Improve Your Sport, Protect Your Dog
By Mandi Blackwelder, DVM CCRP
For canine athletes, whether agility, fly ball, disc dog, earth dog, dock diving, sled dog racing or any other canine sport, rehabilitation techniques and equipment can improve your dog’s longevity and performance in its sport. Plus, it gives you new ways to train your dog to keep you both entertained and out of a training rut. Teaching your dog new ways to exercise expands the range of the muscles and nerves, which is vital to protection from injuries.
Helpful equipment for canine conditioning:
• Underwater treadmill
• Balance and wobble board
• Obstacle course
• Cavaletti poles
There are 3 main goals in conditioning an athlete:
1. Improving strength
2. Improving endurance
3. Preventing injury
Improving strength: All athletes need muscles. The better your dog’s muscles are honed to your sport, they better they will perform. Conditioning techniques can improve muscles specific to your sport. For example, an agility dog pushing a physioball focuses muscle work on the hamstring to improve its jumping strength. A fly ball dog working an obstacle course of multiple physioballs and disks alternating with firm surfaces works the muscles on the inside and outside of the legs creating better turns.
Improving endurance: Think of the marathon runner. To increase endurance she can run MORE miles OR she can make those miles harder. This allows her body to work more efficiently and endure more speed during the marathon. The underwater treadmill makes the “miles” harder for our sporting dogs. The water creates resistance. The incline creates resistance too. So a lure coursing dog that has been running the length of the course in the treadmill, now has more endurance for greater speed for that same distance on land.
Preventing injury: Dogs injure themselves not on the perfect run or dive or turn, but on the one that is off just a bit – a divot in the grass, too tight of a turn coming out of the tunnel, a slight distraction changes the dog’s head position as he runs. The ability to correct and recover without injury are entirely dependent training the nerves and muscles for this purpose. Physio work like the physioball or physiodisk simulates uneven footing and weight shifting. We do these exercises at a variety of heights and head positions. For our “blast off sports” like dock diving working turns is essential for them to adjust footing if they hit the dock at the wrong speed. For disc dogs, “straight line” work is needed, such as the land treadmill to maintain the tendons and muscles mass in appropriate alignment.
Working to condition your dog with a rehabilitation specialist is like having a personal trainer for yourself. You know how to lift weights, but your trainer makes the work more efficient. You get bored with your routine, your trainer can suggest new exercises to help keep it interesting. And if you have an injury, your trainer can make sure you are exercising appropriately to protect the injury while maintaining endurance. Working with a veterinary rehabilitation specialist is like a personal trainer for your dog – you are still the coach for the big game but your rehab specialist is a valuable member of the team.
By that same token, you wouldn’t want a personal trainer who is just a guy who’s in shape. Without appropriate training he may not know how other health factors affect your ability to exercise, he may not understand the way joints load weight for different body types, and he may not understand how you are motivated. A CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner) or CCRT (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist) has taken over 100 hours of course work, completed 40 hours of internships, presented cases for review and passed an examination in addition to being a veterinarian or veterinary technician. Only someone certified has the flexibility to work across sports, understands options and risks for injuries and can adjust exercises for different breeds and temperaments.