It’s National Dog Training Month!
During my self proclaimed Exercise Week, I wanted to be sure to address exercising when we’re living with dog mobility problems. Sydney and Rodrigo have arthritis, which makes exercising a difficult task as we balance getting to get them the exercise they need with keeping them from causing further injury. Rodrigo’s arthritis is under control thanks to the supplements he munches on daily. Sydney has started displaying arthritis and until the supplements start working their magic, she’s on minimal exercise (much to her chagrin).
“Joints hurt because they are unstable. Why are they unstable? There is a weakness in the muscles and tendons that cross the joint. So, how do we increase strength in those muscles and tendons? Exercise, pain control, chiropractic, acupuncture, nutraceuticals, massage, therapeutic laser, swimming, weight control, good food – anything that decreases inflammation in the body.” ~ Dr. Cathy Alinovi
Exercise and Dog Mobility Problems
So what’s a fur mom to do? I reached out to the pet professional community to get some tips to soak in and share with you.
Amy Robinson, a professional dog trainer, and has experience with her own dog who had a spinal disease that slowly rendered the rear legs useless. Amy reminded me that we have learn as much about our dog’s injury / condition as possible so that we can understand the limitations it entails. “If it is spinal, for example, avoid bending the back in any way. Stairs can also be a problem.”
Walking and Dog Mobility Problems
“Walking is usually a safe bet, but you may need to maximize the benefits since your dog can’t go as far as he’d probably like, and the same-old trudge down the street isn’t a thrill anymore. Drive him to a nature trail or shopping area with lots of visual treats. For a rest, sit on a bench and watch the world go by. Bring biscuits to keep him engaged with you. This will not cost the dog too much physically, but will tire him out so he dreams of fun times with you at home.” ~ Amy Robinson
Dr. Cathy Alinovi shared that “if your dog hurts to go for a walk, don’t take him or her for a walk. BUT, motion inhibits pain – directly at the level of the spinal cord. It works because as we move our muscles, the muscles send information to the spinal cord and brain via big nerves. These big nerve signals travel quickly so get there first and block the pain signal that comes in on a small, slow neuron. Bottom line – gotta use it.”
This also explains why Sydney does well on a walk and then is limping like a pirate an hour after she comes back home. It’s so easy to allow her to overdo it, because she’s doing so well and having fun, but we can’t always trust our dogs to tell us when they’ve had enough, because (1) they’re having fun and (2) they want to please us. Dr. Alinovi reminded me that “if it’s worse afterwards, then you did too much.” Sad Panda. But we all know that our dogs will forgive us.
So How Much is Too Much?
The trick is to take it slowly. Instead of starting with a 3 mile walk, start with a ½ mile; if that’s too much, then take a shorter walk tomorrow. If it’s great, then you can work up to ¾ mile walk, but do it slowly.
What we’ve done for Sydney is reduce the walks to ½ mile. Then later in the day, we’ll walk around our property. We live on 5 acres and it’s not completely flat. There are plenty of places for her to walk up and walk down (at a gentle incline/decline) as we make the loop. Rodrigo has been great at doing is job of protecting Sydney from Blue who wants to play. Sydney plays at first, but quickly tires out and Rodrigo steps in to take over. He’s so smart.
One of us takes Blue and Rodrigo on a separate walk while the other keeps Sydney at home. She’s not happy with being left behind, but it’s best for her in the long run and it’s not forever.
Exercise the Body and the Brain
Amy shared that it’s important to exercise a dog’s body and the brain during a time of limited mobility. For the brain part, my boyfriend and I play a game where we hide treats beneath a bowl or cup and let the dogs figure out how to get the treat. Blue always wins, but Sydney figures it out once she realizes mommy isn’t going to help.
A brain exercise Amy Robinson uses…
Start with the Classic Intel Test: place three paper cups on the floor and put a treat under one. Shift the order around then tell your dog, “Find it!” Watch for his personal style in unearthing the prize. Does he knock it over? Nose it aside? Or wait for you to help him out?
You can combine trick training with food offers, all while the dog is lying down. Show your dog the treat and then close it into your fist. Ask him to “Touch it!” and move your hand around in front of him until he decides to pin it down with his paw. Success! He’ll catch on fast to this one and enjoy pleasing you.
Adjust Our Dog’s Diet
We’ve adjusted Sydney’s diet, because she’s not burning the calories she was before her arthritis became an issue. The adjustment included decreasing our daily serving of kibble, reducing the number of treats she has (we know break up on treat and feed it to her over the course of the evening), and swapping “cookies” for carrots.
When I look at the serving suggestions on a bag of dog food, I ask myself what dog are those suggestions for? I super active dog, a dog with an average activity level, or a couch potato like our Sydney. I doubt that these suggestions are for the coach potato. Taking into account that we add Nature’s Balance to our dogs’ kibble and give them treats and carrots, it was easy for us to make the choice to reduce everyone’s daily kibble serving.
Another thing we’re considering is switching the dogs to a diet of balanced people food and I have a couple of cookbooks to help. In the meantime, we’re going to switch the dogs to a grain free Halo Pets kibble to decrease the carbs our Sydney is taking in daily.
If you have a dog with mobility issues, what changes have you made in diet and exercise to help your pup?