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  • Writer's pictureSacha Packer

Not warming up a performance dog = mis-management

Whilst a performance dog handler understands that no human athlete would hit the field without a warm up preparing their body appropriately and then a cool down afterwards, they don't always treat their dogs like the elite athlete they're asking them to be because the dog seemingly is fine. Well, they're fine until they're not... Yes, dogs like to run and jump and often do not require any encouragement to do so, however, if you do not prepare their bodies for the activity you're asking them to partake in, you're increasing their risk of injury by 25% and that is not fair to them. A warm up also prepares the brain for what is about to happen, it puts your dog into working mode. A dog simply taken from their crate to the field is not mentally or physically ready to be on the field. Benefits of a warm up include:

  • Increases heart rate

  • Increases respiratory rate

  • Increases body core temperature

  • Increases blood pressure

  • Moves more blood around the body

  • Increases oxygen to the tissues

  • Increases lubrication and glide of muscle fibres

  • Increases range of motion of joints

  • Body becomes more supple, flexible & adaptable

  • Increases nerve impulses to travel faster

  • Increases mental alertness

  • Increased speed of muscle contraction

  • Increase energy production

So what do you need to do?

First, you start with just walking for about 10 minutes, this gets blood into the muscles and increases cardiovascular output, it also prepares the dog for the next phase of the warm up. A walk also allows the dog to go to the toilet, you do not want to take a dog onto the field who has not toileted as this will interfere with their performance and depending on the rules of your sport, it could have you DQ'd if your dog toilets on the field.

If the weather is very warm, then you may need to reduce this first phase of the warm up to 5 minutes - do not put a cool coat on your dog straight after a warm up, you can however use a silver mesh coat that simply reflects the sun light. Once the dog has cooled down, you can then introduce a cool coat if it's absolutely necessary. If the weather is cooler then do not skim on the 10 minute warm up, you'll also ideally pop a Back on Track coat onto the dog after the warm up and cool down for best results.

Phase 2 of the warm up is trotting/jogging - in the ideal word this would be 2-5 minutes however, many performance dog handlers are unfit/injured themselves and are unable to participate in this - for such handlers, I would recommend you learn to lunge your dog like a horse or try jogging for 30 seconds and then walking for 30 seconds and then jogging for 30 seconds etc. etc. and build up your own endurance. For training savvy handlers, using 2 platforms or cones far apart can be a good way for your dog to trot to/around these props without you jogging next to them.

Phase 3 is active stretching to increase muscle temperature and flexibility. Active stretching has been shown to reduce the risk of muscle tears and tendon rupture injuries, but also to boost muscle performance.

  • Dog is doing the muscle stretching and not the person i.e. not the human lifting the limb and stretching it Example of active stretching: Nose to hip stretches with a treat, high 5's etc.

  • Great for warm up Active stretching should be performed after the warm up walk and trot period when the muscles are oxygenated and warm. Active stretching, in the form of running and practice jumps, has a positive effect on muscle performance. Active stretches are great because they reduce the chance that the muscle will be stretched beyond the dogs comfort zone like what can happen in static stretching where you take a limb and stretch it yourself.

Phase 4 is the last phase of the warm up, this is where you prepare the body for the type of activity the dog is about to do and we do this at slower speed and with less intensity. See following information for sport specific phase 4 activities.

Agility In agility, the dog may be jumping, fast turning, twisting, sprinting and ducking etc. Some helpful drills to consider:

  • Warm up jumps set low

  • Speed sprints

  • Fast turn exercises

  • Circle work

  • Shoulder & hip exercises i.e. bow, wave, high 5, tight turns, crawl

Jumping is shown to be the best active stretch to get explosive force and heat into muscles.

Lure Coursing

In Lure coursing, the dog may be performing sprints, fast turns, jumping etc. Some helpful drills to consider:

  • Warm up jumps (if jumps are included)

  • Speed sprints

  • Fast turn exercises

  • Shoulder & hip exercises - See Agility.

Flyball In Flyball events, the dog may be performing sprints, fast turns, jumping, extreme carpal extensions etc. Some helpful drills to consider:

  • Warm up jumps

  • Speed sprints

  • Fast turn exercises

  • Shoulder & hip exercises - See Agility

  • Forelimb and ligament exercises i.e. Cookie reach (pony bow), tug of war where the dog uses its front limbs to pull backwards, front feet on balance disc.

Working dogs i.e. IPO

Working dogs may be asked to perform sprints, fast turns, jumping, digging and biting etc. Some helpful drills to consider:

  • Tug of war

  • Neck stretches i.e. nose to shoulder, nose to ribs, lure head up, lure head down.

  • Fast turn exercises

  • Speed sprints

  • Shoulder & hip exercises - See Agility

Tug of war is particularly good for bite and neck strength.

A warm up will give you around 20 minutes grace, so if you're running within that period you're cool, if you're not, you'll need another warm up.

Cooling down is absolutely essential, do not take your dog from the field to a crate, you will need to walk with your dog to cool them down before you put them away, this may take 5-10 minutes. If you do not cool your dog down then you're increasing the risk of post activity soreness and injury.

What to avoid:

  • Taking your dog from the crate to the field.

  • Doing a short warm up just to say you did a warm up i.e. under 10 minutes.

  • Thinking tugging your dog from the crate to the field is enough.

  • Trusting a dog trainer who tells you a short warm up is fine, it's likely they're not trained in the how's and whys, if this is what they're suggesting.

  • Being lazy because so far you've gotten away with injury.

Thank you for taking the time to learn how to protect your canine athlete.

If you are interesting in learning about My Doggie Supplements for performance dogs, head here

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