Police K9 Magazine, March / April 2008
Building the Canine Athlete: Strength, Stretch, Endurance and Body Awareness Exercises by M. Christine Zink, DVM and Laurie McCauley, DVM. Canine Sports Publications, 2007.
TOP-NOTCH-BODY condition and the ability to spring into action when needed is essential for working dogs. Building your canine's strength and flexibility increases his overall fitness levels, helps prevent injuries, can reduce the severity of injuries if they do occur, and can add years to your dog's life, according to the authors of a new DVD. In this video, veterinarians Chris Zink and Laurie McCauley demonstrate 30 exercises that can be used to keep your working canine in top form. The video includes age-specific guidelines. For example, puppies under six months of age can benefit from stretching and body-awareness exercises, but should not do strength or endurance-training exercises because their bones are still in a rapid-growth mode. Specific exercises are suggested for ages 6 - 12 months, 1 year, 14 months, and so-on.
The authors also discuss age-specific jump training to help avoid repetitive-impact injuries, suggest various healthy dog treats for training, and discuss t he basics of operant conditioning. For each exercise, the video explains how often your dog can do it on a weekly basis, how many reps to start with, and how many reps to work toward.
The DVD is divided into five parts: an Introduction, Strength Exercises, Body Awareness Exercises, Stretching Exercises, and Endurance Exercises. The Introduction explains the specific benefits of structured movement. The Strength Exercises section includes 15 exercises that strengthen specific muscle groups. The movements are fun for the canine and incorporate various types of play your dog already may enjoy. Digging, for example, not only comes naturally to a dog, it helps him strengthen coordination of his front limbs, strengthen his core (abdominal) body muscles, and work the stabilizer muscles of the rear limbs. The video explains how to create a digging box for your dog and train him to use it to get a thorough front-of-body workout. An exercise called the high-five-and-wave also is used to strengthen the shoulder and upper front leg muscles. A second group of exercises -- which includes the abdominal cookie reach, rocker board, and roll-over -- strengthen the core muscles of the spine and abdomen.
A third group is designed to work the rear limbs. These exercises are particularly important because as dogs age, they lose rear-end strength first. The video explains that dogs' rear legs bear only 33 percent of their weight and thus do not get the same workout as the front legs during daily activities. The video demonstrates exercises such as the sit-to-stand -- which is the equivalent of human squats -- beg-stand-beg, walk backward, and retrieve uphill.
The final four exercises in this group -- stand-down-stand, crawl, retrieve, and tug -- are designed to work the dog's entire body. The authors carefully point out movements that are counter-productive or could cause injury, and demonstrate the proper way to play with your dog using objects such as a tug toy.
Part three of the video is titled Body Awareness and focuses on exercise to increase your dog's conscious proprioception -- or understanding of where its feet are in space. The authors suggest simple props and training aids, many of which you may already have around the house. For example, a ladder placed on the ground makes a great obstacle course as your dog walks down the length, stepping between the rungs. Being able to place all four paws with precision and avoid obstacles can be critical to the canine working environment, especially in chase scenarios.
Part four demonstrates five stretching exercises: cookie stretches, play-bow, cat stretch, spine stretch, and passive range of motion. These movements are more complex and require you to actively manipulate your dog's limbs; however, stretching is essential for working dogs, who many spend hours riding in cars or waiting to be called into action. Stretching also is critical before your canine performs in competition or even plays a fast game of frisbee, as it helps him to avoid injuring tight muscles.
The final portion of the video offers six endurance activities: trot on leash, treadmill, pull a scooter, trot beside a powered scooter, trot with person doing inline skating, and swim long distances. Training tips, rewards, and cautions are given for each activity.
I found the video highly informative and useful for exercising my older Malinois. I recommend it for all canine handlers. Visit www.caninesports.com to order a copy.