Easy Winter Warm-Ups to Avoid Injuries
Not all dogs love winter, but if you're owned by a herding breed, you know that they don't let cold days stop them from doing their jobs. But just because their thick double coats and hearty attitude keeps them romping in the snow when other dogs are ready to quit, the muscles of herding breeds are just as injury prone as any other breeds' if we don't take a few precautions. To keep your herding dog's body happy in frigid temperatures, follow these easy winter warm-ups for dogs to avoid injuries.
Winter Warm-Up Dog Exercises Before You Go Outside
Did your dog just give you the signal that it's time to go play in the cold? If so, this is your first cue to begin a short warm-up routine to warm up their inactive muscles, but don't reach for that ball just yet – ball chasing is not a warm-up. “This is actually very detrimental to cold muscles that have not been exercised and warmed up gently,” says Wendy Baltzer, DVM, PhD, DACVS. “It actually causes strain and sprain and can lead to long-term development of disc disease,” she explains in her video “Agility dogs: Harmful warm-up exercises.”
Instead of beginning with explosive activity, canine fitness experts like Dr. Baltzer recommend kicking off with five to 15 minutes of gentle, slow warm-ups before the real romping begins. You'll need to consider your dog's age and fitness level before deciding on the right amount of time for your pup, but if you follow just six simple exercise recommendations, you'll be off to a great start.
First, Go For A Short Walk.
Dogs can go from zero to 60 miles-per-hour, but it's a bad idea to let them do it. “A proper canine warm-up should consist of five to 15 minutes of light walking and trotting,” advises veterinary rehab experts Debra Canapp, DVM, CCRT, CVA and Chris Zink, DVM, PhD. In their white paper, “Preventing Injuries,” the vets also remind us that in colder weather we should allow even more time for warm-up walks.
Once the walk is over, it's time for some fun warm-up exercises that also double as good ways to build your dog's balance and proprioception (awareness of one's body in space), two important factors that help your dog stay injury free throughout life. The following movements are simple but effective methods to warm-up after a walk:
Sit-to-Stand (strengthens hip extensor muscles and the stifle)
Ask your dog to “Sit!” Show a treat, then give the command to “Stand!” and treat again. Repeat several times.
Backing Up (warms up rear leg muscles)
Stand up and face your dog with a treat in one hand. With your dog at a standstill, begin slowly walking toward her as you say “Back!” The minute she steps backward, give a treat and praise. Stop and repeat, treating each time your dog moves backward. With practice, your dog should be able to walk backward with a simple “Back!” cue.
Wobbly Walking (warms core and leg muscles)
Place a couch cushion or canine fitness equipment like the FitPAWS Balance Pad on the floor. With a tasty treat in hand, lure your dog into following you onto and over the cushion. When he reaches the other side, treat, then repeat several times.
Cookie Stretches (warms up the shoulders, neck and spine)
Place your dog in a stand. With a treat in one hand, move it slowly away from your dog's nose toward the left side of their rear end. You want your dog's head to move to the left and grab the treat without falling over or straining too much. Repeat on the right side, then again on the left.
Now it's Time to Go Play!
Once you do these simple warm-ups, then you can let the real fun begin. And when your dog is finally ready to call it done, remember that a cool down period is just as important as a warm-up. Do it gradually over five to 15 minutes, then end the session with a five minute leash walk to avoid cramping and soreness. Learn more about the importance of cool downs from Guild Evangelist, Deb M. Eldredge, DVM.
Winter Warm-Up Dog Exercises Dos and Donts
DON'T use fattening treats in your warm-up. Use low or no-cal treats like carrot sticks, green beans and fruit for your warm-ups. Or, divide your dog's daily meal allotment into treat times and feeding times, then use the kibble accordingly.
DO incorporate winter gear into your routine. Even though our herding breed dog’s have thick, insulating coats, a good waterproof but breathable dog jacket can keep muscles from rapid cooling, which leads to cramping and soreness. Boots can prevent snow cuts and salt burn, but first you'll need to get your dog used to boots.
Allowing your dog to go from the couch to the outdoors without a good warm-up will eventually result in injury, arthritis or disc disease. The good news is that we can avoid these painful conditions by remembering to warm-up, cool down and keep our dogs limber all year long.
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