60 % of the body’s weight when standing is carried by the dog’s front. It is also responsible for deceleration when stopping, turning on land or to pick up a ball, before turns or a stopped contact and for going through weaves in agility, when picking up a ball in flyball, or a dumbbell in obedience, for going downstairs, downhill, and jumping off objects, for example out of the car, or from the sofa.
Engaged in quite a lot of activities, right?
This is why a strong front plays a big role in performance in sports such as agility, flyball, obedience, frisbee, and canicross as well as in everyday life.
Because the front limb is attached to the body not by a joint but by muscle, it is more prone to injury.
Approximately 32 % of dog agility athletes develop an injury.*
*(Cullin et al. BMC Veterinary Research, 2017, 13:68)
The shoulder region in particular is considered to be one of the most frequently injured areas in the front end.
By improving the strength in your dog’s shoulders (triceps, biceps, pectorals, upper thoracic musculature), as well as toes and wrists, you can provide support to joints and connective tissues at decelerations, landings, and when changing directions in sports performances, and therefore help to minimize risk of potential injury.
Did you know the forces on landing after a jump are 3-5x greater than the dog’s body weight?
I’ll let you do the math and count how many times the dog lands after a jump during a single Agility training, for example.
Or perhaps imagine how many times the dog is stopping on cue or quickly turning when picking up a dumbbell at full speed in Obedience, or taking the ball from the box in Flyball, or simply jumping off the sofa to say hello?
What can I do to help with injury prevention?
- Ensure good overall physical preparation and strength in the dog’s front end through strengthening exercises.
- Improve the range of motion in the joints with active flexibility exercises.
- Provide effective warming up before any activity and proper cool-down after
A simple but effective weight distribution exercise is simply elevating the hind end by teaching your dog to step with his hind feet on an object, keeping front feet lower.
When standing in this position, the dog shifts more weight to the front end, loads this body part more, and strengthens the weight bearing postural muscles.
Don’t forget about the importance of reward placement and focus of the dog here as it can significantly change the outcome of the performed exercise!
Remember what we talked about with regard to head positioning in the Know-how for dog fitness: Understanding weight distribution is the key blog post?
If we want to increase the work in the front end, we can include several different active movements that additionally engage and dynamically strengthen front end musculature.
Watch this video, and see how the front end is engaged during different activities, and learn also the High 5 exercise, Front feet stepping side to side and Play bow to stands!