Pyramid models are important in many aspects of our lives and our dogs’ lives. Whether we are talking about nutrition, training or exercise, they provide us with a great guideline. The base should always be the largest focus and serves as the foundation for all levels above it.
With regard to exercise, starting with the basics is paramount to the success, health, and overall strength of the dog. Correct groundwork is the necessary base before moving up the levels of the pyramid. Groundwork is inclusive of stepping backwards; standing for prolonged periods of time on the ground, head lifting, sit-to-stand exercise, and lateral movement. All of these activities should be mastered with both quality and quantity on the ground before moving up the pyramid levels. I like to see a dog hold a stand securely on land, with a good top and bottom line for at least ten seconds—Basic Exercise Number 1.
Ideally, the longer the better. In very active dogs, I like to see the position held for up to thirty seconds before climbing to the next level. The dog should also maintain a static standing position while performing head lifts—Basic Exercise Number 2. We will start to refer to this as weight shifting now – as the dog lifts its head, its weight shifts to the hind limbs; when the dog lowers its head, its weight is shifted to the front limbs. The sit-to-stands on the ground should allow for a symmetrical position of the knee and the hip, without rotation out of the hips or knees—Basic Exercise Number 3. Walking backwards should be performed in a straight line with minimal shuffling of the feet for distances up to ten feet—Basic Exercise Number 4. And Lateral movement with consistent crossing over of the legs should be accomplished with good form in both directions—Basic Exercise Number 5.
As I spoke about last week, once the dog is comfortable on the ground and is performing the above exercises with good position holds and quality movement, the disk and the floor can be combined for an increase in challenge. This incorporates some minimal surface instability and a slight incline. The disk may be initially left in the base for added support, and as the dog progresses, the disk may be removed from the base. Front feet up is a great exercise to begin working on increased hindend awareness and strength. Back feet up is subsequently another exercise to begin working on increased forelimb awareness and strength. And both of these exercises work the core musculature as well.
As the dog builds core strength and is able to perform quality variations of the Five Basic Exercises at the Ground and Disk level, the next level can be approached. Positioning the dog so that the hind legs are on the K-9 Kore Disk and the front legs are on the Nubby Infinity adds two levels of instability, as well as an incline. When the dog moves its forelimbs up on the Nubby Infinity and keeps the hindlimbs on the K-9 Kore Disk it works hind limb and forelimb strength, as well as promotes hind end and forelimb awareness. In addition, this position elongates the lumbar flexors and hip flexors, thereby stretching the lumbar and hip extensors. The core muscles are also actively engaged. Variations in challenges may be included with gentle weight shifts and side-to-side head movements.
Difficulty is increased as the dog moves onto each higher level of the Strengthening Pyramid and the equipment becomes more uneven and less stable, until the dog reaches the top. When the dog is at the top level, it can do prolonged stands; sit to stands, and other weight shifting exercises. The time may vary on the large Infinity according to what the dog is able to handle—remember, quality over quantity should be adhered to, as always, and you should watch for signs of fatigue.
At this point, the dog should be encouraged to use body awareness, strength and proprioception to turn around and carefully walk down the pyramid. Walking down is an essential component in strengthening eccentric contractions. These motions are important for so many functional activities in daily life such as slowing down from running, slowing down from jumping off a couch, or landing after a jump in agility. As the dog moves down the pyramid, controlled speed is very important. The tendency will be for the dog to quickly climb down, but slow and controlled will be more difficult and more beneficial, holding positions at the different levels while maintaining a straight topline (no roaching, no dips).
This simple set up can eventually provide a total Core Strengthening and Balance workout for the dog. The slow climb up is working on concentric contractions and the climb down is working eccentric contractions. On the way up, the hind end is the focus, with benefits to the front and body. At the top, the dog must use its trunk and secondary core muscles to keep its balance, as the largest Infinity is a great stability challenge. On the way down, the front end benefits the most, along with the rear and body.
Rosa is a three-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog who has been working on core strengthening and balance equipment since she was 8 weeks old. Notice the safety harness, Martha holding the harness and controlling the dog’s speed, and Martha using her body to help keep the equipment from moving.
A more advance course of INFINITYMountainsTM & Valleys – Rosa on a PURPLE landscape! On the second trip up Infinity Mountain when she gets to the top Rosa is encouraged to lift up – in a safe and controlled manner. Her core strength allows her to do this slowly and with self-regulation, while Martha provides support for her front paws and insures she doesn’t slip or over-extend her spine.
Keeping it Quality,
** You should always consult with a veterinarian before starting any exercise program with your dog**