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Workout Wednesdays - The Push Up

During this week's Workout Wednesdays feature, Dr. Eide focuses on the push up exercise to strengthen your dog's front end.


Last Workout Wednesday we focused on the hind end of the dog and while those exercises will help strengthen the jumping performance of your dog, we must remember to keep your dog balanced. This week we will focus on strengthening the front end in the sagittal plane to seek that balance. This is the same plane we worked in for the Sit to Stand; it works basic flexion and extension exercises and movement forward and backward. Looking at how the front limbs are used in competition in this plane tells us we will be strengthening the dogs ground speed and protecting the joints for landing jumps and stopping in the two on two off position. To do this, there are two movements or two types of push ups the dog most be able to do; the Play Bow Push Up and the Nose Touch Push Up. The Play Bow is much easier than the Nose Touch, but they are of equal importance to your dogs conditioning. 

To start the push up process, remember those foundation behaviors of a Sphinx Down and a Stand. Begin with the dog in a sphinx down. Make sure the dog is symmetrical. If your dog consistently rocks to one side or extends a leg, I would recommend having a sports physical done to make sure there is not a mild injury or sore muscle present. When the dog is in the sphinx down, ask them stand back up. The movement should look like folding down and then unfolding back up. The paws do not move. You can use an elevated board or aerobics bench to help the dog understand this process. Use this movement as an exercise while teaching the next behaviors you need for the push up.

Teach your dog a play bow and a nose touch between front paws to start the development of both push ups. The play bow push up will target the Latissimus muscles and help with ground speed and using the front legs to help with jump take off. It is important to remember that the form of the play bow should have the front limbs extended. The elbow and shoulders should be in extension. If your dog has a very straight front this will be difficult and you may start with the elbows slightly flexed. This is one exercise where the top line will not remain neutral; there will be some flexion in the spine. This is not of concern as we are not holding this position; the dog does the play bow and then stands back up.

The nose touch target between front legs will work the Triceps, the Biceps, the Supraspinatus, and Infraspinatous Muscles. This is great for protecting the shoulder joint when stopping in a two on two off position and when landing a jump. This exercise is much easier to accomplish with the hind legs elevated, so this exercise will be progressed more quickly than the Play Bow Push Up. Make sure your dog keeps proper form during this exercise. Just like with people doing a push up, there are many ways to cheat. Make sure you see the elbows flex and extend. You will not get full elbow range of motion, but thats okay. Remember that for this exercise the top line should stay in a neutral position.

Once your dog understands the Play Bow, start turning it into an exercise by adding repetitions and sets. I like to start with threee sets of 10 reps every other day. When your dog understands the nose touch push up, turn it into an exercise as well. Remember it takes 8-12 weeks to strengthen the muscles, so do not progress too fast! Make sure your dog can maintain proper form. The basic progression of these exercises is to elevate the hind end by adding the foundation behavior of the rear paw target. Add instability and you are engaging the core as well. Because the Play Bow Push Up already has spinal flexion in the movement, I do not like to greatly elevate the hind end on this exercise. I would rather make it more challenging by adding the foundation behavior of All 4 Paws Targeted with something unstable like a FitPAWS® Peanut.

Now that we have learned the basic exercises of the front end and hind end in the Median/Sagittal Plane, we will focus next week on the Transverse Plane. This is important for all the turning our dogs do and the weave poles. This will help for protection of the hip and shoulder joints.

Until next time, remember to have fun with your dog and listen to what they are telling you. While these exercises might seem simple to you, they could bring a weakness to light.

For other articles in this series, visit:

Part One: Getting Started (8/26/15)

Part Two: The Sit to Stand (9/9/15)

Leslie Eide, DVM, CCRT, FitPAWS® Master Trainer" Instructor, graduated from Colorado State University's Veterinary School in 2006. She completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine in Albuquerque, NM. She continued her education by becoming certified in canine rehabilitation through the Canine Rehab Institute with a focus in sports medicine. She continues to learn more about rehabilitation, sports medicine and pain management through daily practice and continuing education seminars.

In the agility world, Leslie has trained two dogs to their ADCH, one to ADCH Bronze, ATCH2, and MACH. Three of her dogs have qualified and competed at USDAA Nationals with multiple Grand Prix Semi-final runs. She currently competes with three dogs in agility.

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