Keeping active dogs fit, balanced and healthy during lockdown

We would all like our dogs to remain healthy and injury-free – even more so when we are in lockdown and when they normally participate in dog sports. But it can become a challenge. There are three principles to consider when it comes to injury prevention, especially after a long period in lockdown:

  • Is his body fit for the activity?
  • Are his activities balanced?
  • Is his mind balanced?

What does fit for activity mean?

Let’s assume you do agility with your dog. The following are some of the physical requirements of agility:

  1. Sprint fitness The average agility round is 30 to 40 seconds run at full pace.
  2. Muscle power Jumping 18 to 20 obstacles at speed requires significant muscle strength. Both the front limbs and the hindlimbs are involved in creating the arc over a jump. Often this needs to happen at extreme angles or odd take-off distances.
  3. Balance Running across the dog walk or see-saw, or controlling the landing after a jump requires balance and body awareness.

What does this mean for your agility dog? Taking him for long runs or letting him swim is great for general fitness and it is definitely fun for your dog, but it does not improve any of the specific fitness requirements for agility.

5 easy home exercises you can do to keep your canine athlete healthy:

  1. Balance on two cushions
  2. Sprints up a hill
  3. Back up steps
  4. Play bow stretch
  5. Side bends

Cross-training

We balance our dogs’ activities by doing cross-training. It involves using several different activities to develop a specific component of the skills and physical attributes your dog needs for his sport. There are several benefits to doing this.

Firstly, doing the same physical activity too much puts your dog at risk of repetitive strain injuries. In addition, if your dog’s technique when doing an exercise is not great, using another activity to achieve the same physical development goals can improve your dog’s ability to perform the required activity better.

Let’s use hindlimb strength as an example. You can build hindlimb strength for jumping by making your dog do a lot of jumps. However, if you do this activity too frequently, your dog will have loads of impact on his shoulders, wear and tear on his hips and knees, and he may become reluctant to do the activity. However, getting your dog to do sprints up a hill after his favourite ball will also improve hindlimb propulsion strength, but it is less impact on his joints and he will have fun doing it.

What about mental balance?

Part of avoiding injury during sport is your dog’s ability to remain focused and keep his concentration. This also means that he should not be anxious, stressed or overtired when he competes, as tired or anxious dogs make mistakes that could lead to injury. To help your dog, you need to do activities that allow him to practise concentration and focus. Like any other skill, this gets better if you do the right exercises.

Is his body healthy?

If your dog is having trouble with any area of his body, it may not show up as a limp until it has become quite serious. Taking your working dog for regular physio check-ups will help pick up early warning signs of strain. Your physio will be able to help you make the necessary adjustments to your dog’s training programme and advise on ways you can help keep your dog feeling great.

Any change in your dog’s behaviour should be taken seriously as a potential sign of a physical problem. From no longer jumping into the car to not wanting to finish the weave poles in agility – these can all be ways that your dog is telling you he does not feel great.

Article by: Ansi van der Walt is the senior physiotherapist at AM van der Walt Physiotherapy.