5 Exercises to Prevent Injury
Wouldn’t it be great to have some simple, quick exercises that would both minimise your dog’s risk of injury and help you to monitor their strength and flexibility? Here are five exercises you can do every day when you and your dog come back from a walk or before they have their dinner. They are easy to teach and do and will take only 3-5 minutes a day.
Gentle stretch after exercise is a recognized method of avoiding and reducing the severity of injury. If you do the exercises daily you can easily see if your dog is having more trouble than usual with an exercise. This is a warning that they may be injured. If the problem persists then it is time to book them for a check up.
Make the training fun – use treats and praise to positively reinforce what you want. Of course if your dog has any injuries, or is a puppy or an older dog, then it is important to have a check up before you start the exercises and especially if they appear to have difficulty with them.
Hip flexor stretch
How to: find a step or box about the height of your dog’s elbow. With their back feet away from the box, have them put their front feet on the box. Offer them a yummy, sticky treat to lick so that they stretch up and forward.
Duration: 20 – 30 sec
Variations: start lower and for a shorter time when you are initially teaching the exercise or if your dog is a puppy, older or has back end problems.
Cheats to watch for: Rotating their back paws outwards – common if they have a psoas muscle injury. Standing with their back feet close to their front feet so they can use their front end strength to hold themselves up rather than stretch out.
Great for stretching the shoulder muscles!
How to: firstly many dogs will play bow if you bow to them when they are standing facing you – dogs do it to each other all the time! Some dogs will also bow if you go to throw them a toy or ball or if they are holding a tug toy down low to the ground. In these cases reward with a treat and praise when they bow then add a word so they know what you want, then build duration. Alternatively have them standing and facing you. Have a treat in your hand and step towards them whilst bending down to hold the treat down between their paws. Release the treat and praise if they start to bow, be positive but stand up and move then try again if they either walk backwards or lie down. Often it is a case of being quick – whilst their back end is still in the air and before they get their elbows onto the ground.
Duration: 20 – 30 sec – build gradually to this
Variations: chin on the ground or in the air. You can also teach ‘say your prayers’ as a similar exercise that works well if your dog keeps bouncing around as you try to teach the play bow.
Cheats to watch for: don’t let them rest their weight on flexed elbows – we want to stretch all the way through the elbow and shoulder.
Great for stretching the lateral neck and back muscles
How to: stand behind or beside your dog and use a yummy, sticky treat in your hand to encourage them to bring their nose around towards their hip. You may need to use your hand initially to help stabilize them or stop them from turning around. Often taking the treat out to the side and around in a smooth curve works best. Continue to praise and let them lick up the treat whilst they stretch around.
Duration: 20 – 30 sec
Variations: If your dog can do this easily try slowly moving the treat from their hip to their hock 3 times during the 30 seconds – down and up, down and up, down and up.
Cheats to watch for: Some dogs try to rotate their necks rather than flex to the side with their ears relatively level. If they do this then take the treat out further to the side initially and don’t ask them to come around so far.
Great for stretching out all the back muscles
How to: make sure you start on a nice soft surface, particularly if your dog has a prominent backbone. Start when they are nice and relaxed and lying down. Show them a treat near their nose and bring it back towards their shoulder then up and over their back at the wither (where the neck meets the back). As their nose follows the treat they may reach a tipping point and you can gently help them to complete the roll with your hand on their back legs or by holding onto your arm with their front paws. Some dogs get it straight away, others need to do it in steps – onto their side, onto their back and finally flip over. Keep if fun and practise from both sides. Tummy rubs on the way over help to calm nervous dogs!
Duration: 3 times in each direction
Variations: some dogs with back problems have difficulty with the complete exercise. If this is the case have them lie out on their side and roll onto their back. Give them tummy rubs and encourage them to stretch out, especially their back legs, as much as they comfortably can.
Cheats to watch for: none
How to: stand in front of your dog with a treat in your hand. Step towards them and bring the treat to their chest. Reward any movement backwards by releasing the treat and praising them. Make sure the step into them and the hand gesture are clear as these will become the cues for the exercise. Some dogs struggle with this and do better if you throw a treat or toy into a long, narrow space such as between the bed and the wall or the coffee table and the sofa. They run in to get the treat and can only get out by walking backwards. Other dogs love to tug and can be encouraged to gently walk backwards whilst tugging.
Duration: 3 sets of 12 steps is great
Variations: See above. You can make the exercise more challenging by having them walk backwards up or down a slope or by tugging.
Cheats to watch for: only ask or as many steps as they can do properly. If they are curving to one side then do the exercise with a wall on that side. If they can only do a couple of steps then end up sitting then keep working to encourage one more step. Make sure they step backwards and don’t bounce backwards.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is general in nature and not intended to provide specific veterinary advice. If your dog has specific health issues a thorough physical examination by a trained veterinary professional is recommended. Veterinary clearance before instituting any new activity program is also recommended.