Not Every Dog is an Olympic Athlete – Except Maybe in Our Hearts!

Have you been glued to the television watching the Olympics like me? I was in awe of the athletes in the Slalom Skiing events. For a moment, I was that skier gliding through the slalom course soaring over the jumps and landing just right to make the perfect turn.

When I really started to think about landing just right and making that perfect turn, my knees hurt and my iliopsoas screamed.  Sure, I work out. In my own core classes I’m up to fifteen push-ups (man push-ups mind you). But, if I attempted slalom skiing, bad things would happen.  Of course, you know I am now thinking about dogs and what we ask of them….

As I massaged my knee after just the thought of a slalom hill, I saw an ad for a canine conditioning class. It promised to teach your dog to perform difficult conditioning exercises within hours. Now think about it – I couldn’t take one class and be able to do a four-foot plyometric jump or ski successfully down a slalom hill.  And the same applies for our dogs.

Physical changes are made within the mind and body to create an athlete, canine or human.  It takes an honest ten to fourteen days to make an incremental strength improvement.  Fear and psychological boundaries need to be overcome, as well, and that takes time. Which leads me to the point of this: never be afraid to back off an activity if your dog does not look or feel comfortable.

When beginning or continuing a conditioning program, think about what your short and long term goals are for the dog, and if they can be reasonably met.  Is your dog old?  Young?  Physically fit?  Overweight?  Or does it have physical restrictions due to injury or conformation? 

I saw a young dog the other day that is involved in agility, rally, obedience, field work, dock diving, and barn hunt.  And it just turned two.  The dog has significant weakness in its pelvis and cannot hold a proper sit for longer than fifteen seconds.  He has a multitude of injuries ranging from iliopsoas strains to thoracolumbar strain, and pelvic pain. There is no doubt the weakness in his pelvic area is the main cause, combined with the level of activity being asked of him.  We started with simple sitting on a K9 Kore Disk in its secure base, standing on an Infinity, and backing up exercises to build core strength.  All of these are done to tolerance, focusing on quality over quantity.

Not all people are destined to become Olympians, and not all dogs are destined to safely perform difficult conditioning exercises– much less become competitive athletes.  If your dog shows you he’s uncomfortable with an activity or conditioning program, there is a reason.  Watching activities on the internet and then asking your dog to do them may not be the wisest decision.  We can’t perform the conditioning program the Olympians are involved in.  And many dogs cannot perform the activities taught in some conditioning classes, whether live or online.

Always Putting Your Dog First,

Dr. Debbie 

[Thanks to Jo Dorrell and Amanda Nelson for the canine athlete pictures!]


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