I was talking to a new boarding client the other day who was asking for some suggestions for his young Aussiedoodle who has hip dysplasia. At less than a year old, the dog had FHO surgery on one hip. He is now almost 2 years old and his dad would like to know what he can do with his dog to keep him strong, and hopefully avoid the second hip surgery.
Naturally I suggested hydrotherapy for his dog since we know that works, and he plans to try it, but I think his budget will prevent him from doing the long term maintenance sessions that are required to keep his hind end and core strong.
Balance exercises are a great option to keep any dog in shape, but especially those that have some sort of physical issue. Balance exercises improve core strength, and other weak areas on a dog’s body. They also improve coordination and reflexes, increase range of motion, improve focus and concentration, and boost confidence.
Beginning balance exercises involve standing weight shifting and rocking from side to side on unstable surfaces, advancing to sit to stand and down to stand on unstable surfaces. Because it’s an unstable surface, your dog’s body will automatically react to the surface movement to remain stable. This causes different muscles to engage as the dog works to remain balanced.
You don’t need anything fancy. You can get 1 or 2 dense foam pads that are 3” to 4” thick from any sewing or craft type store. These pads are excellent for beginning exercises. You can also use sofa cushions.
For more advanced exercises, you can easily make a rocker board using a round table top from Home Depot, gluing on a non-slip surface, and then gluing a half tennis ball on the underside. You can also purchase 1 or more of the FitPAWS products. FitPAWS is a company that specializes in making balance and stability equipment that is used in most rehabilitation and canine fitness centers everywhere. We have and use most of their equipment when working with our daycare dogs.
Begin by getting your dog used to standing on the pad, or on 2 pads with the front legs on 1 pad and back legs on another pad (depending on the size of your pads). Have your dog stand there. It may take some time to get your dog used standing on an unfamiliar and unstable surface so take it slow. Use treats if your dog is treat motivated.
Once your dog is used to standing on the pad, begin to manipulate the surface of the pad using your foot or hand. Your dog will have to shift his body to remain stable. This causes his muscles to contract even more.
Then, you can progress to having your dog do a series of sit to stand or stand to down exercises on the pad, or turns (both sides) while on the pad.
You can also vary the exercises a bit by having your dog put only the front or back legs on the pad.
When your dog is easily doing these exercises on the pad, it’s time to move up to something more difficult like stacking 2 or 3 pads on top of each other, using a rocker board, or using 1 or more of the FitPAWS balance products. The photo here shows Dayzee on their balance disk and K9FITBone. This increases difficulty because of the different heights and stability levels of both products.
You can also create a course out of different surfaces and have your dog walk the course, making sure he stays on the equipment.
You don’t need to spend a lot of time on these exercises. A few minutes a day is all it takes. Look for signs that your dog is becoming fatigued, such as panting, or not wanting to continue to exercise. This is especially important for dogs who are out of shape. While these exercises may not look like much, they are physical, and your dog will tire out.
It’s important that you make it a game so that it’s a fun activity that your dog looks forward to.
Fitness exercises are a great way to exercise your dog, both mentally and physically. Use your imagination, and have some fun with your dog! And let us know if you need help getting started.