Is it really “just a down”?

“Down. Stay. OK!”

Dogs lie down and stand up so many times a day, but that simple movement can be adapted to efficiently work many areas of the body.

Picture a dog lying down from a sitting position. First, they move the rear part of their body down to the ground and then they use their forelimbs to walk the front of the body down towards the floor. There are not many muscle groups engaged during this movement…basically, the shoulders are working as they move down and in pushing themselves back up into a stand.

Now imagine the action of a “folding down”. This is when the dog lies down in the “sphinx” position with the knees and feet imagestrack forward while the hips are tucked in close to the body.

The dog starts from a standing position with the rear feet a natural distance from the front feet. The back is flat with no arch (if that is the dog’s natural topline) and the head is in a neutral position. As the dog moves into the down position, there is no movement of the front and rear feet. When moving back into the standing position, all four feet stay in place. No movement.  Check out this video of a folding down in slow motion… 

Throughout their lives, dogs carry most of their weight on their front ends. While the folding down/stand is a great exercise for all dogs, it is especially valuable as dogs reach their senior years. By utilizing the folding down and stand, the core and spinal muscles are strengthened while we are encouraging the dog to efficiently use their shoulders and hips. This type of down/stand not only strengthens the smaller muscle groups but it also teaches the dog to push themselves up with their rear legs.

When sets and repetitions are added in, the folding down/stand is a strength training exercise on its own. It can also be made more challenging, for example, if we raise the front or rear feet, add instability equipment, or other changes such as holding one foot as the dog moves into position.

Once this skill is taught it can easily be added in throughout your day. Try asking for 3-5 down/stands before a meal. How about asking for one or two before you throw their favorite toy? Or maybe pause during a walk or hike and ask for a couple. While this exercise is only part of a fitness plan, before you know it, you’ve worked them into your day without looking for any “extra” time for fitness training…HURRAY!

happy training

 

 

 

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Luring VS Hand Targeting

Picture this: I  am walking from my car into a store. As I walk I am browsing through my email or searching a website for a coupon. I may walk a crooked line, stumble, narrowly avoid getting hit by a car, or a number of other scenarios.  This is because I am not paying attention to what I am doing and focusing on something else; my phone. If I put the phone away I can almost guarantee that none of those things are likely going to happen.

The situation is similar to what happens when we stick a treat in front of a dog’s nose to lure them into the position we would like them in. They blindly follow that treat and pay little or no attention to what the rest of their body is doing. Like us, they stumble and misstep. In the case of fitness training it can take them longer to *really* learn the proper position or body movements we are striving for.

Notice the differences in the body awareness and foot placement of the dog in the video below when using a treat to lure compared to using a hand target.

 

Luring can be helpful and I am not saying we should never lure. When teaching a new behavior I often use luring too, but in a different way. If you take the short amount of time it takes to teach a nose touch, a hold or a chin rest, you can use that to obtain the position you are looking for with ease.  Just like any other foundation behavior, it makes future training easier to teach.

I was recently asking my young dog to target her rear feet, which she did easily (foundation behavior), however she likes to do things fast and move on. She repositioned her feet and wiggled back and forth continuously.

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I put out my hand and asked for a nose touch and was able to have her step forward and move into the correct position. I asked for a “hold” and her feet stopped moving and she held the position perfectly. (See how this works with a chin target too. )

Previously I had used a treat that kept her dancing as she continued to try to figure out what I wanted. (Surely, just standing with two feet on this thing could not be “it”!)

So while employing the aid of a treat to lure the correct position can be used, why not try engaging your dog’s brain along with their body to get what you want and then use the treat as a reward marker. Thinking + Getting fit + Increasing the bond between you and your dog= WIN!

happy training

 

Seniors- Fit for life

None of us like to admit that our dogs are getting older, but suddenly you are observing subtle changes in your senior dog’s day to day living. Are they gaining weight easier than in the past? Maybe they seem to be losing interest in playing or slowing down on your walks or their stamina is less than it was previously. Getting up on a couch or bed may be more challenging, or it no longer even exists in your dog’s daily repertoire. Perhaps you’ve noticed them hopping up or down the stairs when they used to move each leg independently and maybe you’ve started carrying them because you are concerned for their ability and/or safety. You are even noticing they are slower getting up from a down or a sit. When did this happen!?!

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10 years

Any or all of these things happen eventually as our canine companions age, along with vision and hearing loss, balance issues, urinary issues … and these are just some of physical things we see. There are a variety of diseases that can occur as they age too. UGH!

We love our dogs as members of our family and it is often very difficult for us to watch these changes happen. If your dog has led an active life over the years than we’d like to see them continue that activity level as long as possible. If they’ve been rather sedentary much of their adult life, we cannot expect to bring them up to a peak fitness level but what we can hope for in either scenario is to slow down the effects of the aging process a bit, maintain activity, decrease muscle atrophy, and encourage a good quality of life into their golden years. Fitness exercises can help keep your dog mentally and physically active as you keep your dog thinking and moving. On top of all of this, it gives you some extra quality time with them. What are you waiting for? 😉

Some of the things to keep in mind while exercising your older pet :
• Be careful about over treating a dog that may already be gaining weight – use some of their meal in place of a “treat” while doing your exercises or do some reps of one or two exercises before serving them their meal (ex: do 3-5 down/stands and/or a 5 second sit)
• Don’t over do it- exercise for short periods, keep down the number of sets and reps, and progress slowly

Muscles that may need strengthening :
Many older dogs have a hard time using the rear and gluteal muscles to lift their back end up after laying down and will use their front limbs to pull themselves up. Therefore, strengthening both the front and rear muscles will benefit them in their day to day living. Another characteristic you might see in some dogs (young and old) is a sloped back, which means they could use some core strengthening too.

Some suggestions for exercising senior dogs :

Keep them moving…

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13 years

 

Walking

– shorten your walk, split it up into multiple walks throughout the day if possible (ex. 2-3 ten minute walks) and slow down if needed
– Depending on your dog’s fitness level while walking- limit hills and increase flat surfaces
OR walk back and forth in a zig zag path up/down an incline

Strengthening

• Sit to stand
• Folding down to a stand

Body awareness and balance
• Curb walking
• Weight shifting
• Cavalettis
In this video, my 13 year old sheltie demonstrates some of the exercises mentioned above. Note: in the curb walking portion I’ve added in cones to help with flexibility and allow for some movement through the spine. I’ve used donut holders in place of cavalettis (with a smaller or less fit/capable  dog, I would use cavalettis in order to provide something lower to step over)

As always, watch your dog for signs of Fatigue but keep in mind with our senior friends, refusal to do an exercise may mean they are in pain and not just just tired. Modify your sessions for the dog in front of you each day. For instance, the day I made the video for this post, Jive was having difficulty standing as I walked around him during the weight shifting exercises. He kept putting himself in a sit position. At first, I thought he just did not know what I wanted (even though he has done this exercise before). I let him sit and proceeded with the exercise so that he understood. When I tried the stand again, he was able to do maintain the position for a couple of reps, but then sat again.  This was how we continued (and I decreased his number of reps) because this told me he could not handle the standing exercise on this particular day.

Like all seniors, taking on new challenges can bring some life to their world. Just as they have enriched our lives over the years, let’s continue to improve theirs.

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happy training