As animal lovers, we automatically want the best for our dogs. There is an instinctual and almost primal desire to insure our dogs are safe with regard to their activities, food, exercise, and healthy. I think this is especially true with exercise. Safety is a passion of mine; from the type of exercise any dog performs to the type of equipment utilized for exercise, I stick with the principle of do no harm – ever.
There are many types of dogs out there, just as there are many types of owners. The first consideration is to always ask yourself if the activity is actually safe and appropriate for your dog. A Border collie trained in herding is often comfortable with endurance exercises over an hour in length. Walking or hiking, therefore, for an hour should not be too strenuous. However, a St. Bernard only accustomed to walks in the backyard will have a significant amount of difficulty walking or hiking an hour. In fact, the effects of walking a dog for over an hour that is not accustomed to the exercise may be deleterious to the dog in the long run. A gradual work up to the activity is more appropriate. The same is true for strengthening exercises. In this day and age with so many canine fitness fads, it is fun to look at exercises and attempt them with our own dogs. I think that figure skating is wonderful and amazing, however, I will not go out on the ice and try to perform a triple axle. The first thing I would need to learn is how to skate! This is a funny analogy, but a sad one. I see so many dogs attempting to perform activities they are not ready to perform because they do not possess proper core strength and the proper foundation. FOUNDATION — the key to any successful training, human or canine, performance or fitness.
So, the first thing to ask yourself when performing an activity is if it is safe for YOUR dog’s level of fitness. Remember the old adage: if in doubt, leave it out! You can never go wrong with safety. Since dogs are so eager to perform for us and do whatever we ask, they will often push beyond what their bodies are capable of. This can lead to injury. Even though it is not an immediate injury, it could be something that begins to build up over time. Soreness in the lower back or pelvic region is quite common when dogs do not have the strength to perform certain activities. In one of the previous blogs, I spoke about the five core exercises to perform. Every dog should be able to do these safely, strongly and efficiently before progressing on to more challenging core exercises. I like to see a performance or working dog hold a stand for at least thirty seconds without moving their legs, or altering their topline. This is a great starting point.
The second thing to consider is the equipment you are using with your dog. Safety, durability, and stability are key. If the dog has the opportunity to slip or slide, an injury may occur. Equipment should be stabilized so that it does not roll or bounce out of position when the dog is on it. The surface, texture and ability to withstand the force of the dog and its nails are essential. Whether it is a land treadmill, an uneven surface, or an inflatable object, safety should be your first concern. There are considerations with each type of equipment, as well as outdoor obstacles. We would take precautions with walking across an icy pond to prevent slipping and falling through the ice. The same precautions should be taken with equipment and other obstacles.
The third safety consideration involves listening to your dog and what the dog ‘tells’ you with its attitude and body language. Refusal to perform an activity may not be a training issue, but an indication of discomfort, pain, or the inability to perform something. I am going to refuse to do a triple axel when skating because I physically cannot. If I were forced to do so, I would undoubtedly fall and injure myself. So, I will not do it. In addition, when a dog is fatiguing, their body position, strength and control will diminish. This is a prime time for injury. It is our job to determine when our dogs have had enough and end the workout if they say they are done.
So, three questions to ask yourself with regard to safety and your dog’s core/balance fitness program:
1) Is the exercise safe and appropriate for MY INDIVIDUAL DOG?
2) Is the equipment safe and appropriate for MY INDIVIUDAL DOG?
3) What is MY INDIVIDUAL DOG telling me about the activity I am asking it to perform?
KEEPING IT SAFE!