Instructor: Debbie Gross
This will be the first in a 4 part series of classes focused on canine fitness and conditioning. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive program that will allow you to understand and safely implement an exercise program for dogs. We will review canine anatomy, canine conditioning and physiology, exercise physiology and science, movement and gait, nutrition, common canine conditions, and programs. This program will help you design a program for dogs – whether it is for overall health and fitness or for a specific sport and activity. Gold members will be eligible to go through the examination process to be awarded a certificate in canine fitness. Participants will need to check their own regulatory guidelines by the state and country and are fully responsible for their own limitations.
This 4-course series will be followed by a comprehensive examination given by Wizard of Paws, and a submission of four case studies. If the two portions are successfully completed, a Canine Fitness Trainer Certificate will be awarded. The title of Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer will be awarded, or CPCFT. (In the process of RACE investigation for the course series.) Only gold members will be eligible to complete the examination. IN ADDITION, GOLD MEMBERS NEED TO BE ACTIVE IN THE CLASS FOR AT LEAST 75% OF THE TIME TO BE ABLE TO SIT FOR THE EXAM.
This series will complement the K9 conditioning classes but will be more in-depth and cover everything in more detail, in addition to further topics.
Important note: In order to provide continuity in the 'demo' (Gold level) dogs, participants MUST purchase the Gold level for all four classes in the series at one time. The cost for all four courses is $949.
Target Audience: Persons interested in learning more on how to work on physical conditioning and exercise with dogs. Participants may be involved in dog training, exercise, or for their knowledge only. If you are interested in expanding your knowledge on canine fitness and taking it to another level – this program is for you! You may want to explore a different career and offer programs to clients, friends, or increase your ability to help your own dogs.
Next session starts: February 1, 2019Registration starts: January 22, 2019Registration ends: February 15, 2019
Registration will begin at 10:30 AM Pacific Time.
Enrollment limits: Gold: 15 students, Silver: 25 students, Bronze: unlimited.
Gold Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to post questions and videos to the course forums. Students will receive instructor feedback on written and video assignments.
Silver Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to participate in the discussion forum. Students may ask GENERAL questions about course materials and may submit two, one-minute videos for instructor feedback. Any questions specific to your dog MUST be accompanied by a video.
Bronze Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to read all questions and answers posted in the class forums. Students will not post questions or submit written or video assignments.
For more details, refund policies, and answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Registration for gold and silver levels for this class are for all four classes in the series at once. Bronze level students can register for the entire four-pack at a discount or can register for each class separately using the single bronze registration.
Gold level is sold out for the October 2018 session of this class.
Students may also purchase access to the first class in the series. You will have to register again next term if you want to continue. This is available only at a bronze level, and you will not get a discount this way.
Safety and regulatory issues
Anatomy and physiology of the dog
Description of muscles and their activities
Structure and relation to activity
TotoFit will offer a discount on equipment for those taking the series!
It is HIGHLY recommended participants take at least one of the K9 Conditioning class series. This will assist with the participants' knowledge of canine fitness.
I am so glad you have decided to embark on this adventure of furthering your knowledge of canine anatomy, physiology, and fitness. I am confident this series of classes will continue to expand your knowledge base, and help you help our canine friends. I have been involved with working with dogs in rehabilitation and fitness for almost twenty years now, and I can honestly write that I do learn something new almost every single day. Whether it is a new training technique to help with their fitness, something new about a breed of dog, or some condition, it always fascinates me. I hope this program helps you learn each day as well.
I always look at working with dogs as a puzzle that requires us to step outside of the box. Just as with behavior and training, working with weaknesses to figure out why they occur is similar to a puzzle. Dogs give us glimpses as to what is going on and it's up to us to put the pieces together. Very rarely do we get it in the first meeting with the dog and the owner. It usually takes a few visits to figure things completely out and to understand the best training/guiding approach to the dog.
As the instructor, I think the most important thing I can do is convey information to you in a manner in which you understand. Everyone learns at a different rate and in different manners. So, my first rule is if you have a question or a concern, please bring it up. Chances are someone else is thinking the same thing. Or to paraphrase that famous saying: the only stupid question is the one not asked. I have also found once you inquire about something specific, the answer will always stay in your head.
The second rule is more of a suggestion: try to borrow or buy a canine anatomy book to go along with the class. It is not necessary, but it will be a useful tool for you to refer to as we are talking about different body parts. You can also look it up on the internet and print things out, but I have found it is often nice to have a few different views of the same thing. For example, when we speak about the iliopsoas muscle, I think it is helpful to look at it from many different angles. There are a variety of versions you may look at – a coloring book version, a cadaver version, or a drawn version. I will be posting things in the forum as well.
The third rule: have fun as you are learning things. I am a firm believer that learning should be fun and interesting. Keep an open mind with things and try to understand them rather than memorize them. Everything makes sense; you just have to let your mind think about it. Think outside that box – that is how we will learn!
The fourth rule is (hopefully) a common sense thought. It is something I will reiterate in many different ways throughout the course because it is so important: every living thing has 100% of its movement. Think about this for a moment. Each component of the dog's body contributes to its overall movement. For example, the dog's neck or cervical region helps the dog look around. If that movement is compromised, the dog will get that motion from somewhere else. The best human example I can give you is that of a group of older people parking and backing up in a senior parking lot. Over age, many people lose the range of motion in their neck or cervical area and have a difficult time turning their heads to back up their car. They either rely or their mirrors and back up cameras, or turn their whole body around to see where they are going. If they turn their whole body around to see where they are going, they compensate with their thoracic spine. Unfortunately, most of the time they also turn the wheel and can potentially cause an accident.
Compensations are made throughout the dog's body when there is a decrease or an increase in movement somewhere. Always think about this when looking at a dog. If the dog has decreased movement in their shoulder, such as with shoulder reach or extension, how will their body compensate? Very often, it is in their cervical, thoracic, or cervical-thoracic region. The same holds true if there is increased movement somewhere; the body will compensate somewhere by tightening up the movement. For example, hip dysplasia causes an increased movement in the hips. The body will look to stabilize the region and often the lower back or the lumbar spine compensates. We will talk about this principle quite a bit throughout the series, but I would like you to start thinking about different compensations you make in your body, and the compensations the dogs around you make.
The Basics - Introduction
Dogs are such an integral part to so many of our lives that it is easy to forget that a dog is actually so much more complicated than it appears. We know there are hundreds of breeds of dogs, and thousands of combinations of breeds. Each dog has their own consideration when it comes to their bodies, their demands, and then what activities we are asking of them. Each owner will have a different goal for their dog, and you may need to consider if that is a realistic goal or not. Working on strengthening may vary significantly from dog to dog. You may be working with one dog to help it develop the strength to walk with their owner outside to eliminate while your goal with another dog may be to build up her strength enough to compete in a six hour field trial. So, each time we have to look at the entire dog. And that means everything about the dog from head to toe – literally. If that sounds overwhelming, the following list will help break that down. Think about the following each time you look at a dog, whether you are training the dog, conditioning the dog, or looking at your own dog.
- What breed is the dog you are working with? Do you understand this breed? There are many different types of breeds out there, so do not be afraid to ask the owner more about the breed if it is new to you. I always find I learn so much from breeders that have been an integral part of the breed than I ever would from the Internet or from a book.
- Does the dog fit the breed description of what they are supposed to do? For example, I know many border collies that never read their breed description and have no idea they are supposed to herd sheep. The same thing goes for Labrador retrievers that cannot swim, or Portuguese water dogs that cannot work!
- What is the age of the dog? We will talk more about age later on because it is such an important factor in considering their activity level and what they can and SHOULD be able to do. This is particularly important with puppies, growing dogs, and senior dogs. In addition, there are many things that may age a dog. I always joke that we are probably all guilty of this at least a few times - we think that someone is much older than they actually are. You think they are celebrating the big 5-0, when it is really the big 3-5! And the opposite is also true – how often do we meet someone that looks 35 but is actually 50? Body structure, hereditary, diet, exercise, and the elements of life all contribute to the appearance of aging.
- Is the dog spayed or neutered? And at what age was this performed with the dog? We will not get into a huge discussion right now about the right and wrong of spaying and neutering, but it is a physiological factor to consider. Hormones and their contribution to muscle mass, weight gain/loss, and growth plates have to be a consideration in your training program when looking at development.
- What is the owner capable of? I often think we forget to consider the owner and what they are able to do with their dog. One owner and their dog that will always resonate in my mind is a young border collie and an owner in her early 70’s. The owner was quite active and bought the Border collie to perform agility with and she had high goals for her dog. Well, the dog needed an extensive surgery that required a great deal of rehabilitation and fitness if she wanted to get back to the prior level of activity. The other option was no surgery and a quieter life of hiking and running in the fields. The owner was talked into surgery, never really understanding the full implications of everything. Halfway into the rehabilitation and exercises, the owner wound up collapsing from sheer exhaustion. The dog could only do leash walks – but it was three thirty minute walks a day. The owner just could not handle the activity or the exercises. The dog wound up never fully recovering and was placed in a new home. I know this is an extreme example, but we want to always think about what the owner can handle mentally and physically at home with any type of exercise program. Design a program that will fit both the owner and the dog.
- What are the goals of the owner and are they realistic? I have so many stories of people coming in with their basset hound and wanting to make the national agility team, or with their Bichon Frise that they want to do herding with. I am a firm believer that anyone can do anything they set their mind to. However, we are the ones that should be the voice of reason for our dogs. Some dogs and breeds are not as suitable for some activities as others. Recreational agility may be wonderful for the basset hound, but extreme competition will not. I have found that setting realistic goals is often the most difficult thing to talk with owners about. I often encourage people to go in another, safer direction rather than stopping all activity. So, with that basset hound, I may encourage weekly classes, but encourage barn hunts, fieldwork, or tracking. Having those honest conversations with owners about what they would like to do with their dog is so important. I always like to do this right from the start of our meetings. I always phrase it so the owners understand what the healthy, best options are, and what may take the dog and owner out of the safety box or comfort zone for health.
- The weight of the dog will always be a concern with exercising and this will also be a reason many dogs will need to pursue a fitness regime. We will be going over body condition scores, weight, and measurements in the program. Looking at the dog's weight and overall condition and how it relates to their function is crucial. If weight loss is the goal, we want to make sure we are doing a safe weight loss program and not losing muscle mass as we take weight off.
- The overall health of the dog – there are many considerations when looking at the dog's health. We will go over warning signs that should always trigger further investigation. Besides orthopedic and musculoskeletal problems, it is important to look at the metabolic system, cardiac and respiratory system, and overall health. I do ask that owners have an updated physical with their dogs, as well as baseline blood work to rule out any potential problems. I like copies of this for my records. I also like to foster good communication with the veterinarians indicating the dog is beginning a fitness program with a list of their goals.
When we look at the above eight points, I think it is important to understand that overall fitness is multifactorial. There are so many considerations to think about and put into place. It is the same thing with people regarding diet and fitness. Someone may have a difficult time losing weight and getting in shape due to many reasons; it could be related to a low or hypothyroid, poor diet, lack of sleep, or stress. The same holds true for dogs. I have seen dogs lose weight and condition due to health issues, the stress of another dog in the house hold, the stress of an illness with the owner, a new training schedule, and much more. The same holds true for weight gain. It is amazing how many excuses I have heard from owners on why their dogs are gaining weight – and this does often point to owners’ behavioral habits. However, weight gain may be secondary to a medical condition, changes in exercise patterns due to other dogs or weather conditions, changes in food, changes in feeding cycle, or other alterations in the environment.
There are many things to think about when setting up an exercise program for a dog besides the obvious fitness. I would suggest setting up a systematic questionnaire for the fitness client that works for you. I will share a sample one with you. I usually have the owners fill it out, and then I review it carefully with them while taking notes. I spend about thirty minutes talking with the owner and the dog, establishing goals, expectations, and just getting to know both of them before we start looking at the dog and working. This is a valuable time to work together, to try to understand the relationship between the two of them, and learn what they expect from you.
When we are working with our own dogs, we are obviously not going to set things up the same way, but we do want to realistically ask ourselves what our goals are. Be honest and be considerate of what you can do with your dog. I always ask this of myself and the owners/trainers I am working with. I have a 4-½ year old male clumber spaniel. I had lost my first clumber spaniel before he was 3 to IMHA (immune mediated hemolytic anemia). I was absolutely crushed, and it came on the heels of suddenly losing my father. Well, Bogart quickly came into my life and I decided I was going to do everything with this little guy. I was prepping him for the show ring and wanted to take a shot at showing him myself. I was also anxious to take a shot at fieldwork with him. He has been doing core work since he was eight weeks old, maintaining perfect weight, eating well, taking supplements, and getting good exercise and play time.
Then he pulled up lame about fourteen months of age. I had him at my orthopedic friend that afternoon and learned that his right hip is moderately dysplastic. I was deflated and found myself in talks about total hip replacements. It took some time for me to realize that he had only been lame once in his life and that his quality of life was excellent. If I made some adjustments to his life and treated him as I would one of my clients, things would be much different. I reassessed my goals. Showing him was out of the question; due to the hip, I knew I would not breed him. Fieldwork was still a possibility as long as I controlled him. And I knew, the stronger his hips and his core were, the better chance he would have to remain functional, happy, and sound. Right now, he is on a regular core program, we walk three to five times a week for anywhere from two to four miles, his weight is great, and he is able to do everything he could possibly want. Surgery is not in my thoughts because he is not in pain, has a great life, and is completely functional. He jumps on the bed every morning, plays with our other dog, and loves life.
It is important to look at the quality of life of the dog and what makes both the dog and the owner happy. Sometimes goals have to be re-established, but there are always adaptations that may occur. The primary goal should always be that the dog has the best quality of life for the longest time possible. That is a big statement because it examines all aspects. A young dog should not be expected to push through open growth plates to achieve an early agility title only to wind up crippled and lame at the age of eight.
A few years ago, a wonderful woman brought in her dog Leo for a fitness and rehab program. At the time, Leo was an eight-year-old male neutered beautiful black Labrador retriever. He had severe elbow dysplasia and had been dealing with the dysplasia since he was about two years old. He had also developed hip dysplasia, so he was essentially dealing with four flat tires – problems on all four limbs. He was at his pharmaceutical ceiling – or everything he could take from a drug standpoint. He was referred in for laser therapy, but also a program for strengthening and building up his stamina. His owner wanted him to be able to continue walking around the house with her, walking in her gardens when the weather was good, and be happy.
In part of the initial talks we had, I had asked her what made Leo happy. She described that he loved to greet her at the door, eat, walk around with the tennis ball in his mouth, and play with her other dog, as well as a few of he dogs in the neighborhood. During our initial talk, she started to cry and she shared that the referring veterinarian had recommended euthanasia because Leo was on all of the medications he could take and do not know what else to do. We reviewed his happy list and at that time, Leo was completely happy and leading a great quality of life. And the owner was as well. I explained that if something changes, we can look at the list again and then she could make decisions. It is now two years later, and Leo is still involved in a strengthening program twice a week. He comes in for core work and the underwater treadmill. When we do rechecks, we review his happy list and the owner is thrilled that both of them have a good quality of life.
Every dog and owner will have a happy list. The owner may tell you the dog is only happy when he is herding – so how can you strengthen and modify his life to make sure he stays herding for as long as possible? It may not always be a possibility due to a variety of factors, but if modifications can be made, that will be your job.
The first rule of exercise is do no harm. And that holds true both during and after. We do not want to follow a principle of no pain, no gain. If the pain is present during an activity, very simply, the brain will decrease the activity to that area and the muscles actually decrease their activity. This is a protective response present in every animal. Pain and inflammation will lead to weakness, and the weakness during movement will lead to more pain and inflammation. I always explain this to owners so they understand why we do not want to do something that hurts. Dogs will do almost anything for their owners, including pushing through the pain.
In my world, if the dog is avoiding something, I assume physical before behavioral. For example, in agility, if the dog who always performs their A frames starts refusing them, I am going to assume it is physical. I have had owners assume that the dogs refused the A frame because they did not receive steak as a snack. I promise you, dogs do not think that way. (Although I do think that my dogs get mad at me when I travel!) Assume something is bothering/paining the dog if they refuse something. The same holds true for activities around the house. If the dog is all of sudden not jumping on the bed, there is most likely a reason for that other than they do not want to sleep with you.
The second rule is everything needs to be positive. We want the dogs to have fun with their exercises and their activities, not have negative associations with them. It may be difficult to introduce dogs to exercise equipment. I always start with lots of positive reinforcement and lots of treats to introduce them to things. We want to remove the fear and anxiety from the experience. Always try to think about what could potentially worry or stress a dog out and remove that stress if possible. Some breeds could not care less about a mirror in your office, while others will be very worried by that object. As an aside, make sure to ask owners if their dogs have any food allergies and if they would prefer to bring in their own treats for training.
If I want to introduce the dog to the disc, I will start by asking the dog to come near it and positively reinforce them each time with either a treat or a click if they are clicker trained. I do not want to rip them over by the collar. It sounds funny but I see it very often. I will place the treats on the top of the disc and let them start taking steps up on it. Again, I may use a clicker if appropriate.
As I mentioned, some dogs may easily adjust to it while others take a little longer. Dogs that are food motivated have an easier time with it. There is a relatively new movement in veterinary medicine in the United States called "Fear Free." This approach helps professionals involved with animals take an approach at all treatments and services to decrease any stress on the dog and help eliminate the fear involved with sometimes negative experiences. I will be weaving these thoughts and principles in throughout the series.
The third rule is everything needs to be safe. Safety includes:
- The environment – The work out area should be as stress free as possible with minimal distractions. Other animals and people may be a source of stress. Calming music or even no music at all may be appropriate, as opposed to loud music that will distract all parties involved. If the dog is toy driven, the area should be free of toys, balls, etc.
- The collars - I recommend harnesses when working on most fitness equipment. The harnesses should be properly fitting, allow full movement of the shoulders and the upper and lower spine, and be comfortable. Two of my favorite are the Comfort Flex harness and the harnesses from FitPaws. The FitPaws are for working only and are a bit more expensive, while the Comfort Flex harnesses can be left on dogs for regular daily activities. Find one you can comfortably use with your dog safely so he can be easily guided and assisted on the equipment. Regular collars place too much strain on the cervical region and you do not want to pull or tug at the neck. Under no circumstances should a prong collar be permitted while working.
- The equipment – There are so many types of equipment we will be using throughout the course. Homemade equipment is fine, but must be safe and strong enough to handle the dog's weight and movement. The surfaces of the equipment are crucial and should be safe for the dog's feet and body. We do not want them to be too slippery unless that is a specific goal for the dog, and we do not want them to be harmful to their pads. Many of the discs, peanuts, balls, etc., may be purchased through human distributors. For some dogs, this is absolutely fine. However, many of these products have not been tested on dogs and may not be able to withstand the pressure of the nails. I do use some human equipment, and you will see it throughout the videos and the photos. I will gladly share what has worked and what I have had failures with.
- The mood of the dog – One of the first questions I ask before beginning a session is if everything is normal with the dog that day. Everyone has an off day, including dogs. If something is off or the dog is just not right, I want to make sure that is respected. The dog may have gotten into something the night before and is experiencing some stomach discomfort. If you had an upset stomach, you probably will not be in to working out. It will be important to decide if the dog is really up to exercising that day. Pain may cause aggression and should always be considered.
- The mood of the owner – Dogs often pick up on their owner's moods. If the owner is in a bad mood, be aware that the dog may also be in a bad mood and your session may not be that successful. You may want to try to do things that do not involve too much of the owner that day, or try to reschedule the session.
- Your mood – Let’s face it, we all have our bad moods. If the client and dog that just left made you crazy, tried to bite you, or used your last ounce of patience, recognize that and try to decide if you can work with the next dog safely. Sometimes, recognizing you have been through a stressful experience and giving yourself some time to decompress is important. You will be exerting a lot of energy working with people and dogs and it is important to give yourself some time to recharge and be kind and fair to yourself. Try not to schedule appointments back to back without a break. I used to do this to try to get as much work done in a day, and after twenty years, realized it is not the best thing for me or for the people and animals I work with. We all need a break.
- The temperature/climate – The temperature inside and outside needs to be factored in. Dogs may be lethargic with high tempertures outside, even if they are working out inside. Very cold weather requires more warm up before exercising. If the dog is in the car on the way to exercise, they have probably been sitting in a car that is not as warm as your office or work out area. They will require about five more minutes of warm up than with regular weather. The tempertures for outdoor exercise will need to be respected. The extremes of heat can have deleterious effects on the dog so outdoor exercise will need to be adjusted.
Keep in mind, some of the things the dogs do will be out of their comfort zone and even frightening for them. We are asking them to take risks and we want them to know we will assist them if needed and protect them.
Each state in the United States is a little bit different with regard to their regulatory and licensing issues when it comes to working with animals. With regard to canine training, it is important to look at your knowledge, your individual laws, and practice acts. Since you will be working with animals with an exercise program, it will be important to look a the state veterinary practice acts to determine if you are legally allowed to touch and work with animals. For example, in the state of New York in the United States, only a licensd veterinarian technician and veterinarian can work with a dog if there is any treatment involved. Exercise is not treatment if involved with training, however you do want to make sure you are respectful of your knowledge, your ability, and if something crosses the line of treatment. We will be discussing many red flags and when to recommend your client sees a licensced veterinarian. A good rule of thumb is if you have any doubt on how the dog is feeling, send them in for a check.
Some basics to start with during the first week:
Whenever I work with a dog – regardless if it is a high-level show dog, eight-week-old pup, or fifteen-year old-dog – the first thing I look at is if the dog can stand squarely and still for ten seconds. This "four on the floor" test will give you a significant amount of information in ten seconds. Dogs normally place sixty to seventy percent of their weight on their forelimbs or front legs, and thirty to forty percent on their back or hindlimbs. With that in mind, observe the following:
- Are they able to hold the stand for ten seconds without sitting or lying down?
- Are they shifting more weight on their forelimbs?
- Are they shifting more weight on their hindlimbs?
- Are they avoiding putting a good deal of weight on one of their limbs?
- What does their topline look like?
Holding a stand for ten seconds is not that long but is still challenging for many dogs. Older dogs may not have the strength and the endurance to stand very long. Puppies may either be too busy to stand still or they may not be comfortable in their body. Adolescent or growing dogs often have a difficult time feeling comfortable in their body. Think about teenagers at the mall or in front of their high school; they are usually standing to one side or slumped down. They are very uncomfortable in their bodies in both a physical and emotional sense. But an adult dog that cannot hold a stand for ten seconds should alert you there is a weakness and potentially a problem.
Dogs that shift more than sixty to seventy percent of their weight on to the forelimbs most likely have problems or weakness in their hindlimbs and/or their spinal areas. For example, dogs with cruciate (knee) problems or a dysplastic hip will transfer more weight on to the forelimbs to take the stress off the painful area. You may certainly be able to see this, If the dog is not placing a lot of weight on one of their legs, you should be able to see it. It may be very drastic, or slight. View how their feet are sitting. Dogs not placing all of their weight on their leg will not extend or reach with their feet as much as the weighted feet. If you struggle to see this, there are static force plate devices that will assist you with the percentages. They often run approximately a few thousand dollars; the poor man’s method is to buy four bathroom scales and ask the dog to stand on them with each foot. This will give you an indication of where their weight is. Another method to determine the weightbearing is to see how difficult it is to lightly pick up each foot. A dog with minimal weight on a limb will allow their leg to easily be lifted up.
In the first photo of the brindle pit bull, you can see the dog is standing under himself with an arched topline. He has bilateral stifle or knee disease, as well as very straight stifles. Structure plays a role here, and we will discuss that in future courses. In the second photo, the jack russel is standing under herself and you can see a little bit of an arched topline. Dogs of her breed should have a flat topline; she is altering that topline due to weakness in her stifle or knee region. The third photo is that of a high level hunting dog that is accustomed to running three to four hours a day in the field. This photo was taken after a two hour run in the field. You can see she is not placing all of her weight on the right hindlimb, indicated by moving it forward. She is weaker in the right hindlimb and is having tightness in the right hip flexor and quadriceps.
Here are a few videos of different dogs standing for ten seconds. The first is an eight month old pup; he can hold his stand, but what do you notice about his topline? The still shot of him is below. He is only eight-months-old and this may very well be a matter of simply strengthening his body. His core is very weak and the only exercise he has had has been playing with the other dogs in the house. The second video is a twelve-year-old dog with signficant weakness in both his front legs and his back legs. He is an interesting case, and strengthening will be key. His problems started with hip dypslasia, which led to problems in his back, and the compensations have now lead to problems in his neck and subsequent weakness in his front legs. He is a complicated case that will do best with a combination of rehabilitation and fitness, but I also thought he was a great example because of how weak his core is. And the third is a young border collie mix that had a neugological issue and needs more strength in her rear. You can tell she is standing with those rear legs too far under her.
Dogs that shift more of their weight on to their hindlimbs typically have a problem with their front limbs. It may be elbow dysplasia, shoulder problems, or spinal issues. The cervical or neck region is also an area that may cause the transfer of weight on to the hindlimbs.
The dog's topline is a huge indicator of what is going on with the dog. There are three types of toplines: level, sloping, and arched. Most dogs have a level or flat topline. Historically, these are for dogs that are used to moving at a walk and a trot as their primary gait pattern. Most sighthounds have an arched topline; these dogs use a gallop as their primary gait. A sloping topline is seen in properly bred German shepherd dogs and leads to their flying trot movement.
It is important to recognize what a dog's normal topline is. I always ask owners to take photos of their dogs throughout their life and include two side views, a view from the front, and a view from the back. These should be repeated at least every six months, but more often if the dog is participating in an exercise program and/or a sport.
Toplines may be altered for many reasons – including weakness, poor conformation, poor posture, pain, age, growth issues, or internal issues. There is no real answer for topline changes, but it is part of the of puzzle we put together whenever we look at a dog. A dog with an abrupt change in topline may be experiencing an abdominal issue such as bloat, diarrhea, or stomach pain. This is, of course, an immediate referral to their veterinarian. Changes may also be due to an injury in one of their limbs. For example, an acute (sudden) iliopsoas problem can cause an abrupt change in the dog's topline as he shifts his weight to the front legs.
The Leonberger below is only ten-months-old, and he had a tough time standing for ten seconds. You can see in the photo that his rear is much higher than his front. Almost like a race car appearance! He is still growing into his body and adjusting to his growth process. He continues to change in his appearance and probably will continue to do so as he matures. We are working on hindend awarenss and strength. The above photo of the Weimeraner puppy is the same thing - we are hoping he changes as he matures and strengthens.
The Portuguese Water dog has a dip in her topline. Part of this is secondary to a weak core and inactivity. She should have a flat topline as a Portuguese Water Dog.
These are still shots of the 12-year-old Weimaraner in the video above. As I mentioned, he is a complicated case, but I wanted to show him to you to illustrate significant weakness. As we move on, the weakness will not be so obvious with some of the dogs. Look at this dog's shoulders and the dip in his spine coming off his shoulder blades. In the second photo, you can see the dips in the shoulder blade region, as well as that elbow turning out. If a case like this walks in to you for fitness without seeing a veterinarian, it is imperative you demand they see a veterinarian for a work up. We will talk more about him in the coming weeks.
As you are working with a dog, a weakness may become evident. As you challenge the dog, it is important to notice if this happens. In the below video, Bogart is working on balance and stabilization. Focus on the right hip and you can see as he fatigues. He begins to turn the right hip out into external rotaation as well as transfer more weight on to the left front.
It is an excellent idea to take photos of your dogs and your clients’ dogs before and after starting an exercise program. Below is a wonderful photo of a dog named Cricket. The before photo is right before she and her owner started the K9 1 conditioning class, and the after photo is six weeks later, at the end of the class. You can see how much her topline changed and what a difference core exercises made. The first photo is before and the second one after. I love seeing the changes in dogs with a bit of work!
Some great blogs to start with:
A SAMPLING OF WHAT PRIOR STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THIS SERIES ...
I am so excited this course is now being offered. I have researched other canine fitness trainer courses and none seemed as thorough as this. I am grateful we had an opportunity to sign up for all four at once so now I don't have to worry if I get in the next class or not. I have already learned so much and this is just the first level of four! I am also happy with the fact that there will be a certification opportunity after the class. Lisa H.
Fantastic course and instructor!!
Debbie Gross does an excellent job providing feedback and making the learning environment welcoming and fun.
Thank you Debbie, I have loved every minute of the first part of the course and excited to learn more over the coming months :)
I am taking this for the second time and am STILL getting my money's worth.
Debbie is very responsive to her students. She stays on top of the class postings and her fast responses to homework and questions are very much appreciated.
Debbie Gross is beyond supportive and accommodating. Her knowledge base is astounding.
Debbie was fantastic, her feedback was so helpful and she was very quick to respond to posts.
This class has been GREAT! I am learning so much. I cannot wait for the rest of the series.