FitnessTraining Tips

Improving Your Dog’s Strength and Flexibility

Last weekend, I attended a training on improving the strength and flexibility of working and sport dogs in Huntington Beach. Dr. Otto, who has worked with Urban Search and Rescue Dogs since 2001, and established the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia, was our instructor. (If you’re interested in reading all of her impressive credentials, click here.)

One of the things I enjoyed most about our Sunday together was that, throughout the seminar, I could see Dr. Otto’s love for dogs. Anytime we got the dogs out, she was there, helping, teaching, working, smiling. It’s such fun to work with people who care about dogs as much as I do!

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility

The day started with Dr. Otto checking each dog’s weight. Of course, I think Kinsey is perfect, so when Dr. Otto felt her ribs and said she was a five on a scale of one to ten and needed to lose some weight, I defended myself. (I often wish I had better control of my mouth.) I explained that Kinsey used to be thinner, but then she started eating poop, so I upped her food. Dr. Otto just nodded, and one of the participants suggested I clean up the poop faster. True. Anyway, Kinsey’s now on a diet.

Another opportunity for personal growth occurred at the end of the day, when we practiced building core strength with roll over. I always think things will go really well because Kinsey is a trained working dog. However, I forget how hard it is to teach a new skill and how intense my girl is. Kinsey can roll over to the left, but not to the right. So, Dr. Otto told us to work on it. Well, Kinsey is absolutely NUTS for treats, so she kept rolling over and over and over to the left and expecting food. I told her no. Then she began to bark at me, frustrated that I wasn’t cooperating. I reminded myself to breathe deeply and be patient. Eventually, she got it and would roll to the right for a treat. She nearly bit my finger off when I rewarded her. Geeze.

I learned more at the seminar than I could possibly post in one blog, so I’ll share my three biggest takeaways.

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility
Kinsey demonstrating how to place her paws on a target. From this angle, I can see how she might appear a bit overweight. There’s not much definition between the ribs. Thanks to Jeff Neu for the photo!
Keep your dog thin!

Dr. Otto shared a study from Purina on weight and lifespan. On average, a lean dog lives two years longer than an overweight dog. Dr. Otto explained that most vets won’t tell you your dog is overweight because they don’t want to lose your business. So, check your dog yourself! You should be able to feel her ribs like you can feel the knuckles on the back of your hand. If you can’t? Cut back her food. I dropped Kinsey’s food from four cups a day to three. It’s been a bit over a week, and I can already see the difference. I think she’s perfect now. (That’s the problem, I always think she’s perfect!) This chart may help as well: How do I know if my dog is at a healthy weight?

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Kinsey after ten days on her diet. She has more definition between her ribs.
Before you work your dog, she needs a warm up.

When I arrive at a rubble site for search and rescue, Kinsey has been sitting in the crate for at least thirty minutes. After we bury someone, which takes at least another thirty minutes, Kinsey hops out of her crate, leaps up onto the pile and bounds over hunks of cement. From now on, we’re going to do a little warm up first. Dr. Otto suggested a five minute fast walk or trot, followed by a couple of sits to stand for rear end awareness. We’ll end with some figure eight to work on Kinsey’s flexibility.

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She is beginning to teach her dog the figure eight by leading her through her legs, treat in hand.

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility
Improve core strength!

To improve Kinsey’s core strength, I’ve been focusing on the chipmunk. This means your dog sits up on her hind legs, front paws hanging up at chest height. Be careful with training this one. You don’t want to overdo it. (Some of the dogs at the seminar could barely lift one leg off the ground for less than a second!) You train the chipmunk by asking your dog to sit and then holding a treat an inch or so above the dog’s nose. When the dog lifts a paw off the ground, she gets a treat. Kinsey can hold both paws off the ground for about a second. The goal is to get a complete chipmunk, front paws in the air, and have your dog hold it for a minute or two. Once she can do that, you can move your dog to a wobbly surface. This requires even more core strength. But, go easy! Dr. Otto suggested three chipmunks per day to start. You need to watch your dog carefully, and if she starts to lose form, STOP!

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility
Quincy on an unsteady surface working on her core strength.

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility

improving-your-dogs-strength-and-flexibility

Some pretty amazing core strength on display here:

Dancing Dog

Thank you to Rock Solid K9 and Dr. Otto for an amazing seminar! Kinsey and I both learned so much! Very soon, Kinsey will have a six pack! 🙂

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