I was in the park over the weekend and observed a woman walking her dog. Actually, I am not sure if it was walking, more like intense heeling. The dog was, of course, on her left side and had his head turned to the right waiting for the woman to dive into her treat pouch to reward the behavior. As I was watching it, I began to think of all the compensations going on in the dog’s body. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is part of many activities such as IPO, competition obedience and training. However, there are things we can do so that the dog does not suffer any long-term side effects from this unnatural position.
In a sound dog’s normal stance, a gait analysis will show weight being carried equally on all four limbs. [Natural Stance]
When the dog is looking up and to the right, the sideways neck flexion throws additional weight onto the opposite front leg. The extension up and to the right puts more weight on the diagonal opposite hind leg. Prolonged periods of this extreme position may create an imbalance in the pelvis and the hindlimbs. [Head Up/Right Stance]
When the dog is looking up in extension and to the right, this compresses the right side of the neck, and stretches the left side. Over a prolonged period of time, this can create an imbalance.
Normal head up and down movements should not compromise the integrity of the topline or the spine. The topline/core/spine should remain straight and strong when a dog is standing or moving. A simple head up posture can cause a dip in the top line in a dog with weak abdominal core muscles. This may lead to significant issues in the spine as well as compensatory issues.
HOW TO Help: make sure to stretch the neck into flexion (downward) and to the left before and after any heads-up heeling activity.
HOW TO Help: Incorporate neck flexion in your dog’s daily fitness routine.
Encourage the dog to look slowly right and left while keeping all four paws in place, first on the ground and then on an unstable surface such as the K-9 Kore Disk or the ORBit [coming soon!] Gently increase the range of motion, and hold the position. This motion will create weight shifting and help build body and topline core strength, as well.
Be aware that prolonged competition obedience heads-up heeling can create muscle soreness and imbalance, and keep practice to short periods, broken up with other activities.
Always keeping your dog’s health and soundness a priority!