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

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

 

 

 

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