It is not surprising that we are beginning to hear more about these injuries in our sport dogs since we are asking more and more of them not only at very early ages but throughout their lives. AND, I have to wonder if our lack of knowledge about the importance of building core strength and fitness in our dogs is contributing to their injuries.
We all have seen or been guilty of taking a dog right out of their crate for either agility exercises in a class or seminar and just before running our dog at a show. The warm-up might consist of a few jumps over a practice jump but in classes and seminars that does not even usually happen.
And, there were people who wrote that dogs did not need to warm up like human athletes do since dogs were meant to just spring into action, running, jumping, chasing for food or whatever they do in the wild.
Those of us that have had injured dogs and experienced the long time it takes for rehabilitation know the importance of prevention. In some instances the dog never seems to perform at pre-injury level or in other instances, the injury re-occurs.
Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation - an EXCELLENT RESOURCE
Christine Zink and Janet Van Dyke recently published an excellent book, “Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation” that presents their work, and an impressive collection of work by veterinary health care specialists such as surgeons, nutritionists, physical therapists and rehabilitation specialists. Each of these specialists shares their experiences, expertise and research in veterinary sports medicine and rehab. While this book was perhaps originally published for those that care for the canine athlete, it is so well written that those who work with performance dogs or have dogs in rehab will find this book very interesting and helpful.
Much of what is known today comes from the application of scientifically based principles and rehabilitation that have evolved from experiences with human athletes. Much of the research about the canine athlete comes from data collected on two athletic extremes: the sled dogs and sprinting dogs like the Greyhounds.
One chapter that I found very interesting is “The Role of Nutrition in Canine Performance and Rehabilitation.” Dr. Wakshlag points out that sporting dogs have many different activities that require dietary modification for optimal performance. There are risks of vitamin and mineral imbalances that performance canine athletes need to be aware of. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, is quite different and integrates principles for adequate wound healing and maintenance of lean body mass. This chapter has an excellent research-based discussion on the use of long chain omega-3 Fatty acids and other nutraceuticals for their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to assist with chronic inflammation. Another interesting study in this chapter shows that there is no beneficial effect for the use of electrolyte mixtures to sustain performance dogs.
The second chapter that I found so informative was the one by Dr. Zink on “ Conditioning and Retraining the Canine Athlete.” She writes, “ a balanced exercise program includes strength (anaerobic) training that targets the forelimbs, pelvic limbs and/or CORE BODY MUSCLES, endurance (aerobic) training, PROPRIOCEPTION AND BALANCE, preparation and recovery (stretching and flexibility) and skill training. The program should balance duration, frequency, and intensity of training while avoiding overtraining. “
In reading this chapter I was not surprised that Kaffee was injured while chasing a ball. While I believed he was very fit, his fitness certainly did not involve core strength and proprioception work. And, he has never been able to easily or willingly stretch out his rear legs. Myst, on the other hand, has been conditioned and trained pretty much following Dr. Zink’s guidelines for a balanced exercise program.
Developing Core Strength, Proprioception, Balance and Preventing Injuries
I was introduced to the importance and benefits of developing core strength and proprioception when taking Susan Garrett’s contact course. Each week we were given several exercises mainly using balance discs to help build core strength and proprioception. From Susan’s excellent shaping course, I learned about creating one special place indoors for training new behaviors (shaping) without distraction and using the balance discs. Myst really enjoyed her late afternoon time in our special room. FitPAWS when they first saw Myst’s balance disc work, commented on her canine gym and the wonderful work she was doing (videos on our web site demonstrate Myst's balance disc work from the time she was a puppy)
We have continued to advance Myst’s work on the balance discs (SEE RECENT VIDEO BELOW) 3 or 4 days a week and have now included Kaffee in our afternoon time for his iliopsoas rehab to develop and strengthen his core strength and proprioception. Kaffee had never really done much with balance discs other than using small discs for pivots. I was surprised at how weak his back end was and how little proprioception he had. I was just as surprised at how quickly he learned to balance and be coordinated on the discs and advance to more difficult exercises… and he LOVES this work. As you will see in my BLOG posting on Kaffee’s iliopsosas rehab he is doing very well. While I still am very cautious about what I allow him to do, he is now at (4 ½ months ) able to hike on trails for 1-2 hours off leash and is doing jumping exercises at 16 to 20 inches a few times a week in preparation for his obedience work.
Endurance and Aerobic Conditioning
Myst’s conditioning also includes 2 times a week on trails where she can run, trot and explore for 1-2 hours. This not only improves her conditioning but also taps into her speed and love to run. We travel a short distance to a wonderful forested area where I can see her at all times due to the spacing of the trees. We also do late afternoon hikes out our backdoor several days a week. This terrain is not as suitable for aerobic conditioning due to the uneven terrain but serves to support her body awareness and conditioning maneuvering boulders, rocks, small cliffs, washes and hills.
Balance in Training
Perhaps most importantly we do not over train in agility. While we go to our lovely training field 4 or 5 days a week we begin with what has become a perfect warm-up – obedience work. Following what is perhaps most mentally challenging in obedience, we do agility for about 20 minutes total. It is all fun and the two blend nicely. Two days a week the dog are conditioned and allowed to be dogs running, sniffing and playing with each other on soft wooded open trails. In the summer they swim and in the winter they enjoy running and playing in the snow.
Bobby Lyons offered an online class on Iliopsoas Prevention and Treatment and gave some excellent warm-up exercises prior to working a dog. I not only use these for Kaffee’s warm-up but incorporate them into Myst’s warm-up for her training and shows.
Warm up Exercises
1. Warm up spine: nose to hip both sides
2. Rights and left (circles and spins)
3. Moving weave through legs
4. Moving turn right left weave
5. Backing up (warm up and cool down)
6. At side circles right and left
7. Weave to circles and spins
8. Moving forward: DOWN > STAND
9. Stand to CONCERTINA DOWN to stand
10. Sit pretty or sit and bring nose up keeping spine straight
11. Again, weave into turn right and left