I contacted Debbie after learning about her excellent online courses in canine rehab, fitness and conditioning offered at Fenzi Dog Sport Academy.
My question concerned using the balance discs more effectively to help strengthen forelimbs and hindlimbs. The work I have done with both of my Border Collies has created excellent balance, core strength, and proprioception but I wanted to learn more about how to further strengthen the forelimbs specifically the shoulder. And, what stretching on the discs might be too severe such as the handstand off of the peanut.
What I learned from consulting with Debbie was that I had been missing a very important piece in my balance disc work with Kaffee and Myst. That missing piece was duration in holding a stand or position on discs. Debbie suggested a few exercises that would not be difficult for either of my dogs but by adding duration (standing in the position for 30 seconds) would be more of a challenge and would build strength. Debbie also told me that many agility dogs have trouble doing this type of duration work.
We know from working with stretching in humans that it is very important to hold a stretch for between 15-30 seconds and to repeat that stretch several times. Some research even indicates that greater benefit is achieved by stretching 30 seconds rather than only 15.
This information is important to remember when using balance discs to help achieve strength. While balance on the discs takes time and practice, holding that balance while in the stand position is even more of a challenge. I found that both of my Border Collies at times wanted to default to a sit; perhaps this was because they were accustomed to doing sits to stand on the discs; but it may have been that it was not comfortable and they needed to build their strength in muscles for duration in this position.
This video shows the exercise that Debbie suggested to me to help strengthen the shoulder. I also noticed when watching Debbies’ videos in her online class on "Shoulder and Elbow Rehab" that even though she was demonstrating an exercise for the forelimb that the hind limb was also being worked. When I asked Debbie about this her response was “You will notice that in most of the exercises, the whole body gets a work out. Although we are focusing on the front legs, the back legs get a work out as well. “
The exercises you will see in this first video include:
· Duration in balancing on 2 discs at same height
· Duration in balancing on 2 discs where forelimbs are higher than the hindlimbs
· Duration in balancing on 2 discs where the hindlimbs are higher than the forelimbs
· Walking down a series of discs and standing in the position
· Walking up the series of discs and holding the stand position
We also talked about warm-up and cool down work before our trail runs. Now I stretch each of Myst’s shoulders for 30 seconds three times before she runs. I also do some other warm up like circles, leg passes and on leash warm-up walking. Our cool down involves walking back to the car on leash for 10 minutes.