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Canine Workouts -- The Push Up

Dr. Eide focuses on the push up exercise to strengthen your dog's front end.


While focusing on the hind end of the dog will help strengthen the jumping performance of your dog (see last week's Canine Workout), we must remember to keep your dog balanced. This week we will focus on strengthening the front end in the sagittal plane to seek 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. 

There are two movements or two types of push ups for the dog -- 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 dog's 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 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 that's 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 three 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 challengin

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