Turning Over a New Leaf – Exercise Your Dog

Spring is just around the corner, and a dog owner’s mind turns to thoughts of EXERCISE!  We’ve all been couch potatoes throughout the winter, and it’s time to get up, get out and get active – get ourselves and our dog exercise!  But, we also want to be careful not to overdo it.  We assume that if we can do something, our dog can, too; but that is not always true.  Our dogs are generally less active during the winter months, just like their owners, and – just like their owners – they need to ease into a full-blown workout. 

Desiree Snellman of Fido ‘n Friends in Motion, Long Beach, California, works with serious canine athletes and their handlers to help them perform at the peak of their abilities.  Desiree draws from her experience as a personal fitness trainer in her life before dogs, and recommends adding a warm up and cool down to your dog’s exercise for a good sound workout routine and to promote good dog health.  A good routine consists of a warm up, the actual exercise and a cool down.  In this article, Desiree shares with us the benefits of warming up and cooling down.

The warm-up routine consists of three components, a general warm-up, stretching followed by a specific warm-up.  The combined warm-up and stretching routine should ideally take about 15-20 minutes from beginning to end.  The cool-down routine should take about half of that time.  You might have to modify an ideal routine to make it fit for whatever time frame you have available for you and your dog(s).

General warm-up

The general warm-up consists of movements that do not necessarily have any movement specificity to the actual activity to be performed.  The general warm-up should take a minimum of 5 minutes.  It should start out with a light cardiovascular activity such as mild play or through performing a sequence of dog exercises that slowly allow the body tissues to adapt to increased workloads, demands and stress.  The warm-up response is an increase in blood flow, an increase in the supply of oxygen and nutrition throughout the body tissues and ultimately in an increase in intramuscular temperature.

Remember, there needs to be a gradual buildup or progression of intensity throughout the warm-up.  Going too fast too soon can be counterproductive to you and your dog. 

  • Examples include:   Walking
  • Jogging
  • Playing tug etc.

Stretching

Many people design their stretching routine by watching how others prepare for an event. Your routine should be individually designed to address both you and your dog’s health and physical condition (strengths and weaknesses).  If you and/or your dog have never had a structural or functional assessment, it might be good to consult a physician, physical therapist or a vet to gain the appropriate information with regards to what particular stretches you and/or your dog should or should not do.  Do not attempt to perform stretches with yourself and/or with your dog unless someone qualified has demonstrated them to you.

Specific warm-up

A specific warm-up consists of performing activities or “drills” that closely mimic those movements that you and your dog will perform during your exercise routine. 

  • Examples include:   Wide figure eight
  • Tight figure eight
  • Large circles R
  • Large circles L
  • Tight turns R
  • Tight turns L
  • Around
  • Through
  • Spin
  • Quick, short sprints
  • Play bow
  • Sits
  • Downs
  • Low jumps with R and L combinations

Always start with the less intense movements, wider turns and lower jumps.  Then progress to the more intense movements with tighter turns and higher jumps.

Completing this full routine allows both the dog and the handler to gain smooth and rhythmical movement patterns before performing challenging courses.  The freedom of movement and improvement of coordination will make the team more capable of navigating through demanding obstacle sequences.

Cool-down

Immediately following physical and mental exertion should be the cool-down.

A cool-down provides the dog and handler with a smooth transition from performance back to a resting state.  Essentially, a cool-down is the opposite of the warm-up.  As mentioned before we often find ourselves with major time constraints and we have a tendency to skip the cool-down altogether.  We often times end up crating our dogs while we, the humans, will either rest in our chairs or go and perform our volunteer duties.  This is not to anyone’s advantage.  Both physiologically as well as psychologically it is a far better option for the team to perform a 5 – 10 minute cool-down.

Benefits of cool-down

  • Allows the cardiovascular system to settle to lower demands
  • Removal of waste by-products via the blood
  • Decrease muscle “soreness”
  • Relaxation/wind down

As part of the cool-down, while the muscles are still warm and receptive to stretching, it is a prime time to perform final stretches.  This is where we can re-set the muscles’ length-tension relationship and even improve the dog’s and handler’s ROM.  Each stretch should be performed ideally for a minimum of 30 seconds.

If we all take the time to properly prepare for our and our dog’s exercise routine, we should not only reduce the risk of injury, but we should be able to perform more consistently over time.  So, warm up and cool down those muscles, enjoy the beautiful spring weather, and have fun with your dog!

Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.