Jordan Fisher had a problem. The “kids” on the agility course were saying, “she might be fast, but she sure is fat.” Even her mom Debbie agreed, “Yes Jordan, your Corgi bottom is getting rather large.” That however, was the least of Jordan’s problems. Due to her weight and short stature, Jordan was beginning to show signs of intervertebral disc disease — a bad back … not a good thing for a dog with a long back and very short legs.
Having gone through back surgery with one dog, Debbie hoped to avoid another. So, Jordan began 30 minute “swim team” practices once a week and she loved it. She also began core strengthening exercises with her mom at home. One year later, Jordan was 9 pounds lighter, had her herself a fine “six pack,” so to speak, and was looking good.
Then, due to no specific action or activity, the disc in Jordan’s back herniated and she had to have back surgery. The outcome? Let’s just say, her core was the core to her recovery.
While personal trainers harp on the importance of core strengthening, the same is true for dogs. Core muscles, human or canine, support the back muscles, which in turn support the entire body, maintain balance and allow us to mobilize our legs — whether we have 2 or 4. The core is more than the abdominal muscles — they are all the muscles that lie close to the center of the body that stabilize the trunk, spine and pelvis.
There are many benefits to canine core strengthening. An older arthritic dog can use those muscles to take stress off both the hind and front legs, while a strong core is essential for active athletic dogs. Core strengthening also benefits your dog by:
• Protecting the back and making it less susceptible to injury;
• Increasing stability so the trunk becomes stronger, thereby decreasing stress to weaker limbs;
• Strengthening the center of gravity;
• Improving posture, balance and shape;
• Improving performance during exercise and sports.
But I walk my dog regularly, you say. Walking is good and essential, but it is not strength training. Add core strengthening exercises at least 3 times a week and you will be your canine’s personal trainer.
Again, I have to say my favorite line – please do not do anything that could be unsafe for your specific dog’s health. MASSAGE THERAPY, WATER THERAPY AND FITNESS TRAINING DO NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF PROPER VETERINARY CARE. CONSULT YOUR VETERINARIAN FOR ANY PERSISTENT PROBLEMS BOTHERING YOUR ANIMAL.
That said, here are a few simple exercises to start canine core strength building. (Just don’t feel bad when your dog is swaggering around with his 6 or 12 pack, laughing at your no-pack)
Start with a brief warm-up – maybe a game of fetch, a brief walk, etc. Then try:
Doggie Squats – Stand-Sit-Stand – no slacking in between, the idea is that just when your dog is starting to sit, tell them to stand so they use those core muscles.
Crawl – this is great for the forelimbs, abdominals and rear limbs – Began with a down – then, sitting on the floor with your knees up, use a treat entice the smaller size dog to crawl under your legs. For larger dogs, line up several chairs and lure them to crawl through the gap.
Using a cushion – have your dog put his front feet on the cushion. Then raising the treat above his head, you will see him shift his weight back to get the treat – great weight shifting exercise. Then hold the treat at his shoulder and then his hip to have him stretch to each side. Try putting his back feet on the cushion – experiment, have fun.
Other core strengtheners are doing “spins,” having your dog walk through the rungs of a ladder, and walking on uneven surfaces such as cushions or a partially inflated guest mattress.
For the very talented dog, Beg is a great exercise. Start your dog in a sit position. Hold the treat close to their nose and slowly move it overhead and backwards till they sit up and beg. Treat when their front legs come off the ground. Eventually see if you can get them to stand up on their back legs at the same time – a great strengthening exercise.
As for Jordan, she not only survived the surgery, the doctor was amazed at how quickly she recovered. Within several weeks, she was back swimming – not as energetically, but with all legs working well. Within months, she was walking normally. And now she is jumping up on her donut and balance ball with ease, and leaping into the pool. To see dogs using balance discs, eggs, and peanuts, go to my website at www.wagwellness.com.