Dogs, just like humans, have what is known as the core, which are muscles in the trunk that wrap around the back, hips and abdomen; connect the upper and lower body; and provide support for most tasks. A strong core can help improve athletic ability, prevent injury and maintain balance. And, just like with humans, dogs also can do exercises to build up good core strength.
Get On The Ball!
One good device for such exercises is stability balls. They come in round and peanut shapes. The peanut shapes are more useful for dogs. The devices fit with a dog’s body shape; provide an adequate surface for a dog to train; and they allow the pet owner to stabilize the ball more easily. These balls are useful for stretching your dog’s back; working on gentle balance; and conducting exercises for weight shifting. They can also be used for teaching tricks, such as sitting and standing on the ball.
BOSU balls are like a round stability ball cut in half with a rigid, flat, plastic bottom. They can be used to help advance the difficulty of tricks; for exercises such as sitting, standing and high fives; encouraging weight shifting to build strength for the front or back legs; or as a wobble board, if the device is turned upside down. BOSUs can be purchased through most general stores or online.
Fitterfirst Classic Sit Discs
Fitterfirst Classic Sit Discs are shaped like a pancake filled with air. They can be used similarly to stability balls and BOSU, but they might provide an easier work-out for earlier phases of rehab post surgery, or for more arthritic animals. They may also be better for less-confident dogs, or those dogs who are just learning about these exercises. The discs are more stable on the ground.
These tools are great to help your dog work out in novel ways. If you are interested in adding them to your pup’s repertoire, consider seeking a rehabilitation professional in your area to help you learn how to do this safely. There are also educational DVDs, known as the “Get on the Ball” series, by Debbie Gross Saunders, who is a pioneer in the veterinary rehabilitation field.
Working with a ball can be a bit scary for the novice—so go slowly! Make sure that the ball is well-supported to prevent falls—this may take two people, initially. Use a large amount of positive reinforcement to help the dog build confidence.
These exercises are difficult, and the dog may get tired quickly. Start slowly, and give a day of rest between sessions, so any muscle soreness can subside. Be extra careful with dogs who have had surgery or who have arthritis.
With the proper introduction, consistent use and some creativity, dog owners can use these tools successfully to improve their dogs’ core strength and fitness. So go out there and have a ball!
This article was originally published in our Summer 2014 print issue.