like elevated stand and step overs are great basics to start with your puppy.  They begin to work on balance and it mentally challenges them so they are tired for you.  As these exercises become part of their routine they will have a stronger body and foundation for play, work, or competition.

Mentally challenging a puppy is also part of a fitness program to help them work out problems.  Freeze a kong with baby food flavors like chicken, turkey, pumpkin, and squash to give them when you have a project to work on.  They can work on the frozen kong and it is a reward for being good while you work.  As they manipulate the kong with their paws it will stretch out the joints and strengthen them up too.

GO have FUN with your puppy! Let us know what exercises they like best.

 

Self-stabilization, Proprioception, What is it?

Do you remember a time your dog jumped on the bed and missed?  Or you tripped on a crack in the cement?  Your dog or you had a deficient proprioceptive or self-stabilizing system in the moment.

unstable beach terrain

Puppies are sensitive to the environment around them and are able to respond quickly to every little change.  Dogs have evolved to be deeply aware of their surroundings and adjust to changes for survival.  Their bodies are sensitive receivers taking in new information that translates to body movement.  As dogs are becoming more sedentary their body awareness is decreasing causing more injuries on hikes, work, or in competition.

In scientific terms.

Proprioception is the awareness of the body in space through mechanoreceptors and neuro sensing cells in the skin, receptive to the environment around us.  In English, the dog’s feet have neuro sensing cells that send messages of the ground they walk on to the brain.  These cells also monitor joint position and movement during daily activities. 

Another way to say it. 

This is the dynamic system of self-stabilization.   When your dog or you are on an uneven surface like a pebble road or the side of a mountain the nervous system is receiving input to adjust muscles for stabilizing so you both don’t fall down.  Not only muscles, also tendons, ligaments, and joint compression are modifying how they respond to the environment.  A pretty intricate system when you think about it.

Our dog gets hurt when there is less body awareness to compensate for the change in environment.  All day long they are lying on the couch with an occasional squirrel window chase or outside sound arousal.   After we get done with work we take our dog on a hike, work them, or practice for a weekend competition.   They have not had practice using their body on unstable surfaces during the day so there is decreased body awareness as they are walking over rocky terrain or jumping over an agility pole.  Their body is slower to respond to the change in environment which causes muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adjust slower potentially causing a muscle strain.

How do we improve this to limit injury?

A very simple change in routine can save you and your puppy a lot of pain later. Here are a few simple tips you can do at home or on a walk to improve body awareness then preventing injury.

  1. Walk over different terrain on your daily walks after work.  Stepping over rocks, curbs, mulch, sand, recycled rubber at play grounds, sticks, and grass can improve the input to the mechanoreceptors in their feet.  That input improves body awareness.
Different terrain
  1. 2. Placing poles, broom sticks, or sticks in a path they walk daily to encourage knowing where their feet are in space. In a hallway, outside the door, or after the patio steps. You can use expandable curtain rods in the hallway, don’t leave them up at night. Go to the dollar store and buy 2 laundry baskets with holes and stake them in the yard upside down. Then place poles in them. Be creative with your exercises.
step overs

These simple steps can improve your dog’s body awareness to react quicker to an obstacle helping preventing injury.  You can do the same exercises with them to help your proprioception while creating a stronger bond with your dog.

Leave us a comment or photo of your dog’s proprioceptive exercises.