Just like humans, dogs' muscles can get tight and sore, particularly after exercise. Learning how to stretch your four-legged friend can be beneficial in many ways.
Stretching a muscle helps to improve its elasticity, and can help increase the range of motion of the joint thereby enhancing movement quality. It also releases tension within the muscles and assists the muscles to return to their normal length, as they can shorten through exercise, says Tim Norris, a canine physical therapist from Both Ends Of The Lead in Sydney.
"If muscles remain tense and in a shortened state, it can lead to potential muscle strains and injury," he explains. "Small muscle strains can lead to other muscles going into compensatory patterns, which will not necessarily stop them enjoying their activity, but in time can lead to additional stress on key joints in the body. This, in turn, can speed up the degeneration process and become a significant injury waiting to happen."
The motion of your dog should ideally give the appearance of gliding across the ground with no sign of rigidity or restriction of movement. But sadly, many dogs do not move like this and are suffering unnecessary discomfort, says Mr Norris.
Mr Norris, who is also a certified canine myofunctional therapist, has been involved with canine rehabilitation for many years, as well as teaching pet owners how to stretch their dog through videos on his website
. He will also soon be launching a 21 Day Challenge called '4 Paws 2 Feet Stretching Together' for people and their dogs to learn how to stretch.
"We believe it's a fun way to get dogs and their owners healthier and moving better. You can sign up for the Challenge on the homepage of the website www.bothendsofthelead.com.au
," says Mr Norris.
Learning how to stretch your dog correctly can help to reduce the risk of injury to your dog, help them move better and slow down the ageing process. Mr Norris shares some tips on how to stretch your dog safely.
Warming up before an activity and stretching after helps to prevent muscle injuries caused by overuse, inappropriate exercise routines for their age and ability, and not warming up or cooling down.
"You can help reduce the risk of injuries by applying some common sense and think about introducing some gentle stretching and warming up into your dog’s routine," he says.
How Can You Stretch Your Dog?
A wide range of stretches can be applied to all of your dog’s major muscles to help them move and function at their optimal level. The hips, shoulders and back areas of your dog’s body especially benefit from stretching, says Mr Norris.
Here's how to stretch your dog's back, but you'll need to use treats!
- Whilst your dog is standing and you on one side, move the treat slowly from his nose to the direction of his tail, encouraging him to follow the treat with his eyes by turning only his head.
- When your dog bends his body into a C shape, hold in this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Then step to his other side and repeat the exercise, doing a couple on each side.
- Finally, you can finish off with a back massage by slowly moving your hands up and down your dog's spine with gentle strokes.
"This is a great stretch for the back and also helps to stretch the neck as well as mobilise the spine," he says.
Mr Norris has other video examples on his website.
"But remember that stretching is not suitable for every dog. It is important to check with your vet if a stretching program is appropriate for your dog," he says "Stretching may not be appropriate if your dog has arthritis, an acute injury or if your dog is under 18 months of age."
Stretching can also be a great way to help keep ageing dogs moving well and reduce the risk of arthritis, not to mention benefiting dogs that perform in activities such as agility and fly ball.
"The good news is that stretching is something you can learn to do yourself and is also a great way to spend extra time bonding with your dog," he says.
Mr Norris advises learning some stretches from a canine professional to ensure you are doing them correctly.