Chris Zink DVM, PhD, DACVSMR and Gayle L. Watkins PhD
The swift, intense demand for dogs in North America during the COVID pandemic came as a surprise to many of us who already shared our lives with canine companions. It was as if the whole continent suddenly experienced a visceral need to experience the comfort of this species that has shared a relationship with humans for millennia. Shelters were emptied of adoptable dogs, and breeders were overwhelmed with requests.
As dog aficionados for decades, we watched this movement with intense interest. How will it play out? Will people be able to obtain the cheer and contentment they are looking for? Will these dogs become family members who share their joie de vivre with their new humans for 10 years or more? We fervently hope so.
Overload. Despite how it sounds, it may be a good thing for your dog’s fitness and health!
Strength is a major key to canine health and longevity. A dog with strong muscles is less likely to suffer injuries, both acute injuries and chronic injuries such as arthritis, which is one of the most common conditions in senior and geriatric dogs. And of course, for those of you who enjoy training and competing with your dogs, strength is strongly correlated with speed, which is a component of many dog sports.
The overload principle is one of the major concepts of strength training (1). Simply put, it says that if you want to improve your dog’s strength, you must progressively increase the total work that your dog’s muscles do.
Proprio – what? Proprioception is from Latin proprius, meaning "one's own," and capere, meaning to grasp. Thus, proprioception means to grasp one's own position in space, including the position of the limbs in relation to each other and the body as a whole.
Proprioception is how a baseball player hits a 3” ball going 95 mph with a 2 ¾” bat. It’s how your agility dog flies over the dog walk placing its feet in exactly the right spots on a narrow board. Check out the dog in the image above – his right rear foot has about one inch to spare! It’s how your athletic dog snags a thrown ball in mid-air and lands running. It’s responsible for your dog’s paw-eye and mouth-eye coordination. A well-tuned proprioceptive system will prevent your dog from making one or many missteps that could lead to a catastrophic injury.
Cody strained at his leash as he entered my examination room. A brown and white pitbull mix with soft eyes, large neck and shoulder muscles, and a beautiful sheen to his coat, he rubbed the side of his big body against my legs then flipped over onto his back, begging for a belly rub. His tongue lolled to one side of his mouth and he sported a silly grin. On the inside of his left knee I could see a prominent scar from recent surgery.
Cody had ruptured his cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), a structure that supports the knee joint, about 4 months previously. He had endured a lengthy and expensive surgery to stabilize his knee in the hopes of reducing the chance that he would develop severe arthritis, and to help him to have a pain-free life. Cody and his person were consulting with me to arrange a conditioning and retraining program to enable him to safely return to all the activities he loved.
Pretty well everyone agrees that taking your dog for a walk is just about the best exercise your dog can get, right? Maybe… or maybe not.
What is Exercise Anyway?
When we talk about exercise, we are typically talking about a physical activity that improves or maintains our dog’s fitness. The components of fitness are strength, proprioception, balance, flexibility, proprioception, and aerobic capacity. So let’s analyze whether walks make our dogs fitter.
During the past four years, hundreds of dedicated members of the Fit For LifeTM canine health and fitness program have assessed their dogs’ front limb, rear limb, and core muscle strength in the process of obtaining an individualized fitness program that targets their dogs’ weakest muscles. Data from almost 400 dogs shows that 62% of the dogs had weak core muscles, far more than any other part of the body.
CHRIS ZINK DVM PhD DACVP DACVSMR CCRT CVSMT CVA is one of the world’s top canine sports medicine and rehabilitation veterinarians.