All dogs jump – whether it is jumping up on the couch to secure a prime position for Animal Planet, jumping over a series of fly ball hurdles, or jumping through a tire jump in an agility trial. It is a natural motion for every dog. There are many sports that ask dogs to jump on a regular basis and jumping style and strength is paramount to maintaining your canine friend’s physical health and soundness.
Since we know that every dog will jump at some point in their lives, it makes sense that they should be strengthening appropriately throughout their lives. A dog should be prepared for their moments in the ‘front’ yard, instead of always keeping them safe in the ‘back’ yard. Whether it is jumping, a recall, or another command, it is important dogs always be trained for functional situations. Whether a dog is recovering from an injury or conditioning, every dog must have the core muscles it needs to jump.
In the 1960s, Russian scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky introduced the ‘shock method’ of developing explosive strength into the world of human track and field sports. An athlete would jump down from a height and was encouraged to keep their knees straight, causing them to experience an energy absorbing shock, which in turn would bring about a forced eccentric contraction that immediately switched over to a concentric contraction when the athlete jumped upward. This ‘shock method’ is the most effective method used by athletes to improve their speed, quickness, and power after development of a strong strength base.
The effectiveness of this training became very apparent when US coaches watched top Soviet athletes warm up for track events with jump boxes and other jumping activities, rather than the traditional stretching type exercises. Fred Wilt, a former US Olympic runner, is credited with the term Plyometrics. He assisted with gathering information from the Soviet Union and perfecting techniques that are now used today.
When done correctly, plyometric exercises should improve dynamic joint stability, enhance eccentric strength, increase the rate of force production and advance neuromuscular efficiency.
There are three phases to plyometric activity:
1) Eccentric landing phase
3) Concentric or take off
The whole series, Canine Style:
The eccentric phase is the landing phase. It involves the pre-loading (energy is stored) of the agonist muscle group. In other words, like a coil compressing.
The amortization phase is the transition phase. This is the time between the concentric and eccentric phases. This time needs to be as short as possible, otherwise the energy stored during the eccentric phase dissipates, reducing the plyometric effect. This is when the coil starts to open up. The body is preparing to switch from an eccentric contraction to a concentric contraction. The ultimate goal of plyometric training is to decrease the reaction time of muscle action in order to increase the rate of force production.
The concentric phase is the takeoff phase. The stored energy is used to increase the force of movement. The coil now explodes. The faster the body can move from eccentric to concentric, the more powerful the force.
Before we get into the specifics for dogs, safety concerns need to be addressed.
1) Strength – the dog needs to have optimal core strength and be able to handle at least fifteen minutes of moderate to high intensity core work. No soreness should be present after activities.
2) Flexibility – the dog needs to have excellent range of motion. Limitations anywhere can cause a problem. For example, if the dog does not have full hip extension due to a healing iliopsoas injury, motion and soundness will be compromised.
3) Balance and proprioception – dogs must be able to handle the demands of balance activities and have the proprioceptive skills to sense and handle the jumps
4) Weight – optimal body weight is vital. Heavy dogs will place a significant amount of undue stress on their legs with the jumping activities.
5) Additional considerations will include the dog’s age, ability and the owner’s knowledge. I would not perform these drills with a dog under two years of age. If the dog was not mature with regard to their coordination, I would hold off as well.
Plyometric exercises work the neuromuscular system. Since this is fairly taxing on the system, it is CRUCIAL to allow proper rest to the system. We will never want to overdo it, making it imperative to allow a forty-eight-hour rest between jumping drills. Human athletes have been shown to have sleep disturbances and an activity decline with too much plyometric activity. So, you will need to fit this into the training program. When I am performing these exercises with a new client, I ask they do not take their dog to fly ball or agility classes for at least forty-eight hours after plyometrics.
All of the studies dealing with plyometrics have been performed on humans. Humans obviously land on two legs and propel forward. Dogs move with four legs, with the landing mostly on the forelimbs. Propulsion is mainly by the hind limbs, but as seen in the video, the front limbs are receiving enough of the spring action to assist with the takeoff.
To begin, you will ideally want anywhere from 3 to 5 jumps. The height is going to be dependent upon the dog. I always start low – and may start as low as two inches with all dogs. If the dog is coming back from an injury, it will be important to start with a very low height. The goal is for the dog to jump over the jump, land, and then quickly go over the next jump—referred to as ‘a bounce.’ Therefore, the spacing will be dependent upon the size of the dog. I will start with two times the length of the dog’s body. For example, if the dog is 2 1/2 feet long, I will set the jumps at 5 feet. This will need to be adjusted and takes some fine tuning. I do a few trial runs so the dog can see what is going on and I can test the distance. The height should never be a concern when starting.
Ask the dog to go through the jumps once, turn around, and go back. This will be one repetition. I always start with 3 to 5 repetitions, and stop. In 48 hours, we will repeat with the same number. I repeat this for up to a week before increasing the repetitions. This is a process and not something we can rush through.
Keeping it Explosive – in a safe way, of course, 😉
Thank you for this article! Should a dog not perform this 48 hrs before and after an agility trial regardless of how many runs they do? Thanks!
That’s what we recommend.