From the Ground Up

“Hurray! It’s the weekend and I get to trim my dog’s nails!” <said nobody ever…especially if you have multiple dogs to keep up or if they are not huge fans of this necessary past time.>

Many dogs hate getting their nails trimmed while some merely tolerate it. If they had great husbandry as a puppy they may not actually mind getting it done, but I’d be willing to go out on a limb (heehee pun intended)  and say that even they would probably choose any other way to win treats from their humans. On the other extreme, there are some dogs who need to be tranquilized to get their nails trimmed because they fear it so much. Whether they like it or not, keeping your dog’s nails neat and short and the hair trimmed under and between their toes is a not only for good doggie hygiene, but for their overall wellbeing.

Dogs use their nails to grip the surface they are on when they run and turn however, if they are too long there are a host of problems that can arise.

Which way is up?

Proprioception:  it’s a fancy word for perception or awareness of the body in relation to the world around you. One way a dog gets information about the world around them is through their feet. If their nails are too long then their pads are not making appropriate contact with the ground and sending misinformation to the brain on which way is up.  This is important for pets and performance dogs alike.

Think about it…

When a dog’s nails are too long it causes the pads on the foot to land differently on the surface that it is in contact with.  In the diagram below (please excuse my art skills), the picture on the left shows how the bones in the toe properly align when the toenail is short. The toe on the right shows the alignment is angled because of the long nail. IMG_5670

As nails grow longer, the angles at each joint change. Everything is connected, right? The angles at each joint move from one joint to the next:  the toes (phalanges) to the wrist (carpus or tarsals in the hind limbs), up towards the elbow or knee (stifle) joint, to the shoulder joint and hip joint.  All of which are connected to the spinal column. All connected. All having an effect on each other.

This altered alignment can cause pain and stress in the joints. Think about how this may feel with each step they take as their nails hit the ground and put pressure on the nail beds in the toes. (This causes sensitivity in the nails from the constant pounding which may be one of the reasons towards the aversion to nail trimming.)  Also, the dog will compensate when they move as their brain is fooled into thinking “up” is in a different position (remember the proprioception I mentioned). This in turn can cause the dog to engage the muscles in their body differently and support their body and mobility differently.  If it is a prolonged issue then more serious problems can occur such as arthritis or other chronic issues throughout the body.

Long nails obviously affect every dog whose feet touch the ground, but if your dog is a performance dog this presents another level of concern. Think about how this can affect them as they run across the dogwalk, turn on a flyball box, trot around the obedience ring, or as they race over the dock ready to dive into a pool for a toy. Maybe they will lose their footing, not be able to jump as high, or turn as quickly or tightly.  Or… perhaps they will sustain an injury.

Senior dogs with long nails often will stand with their feet under them and their back rounded when their nails are too long. By cutting their nails, you can change the way they stand and to help support their mobilizer muscles (the bigger ones) and stabilizer muscles (the smaller, supportive muscles). Keeping the hair between the toes and pads of their feet trimmed will help them to have better traction on the surface they are in contact with (especially if that surface is tile, hardwood or other type of smooth surface).


Whether your dog is a family companion or your best competition partner, keep an eye on your dog’s nails and trim them regularly even if you need to enlist the help of a friend, a groomer, or your veterinarian office.  Your dog’s joints, spine and muscles will thank you for it.

Thanks for reading!

happy training


But I did everything right

Why do we condition our dogs?
Because our vet said so? Because we need to take weight off our 4-legged friend for their overall well being?
There are plenty of good reasons why :
We want them to have a good quality of life as they stroll into their golden years.
We want to strengthen our bond, focus their energy, train more “tricks”.
We want to keep our dogs in the best condition that they can be in for their given sport….


And sometimes, it’s because we are coming back from an injury. Sometimes life has another plan, and no matter how “right” we do things, injuries may happen.

Agility has often been compared to (in some circles, on some level) olympic sports. So, take for example, French gymnast, Samir Ait Said. He broke his leg during a vault exercise in which he had previously qualified for in the 2016 Olympics.

Is it likely that he did not adequately prepare for the challenges his sport presented to his body every time he stepped into the gymnasium? No. Could he have also been injured doing a totally unrelated activity or just in his every day living? Possibly.
Athletes of all skill levels *should* take precautions to avoid injury. This is part of the reason why they train. Yet, injuries are common for people who train and perform fastidiously despite (we assume) high quality preparation. But, life happens. So does that mean we should never train or compete with our dogs out of this fear? Perhaps they should just live in a bubble? Or do we do our best to prepare our canine athletes for the demand of our sport? Our goal is to decrease the chances of an injury but if they happen we hope to lessen the severity and increase the possibility of fuller, speedier recovery. The choice is ours.

Whether our dogs are “weekend warriors” at local trials, or we have loftier goals of competing internationally, conditioning should be part of our regular training and preparation routine to keep them safe, happy and healthy. . This is why people often seek out a Certified Fitness Coach. Meg McCarthy started getting fitness advice and began training with me for her dog Bolt for exactly those reasons.IMG_1535


Before we started, Meg used to walk and hike Bolt regularly, along with foundation training and other agility training….and of course, competing. But she realized she needed more than that.

She wanted to try to keep Bolt as fit as possible, which is where I came in. We began with the foundations of fitness. The basics. Using correct form. Getting more bang out of each movement and position. Things progressed quickly and well. Meg was also getting herself in the best shape of her life and doing the same for her dog. Bolt’s performance in the ring began to reflect this work. In 2016 they accomplished many feats including a second MACh, a challenger’s round run at nationals, a second place finals run at Westminster, and, the ultimate goal, a spot as a member of the AKC World Team. Meg continued Bolt’s fitness plan into the fall, right up until they left to compete in Spain for the world championships. They were the strongest and healthiest they had ever been when they returned.

And then it happened. It can’t be. Is he limping? Oh no! An injury. An apparent tweaked, stubbed or wrenched toe on a rock? The A-Frame perhaps? Does it really matter? Everything stopped.

She had been doing all the *right* things! But, as we said, things happen. We can’t control everything (though try we might). So began the road to recovery. Long weeks of crate rest, IMG_1534vet visits, x-rays, visits to specialists, dozens of phone calls, second (or more) opinions, chiropractic visits, before finally…clearance from the veterinarians and specialists to begin the slow return to activity. Even then Meg built up slowly- short walks, gentle stretching, slowly raising agility bars back to full height, more chiropractic adjustments, and yes, conditioning – all while remembering to breathe while doing it.
—- to be continued….

If it ain’t broke…

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…

Leave well enough alone…

We hear statements like these all the time in our day to day lives. In team sports you might hear it said that a coach hasn’t made a lot of changes in his program because the team is doing well. Why change what works…. right?

I often hear similar arguments: “Why should I do canine fitness, my dog has not had an injury?” Or, “My dog has been doing really well at _______(insert given sport), he’s fine.” And
another popular one, “Fitness? I’m too busy to do that too!”

img_2124My question is why wait for an injury or a weakness to show up? We teach our dogs the necessary skills to safely navigate an agility course, turn quickly on a flyball box, or dive off a dock far or high. Why? Because we want to reduce their risk of injury by giving them (and us) the confidence to execute the skills we’ve taught, and of course, we want to do our sport well and win!


I could also argue that adding a fitness routine into your training program will increase your dog’s overall core and body strength which will increase their performance and help to prevent injury.

Æ Ambient Exposure Photography

Dogs with musculoskeletal imbalances and weakness tend to have a higher rate of injury. Participating in dog sports doesn’t automatically make them in shape or immune to injury. In fact, the chances of getting injured increases. But there are risks anytime, anywhere. No matter how hard we try to keep them safe, accidents can happen.

img_0846 I know in agility, a wrong or late cue on my part can cause my dog to slip, slide or fall which could lead to a variety of injuries.On the other hand, they can do any of those things as they run around in my backyard or walk across my hardwood floors . They do have to be dogs though, so rather than put them in a glass box, why not at least do what I can to decrease their chances of getting hurt when these things happen.

Often times people avoid attempting to correct, fix or improve upon something that is already sufficient. Yet the sports we compete in have changed over the years based on ways to be more efficient, faster, safer. Training styles have changed too as the challenges have changed. Therefore, shouldn’t we change our preparation for these sports too? Many people frequently hike or walk with their dogs and while this is a great activity, is it enough? Just like your chosen sport, it mainly works the large muscle groups. A fitness program works those smaller, underlying muscles that help to stabilize the joints and allows them to use more muscles than just relying on the larger muscles. We can work on strengthening the muscles that will help them distribute their weight more efficiently, be more powerful, turn better, and tackle the challenges of today’s sports.

Photo: S. Preston


Let’s face it, we love our dogs whether they are our faithful companions as we fly through this journey in life or if they are our teammate in a sport that encompasses our free time.
Eventually, your faithful friend will have to retire from your chosen sport, but they don’t have to retire from living. Conditioning can help your older dog have a better quality of life, increase their flexibility, range of motion and provide mental challenges to help keep them young. And isn’t that what we all want? Just something to think about. 🙂happy training