Authors: Keri Evers-McQuiggan, Lisa DosPassos, Emma Mak
In the second part of this series of how to keep our flyball dogs fit during this time off, we’re looking at our last two (4 & 5) canine fitness topics: how to keep a veteran dog fit and healthy, and suggestions for exercises to help prevent injuries in the future. Check out our previous article (1 to 3) that looked at how to keep your dog fit when you have limited space, a weekly program for canine fitness, and how to teach behaviors geared specifically for puppy fitness.
Our contributors to this series are all NAFA competitors and have certifications in the canine fitness/rehab/conditioning field. The advice given here deals with general exercises, and should not be taken as specific medical advice for your dog.
4How do I keep my veteran dog fit and healthy?
Contributor: Keri Evers-McQuiggan, DVM, CCRP, Niagara Canine Conditioning Centre in Niagara, ON
Club and Region: Keri runs with SpringLoaded in Region 2
The good news is that even with this prolonged layoff from flyball, our dogs haven’t lost a lot of fitness . . . provided they have been maintaining a moderate level of activity. Veteran dogs certainly know the game, so missing out on practices and competitions is not a concern regarding loss of skills. The most important things are keeping them limber and ready for action so that they don’t hurt themselves when they return to full activity and sports.
If you haven’t been able to maintain some level of activity, now is the time to start EASING your way into more exercise. Start with walks on flat, even ground for 10-15 minutes. As you feel more comfortable, make walks longer and start adding in hills and rougher terrain, then add some spurts of jogging.
If your dog has had an injury in the past or has joint pain or stiffness, passive range of motion (PROM) is a great way to get those joints loosened up and feeling good again. To do this, put one hand on each side of the joint and slowly move through the full but comfortable PROM for 30 to 60 seconds. There’s no need to force or stretch anything. DO NOT “BICYCLE” A LIMB. Most dogs don’t like this and it’s not a natural movement; focus on one joint at at time.
Core strength and joint stability are the keys to minimizing injury. Isometric exercises, where muscles are contracted but not changing length, are low impact and very effective—for example, balancing on an unstable surface like an air mattress or other inflatable. Leg lifts are another easy exercise. Start by lifting one leg at a time. Don’t lift too high, and do keep the limb in the plane of the body. Hold each one long enough that your dog has to stabilize himself, but not so long that he starts to fall over. If very wobbly, keep a hand under the belly to steady your dog. Progressions are holding the limbs longer, doing diagonal limbs at the same time, then going to both limbs on the same side. ALWAYS make sure you exercise on non-slip footing, but you can progress from the flat to unstable surfaces.
5What are some exercises I can do with my dog to prevent future injury?
Contributor: Lisa DosPassos, Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner
Club and Region: Lisa is the captain of Revolution Flyball and runs in Region 15
Keeping your canine athlete fit and strong goes a long way in injury prevention. While the nature of many dog sports makes it impossible to prevent all injuries, we can take steps to reduce the likelihood of them occurring due to repetitive stress and compressive activities.
As we attempt to keep our dogs fit during this unexpected downtime, and as we prepare to start back up with training, the main goals are strength and mobility. Building and maintaining strength and mobility in three areas—your dog’s core, limbs and spine—are helpful for both optimal performance and prevention of injury.
Exercises and activities that focus on engaging the muscles of both the abdomen and spine of the dog are helpful for improving core strength.
Some exercises that are beneficial include:
Planking: Have your dog place both front feet on the floor, slightly forward of their natural stance, and reach their back feet to a surface just beyond their natural stance. Be careful not to over stretch your dog in this position, or the focus will be on limb stability rather than core engagement. Start with the dog targeting marks on flat ground (dots, tape, etc.) and progress to raised, stable surfaces (step, rubber bowl upside down) and then raised dynamic surfaces (inflatables or foam cushions). Be sure to stabilize any surface or material that the dog will be standing on. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Leg Lifts: With your dog in a stable standing stance, slowly lift one leg off the floor, being careful to not pull the limb away from the body. Start with one leg, and have the dog hold this for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat for each leg. To increase the challenge, lift one leg from the floor, and once the dog is stable, slowly lift the diagonal opposite leg, (example, right rear leg and front left leg). Hold the stance for 5 to 10 seconds. You can increase the challenge by having them standing on a dynamic surface such as an inflatable or on a large piece of foam matting. Be sure to keep the surface from shifting while your dog is standing and balancing.
Strengthening the limbs includes challenging both the large muscles as well as the smaller stabilizing muscles. Routinely performing range of motion exercises with your dog through all the joints of the legs, including the toes, will also alert you to any changes that may need attention.
Side Stepping: Guide your dog to step sideways:
Flat surface – side step in a heel position, or by guiding with a cookie or by using your body to guide. Add small poles such as agility jump poles, wrapping paper rolls or pool noodles for your dog to step over.
Raised surface – place your dog’s front feet or back feet onto a large rubber bowl, disc or a travel board, and guide them to step to one side and then the other.
Bows: Teach your dog to bow with their front end. Start on the floor, and to increase the challenge, progress to having the dog’s back feet on a surface a few inches in height. This is a great shoulder and front end exercise.
Sit to Stands: Position your dog in a corner and ask them to sit. Then ask them to break, stand, or get up (whichever command you normally use). Try to limit you dog from stepping forward while moving into the stand position. This will focus their effort on the hind end. Increase the challenge by having the dog stand with front feet up on a raised surface.
Range of Motion: Routinely take some time to move all of the joints of the limbs, from toes up to the body, through a full range of motion. Be sure to move each individual toe, bending and straightening each segment. A stiff or sore toe can create big problems either immediately or over time. If you notice any heat or reaction from your dog as you move any joint, compare it to the other side/limb and alert your rehab professional for further assessment.
Spinal mobility and strength are integral to your dog’s health and fitness throughout their lifetime. Plank exercises and swimming can strengthen both your dog’s spinal muscles and stabilizers. Try the following stretches and movement exercises to help facilitate mobility and detect any limitations or difficulties which may need to be addressed.
Cookie Stretches: Lure your dog with cookies for these three neck/upper spine exercises:
Head Turns – Stand over your dog and gently “anchor” them around the waist area with your legs. Lure them to bring their head back towards their hip on each side, and reward them with a treat. Go back to neutral, and then lure them again, this time moving their nose towards their knee on each side. Finally, lure their head toward the floor or their toes. Note any hesitancy or difficulty from one side to the other.
Head Up/Head Down – Lure your dog to raise his head upward toward the ceiling, and then bring the treat down towards their sternum, moving your hand under and through their front legs. Hold this position for a few seconds as the dog tries to get the treat from your hand.
Side-to-side Neck Movement – With your dog seated in front of you, move the cookie slightly toward the front of their shoulder on each side, to encourage them to turn and move the upper part of their spine/neck.
Figure 8 or Leg Weaving: Lure or guide your dog to move in a figure-8 pattern on the floor, or to weave between your legs. Repeat several times in each direction. This is a good exercise to incorporate as a pre-run warm-up.
Zipper: “Zip” down your dog’s spine before they run. Hold your thumb against the side of your index finger (like you would hold a key), and before your dog goes for a run (down the course, for a recall, etc.), gently “zip” your hand down along the spine. This can bring blood flow to the spinal muscles and can also alert you to any sore areas. This technique is especially good for adult and senior dogs.
This is the final article in the two-part series on canine fitness in the time of our hiatus from flyball. Thank you to all our contributors: Joy Adiletta,
Keri Evers-McQuiggan, Lorraine Messier, April Pelletier and
Lisa DosPassos for providing invaluable information about how to keep our dogs fit and ready to return to flyball.
Hopefully these two articles inspire you to enjoy some quality one-on-one time with your dog doing some fitness exercises. Although, like us, most dogs would love to be in the lanes right now, just being with us is what they crave most. Until we can all see each other in the lanes again, stay safe. Go flyball!