Active dogs are happy dogs – they’re doing what comes naturally to them. When dogs get plenty of exercise, they’re physically healthy and mentally alert. But there is a caveat. A dog’s level of activity needs to be on a par with his fitness level.
The “weekend warrior dog” that sleeps indoors all week then heads for the park for vigorous play on Saturday and Sunday is going to suffer the same aches and pains we do when we jump into high gear without preparatory conditioning.
During an intense game of ball chasing, the risk of injury can be dangerously high if the dog has had a sedentary couch potato week. Muscles, tendons and ligaments object to sudden excessive exercise.
When there’s a possibility of play, a dog’s enthusiasm ramps up. His endorphins and adrenalin (natural pain reducers) flow freely so he’s not going to feel anything but the most extreme injury. Along with the pain-blocking effects of endorphins and adrenalin pumping through his system, he’s not good at knowing when to stop and rest, especially if he’s young.
Agility, Frisbee, ball fetching, strenuous hiking and all the many games and sports we engage in with our dogs are good, healthy exercise when not done to excess. Even if these activities are not taken to an extreme, tendons can sometimes become irritated and inflamed, and muscles can get stressed and sore. As a dog ages, the likelihood of joints becoming arthritic is high. These are the types of condition we see in dogs leading active lifestyles.
Start with conditioning
Physical fitness is key to avoiding injury and having your dog enjoy his favorite sport for years to come. There are canine exercise physiologists who can guide you in safely building your dog’s fitness level.
Physical conditioning takes time and focused effort. There is actually a progression in how the canine body responds to conditioning:
1. The dog’s muscles are the first to build.
2. Cardiovascular conditioning occurs second.
3. The tendons and ligaments that hold the dog’s joints are strengthened third.
All conditioning regimes need to be designed for each specific dog and his particular sport. Training programs will depend on his age, breed, weight, and current general fitness level.
The next step in conditioning is to progress towards running on uneven terrain with incrementally increased amounts of turning and pivoting. This builds well-rounded muscles and increases tendon and ligament flexibility. Exercise experts advise a warm-up and cool-down before and after strenuous exercise. Remember to make water available to your dog before and after activity.
Watch for fatigue and any indication of pain. A dog will naturally shift his body weight or alter his gait to compensate for tired muscles or pain, thus compromising other parts of his body. When the body is even slightly off balance, injuries tend to occur. Practitioners of veterinary sports medicine report that the most common canine orthopedic injuries are caused by repetitive stress when the dog is tired but naturally driven to continue.
Physical conditioning and acupressure can go hand-in-hand with supporting the health of an active dog; in fact, this ancient healing art is a great asset to the conditioning process. Adding canine acupressure to your dog’s routine every five or six days will enhance his fitness level. Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupressure is known to:
•Build flexibility of tendons and ligaments
•Decrease inflammation of soft tissues and joints
•Strengthen and warm muscles by supplying necessary nutrients
•Relieve muscle spasms by establishing a smooth flow of energy and blood
•Remove toxins from an injured area while replenishing with healthy cells
•Reduce the painful build-up of lactic acid in the muscles by increasing blood circulation.
We can access and influence the flow of energy by stimulating specific acupressure points, or little energetic pools, on the dog’s body. By doing this, we can optimize the dog’s conditioning program. The following acupressure points, also called “acupoints”, will support your active dog and help keep him injury-free.
Bladder 17, Diaphragm Transporting, (Bl17) is a powerful acupoint that enhances blood flow through the body. Cardiovascular health is the key to all biomechanical functions in the body. Good blood and energy circulation means all tissues receive nourishment so that healthy cells can form, while lactic acid and toxic substances are removed. This continuous flow of replenishment and removal helps strengthen and build muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Gall Bladder 34, Yang Hill Spring, (GB43) is used to facilitate the flexibility of tendons and ligaments. Tendons and ligaments are like the new, young branches on a tree; when the wind blows, they must be flexible and bend or they will snap and break. By maximizingtheir flexibility and strength, the flexibility and weight-bearing capacity of the joints also increase.
Spleen 6, Three Yin Meeting, (Sp6) is often used to nourish the muscles and other soft tissues of the forelimbs, and especially the hindquarters. Good muscle tone depends on nutrient-rich blood. Sp6 is known for its ability to enhance the circulation and nourishment of the blood.
Stomach 36, Leg Three Mile, (St36) is used for many significant purposes. As the Master Point for the gastrointestinal system, it is very important in converting food into refined, bio-absorbable nutrients to be circulated in the blood. St36 is known for its ability to contribute to a dog’s overall physical endurance, because it promotes energy throughout the body.
Keeping your active dog safe by offering proper physical conditioning and energetic balancing with acupressure will add many more years of fun and frolic to his life. Happy ball throwing!
Try it! Always have two hands touching the dog. Rest the soft tip of your thumb on one of the acupoints identified on the accompanying chart and exert about one-half pound of pressure, less for smaller dogs. Place your other hand comfortably on another portion of the dog’s body. On smaller dogs, instead of using your thumb for the point work, it may be more comfortable to use your index finger with your middle finger on top of it. Keep your thumb (or index and middle finger), on the acupoint until at least the count of 30. If your dog shows any signs of distress or pain while holding the point, please stop and try again some other time. All acupoints are located on both sides of the dog’s body. Once you complete the series on one side, please do the same acupoints on the other side. You will know you are doing a good job when your dog indicates he’s experiencing energy moving more smoothly through his body. Dogs express this movement and harmonious flow of energy by yawning, stretching, passing air, rolling over, licking in general or licking your hand on the acupoint, possibly breathing more deeply and even falling asleep