Active Stretches to Get Your Dog Ready for the Trails

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Active Stretches to Get Your Dog Ready for the Trails

Many of us love to live an active lifestyle with our dogs. Our canine companions are stoked to hit the trails with us, and we are lucky to live somewhere filled with natural, rugged beauty to explore. Most of our dogs are inclined to hit the ground running and will play hard from sunup to sundown if given the chance. Just like us, intense activity without proper warm-up can lead to torn muscles and ligaments over time. However, you can teach your dog how to perform active stretching to help their bodies prepare for the day's adventure. We'll show you a few tricks that we like to use to help our dogs stretch out and limber up.



Our Dog Models, Terra and Geo

First, what's the big deal with stretching anyway? Shouldn't dogs be designed to go from 0 to 60 at a moment's notice?

A muscle requires two things for good fitness and function, whether you are a dog or a human-strength and flexibility. Strength is a muscle's ability to generate power performed by contraction to move the body during activity. However, muscles have the greatest strength potential when they contract from an elongated position. When we focus on strengthening a muscle with repeated activity without also performing stretching, the muscle can become shortened. This not only reduces the potential power it can generate, but can also make it prone to tearing and injury. As a runner, I can relate-how many of us runners are prone to really tight hamstrings?

Many of our dogs stretch a little on their own (think of the play bow that your dog does when he first wakes up), but we can help them get more flexibility to prepare their bodies for more intense exercise and reduce injury. The good news is that it's also fun! Active stretching can be taught as "tricks" and allows the dog to stretch to his or her comfort while warming up.


1) Paws up

Ask or lure your dog to step up with their front paws on a bench, box, or stair. Have them alternate between standing neutral and reaching up after their paws are up for a treat. This helps stretch your dog's spine, hip flexors, shoulders, and elbows.



2) Cookie stretches and Figure 8s

Cookie stretches are like "doggy yoga" and are great for back flexibility. Bring a treat to your dog's nose, then guide them with the treat to bring their nose towards each hip, and reward when they reach. You can also guide them towards their toes for a further stretch. Start with immediately rewarding, but over time encourage your dog to hold the position for several seconds.

Another way to get your dog's back limber, especially if they are fit and don't have known back issues, is by teaching a "figure 8". Use a treat or toy to guide your dog to walk a figure 8 through your legs. You may have to start small-reward first when your dog walks between your legs, then for walking around one leg, and build up. Once your dog learns the pattern, you can advance them to walking several figure 8s at a time.



3) "High Five"

"High Five" and “Shake" for getting the shoulders and forelimb muscles stretching. There are two ways to teach this-you can start by gently grabbing your dog's paw while saying "high five" or "shake" then immediately reward, or you can hold a treat in your fist and wait for your dog to paw at it on his own, then immediately say "good shake" while rewarding. When your dog gives you the paw on command, then start encouraging your dog to reach higher up to touch your hand for a reward.


4) Backwards walking

Place a treat in front of the dog’s nose and then move the treat toward the dog’s chest (to help keep the dog's focus down while avoiding sitting). As the dog steps backward with a back foot, praise and give the treat. Over time, you'll be able to build up to walking several feet back. This is good for hind limb strength and stretch, especially hips and hamstrings.

You can line your dog up to a "corridor" using a couch/coffee table or a table/wall to help guide your dog in a straight line while teaching them this too

Pro tip: if you don't want messy hands, use a few treats in a kong that your dog can lick/chew on while guiding them through the stretches. If your dog is toy-motivated, you can also reward with play if you are worried about the extra calories.

If your dog has had injuries in the past, or has any medical conditions such as arthritis, hip/elbow dysplasia, or back issues, we recommend checking in with your vet to make sure that your dog can safely perform the activity or stretch first.

If you'd like a specially tailored active stretch plan for your dog, feel free to contact us to set up a consult.

See you on the trails!


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