Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Importance of Gait

Thursday, December 4th, 2014


Years ago I was getting a mini poodle ready for the excellent level of Rally-Obedience. He
needed to learn to heel backward. He had a beautiful forward heel. I assumed that it would
be easy to teach the backward heel. I was wrong. My error — I plunged head long into
teaching a skill without first making sure the dog could physically do what I was asking.
Rodeo was missing both the core strength and body awareness required to move
backward. It took several frustrating training sessions before I realized my mistake. If a dog
cannot physically do what you are trying to train, then you are training something else. In
this case, I taught Rodeo to hop backward from the sit, he looked more like a drunken frog
than a dog.

Building core strength and body awareness isn’t just for dogs in competition. All dogs
benefit from this approach to training.

Now I have an exercise and training schedule for each of my dogs. I spend time building
core strength and body awareness before I start working on specific training goals. I keep a
careful watch to make sure the dog can physically do what I am training, and I’m always
ready to adjust if things aren’t going as planned.

This is Quill, he is an 18 month old rough collie. He is a love of a dog and is very easily
distracted. We are working on sustained focus, both stationary and when moving. He is
learning to look up at me while moving forward. With limited distraction he is getting pretty
good. This photograph was taken near the start of a training session last weekend. He is
off leash and can track straight for about 30 feet before I risk losing his attention.


The photograph below was taken about 15 minutes later. Do you see the difference?


I still have Quill’s attention. His head is exactly where I want it. He is carrying his head in
almost the exact same position as the photo before, but something has changed. Quill is
no longer trotting, he is pacing. His right front leg and right rear leg are moving forward at
the same time. Once his right side hits the ground he will push off and then his whole left
side will move forward in unison. The pace is not a desired gait in the dog, at least not the
collie. There are several breeds where a pacing gait is more common and in the show ring
not faulted.

Why is Quill pacing, why does it matter and what should I do about it?

Dogs pace for a number of reasons. Structure, fitness, fatigue, injury or disease can cause
a dog to pace. A handler’s step can also cause this gait.

What is the most likely cause for Quill’s incorrect gait? The most logical explanation — weak
core muscles and a slow handler. Quill is a growing dog. The schedule I have mapped out
for him must not be meeting his needs. I need to add more to each workout. I also need to
change how I am moving. I’m short and I really need to move forward to match Quill’s naturally long step. I may be moving too slowly, causing Quill to slow down and start pacing.

There are several reasons I need to address this. First, this gait can quickly become a fixed
motor pattern. If I continued to practice ‘head up — focus on me’ without addressing the
pacing gait, the two behaviors could quickly become linked together. I believe I’m teaching
sustained focus with head up. Quill believes the cue for ‘head up — focus on me’ also
means to pace. The second reason this must be addressed is for Quill’s physical well being.
When a dog is pacing, his center of gravity is shifting from side to side. This puts undue
stress on his spine.

So what’s the plan? How am I going to fix this problem? First I will figure out how much of
my motion is causing Quill to pace. Handler behavior has a huge influence on canine
behavior. Maybe I simply need to move faster. I will also increase Quill’s strengthening
workouts. Moving faster might solve the issue for a time, but eventually I’ll have to slow
down and Quill will need to have the muscle strength to move with my shorter step. I don’t
think this issue is very old, so addressing Quill’s core fitness and my speed might solve the

Figure 8 Stretch

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014


Cookie Stretches

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014


Swimming vs. Hydrotherapy

Thursday, August 7th, 2014


Whether it’s the cold, dark depths of winter or the dog days of summer, a dip in the pool can buoy both bodies and spirits!  We all know that recreational swimming is great exercise for dogs.  It is also a fun and social activity for dogs and owners.  Not only that, it allows for a controlled environment that is beneficial both physically and physiologically.

For anyone who has been to a local lake or pond in the late summer months, it is not a surprise that an indoor swimming pool is a cleaner environment.  Lakes and ponds can spread bacteria, giardia and other undesirables to your dog.  Plus there’s no mud to track back to your car, house and your shoes!

The health benefits of recreational swimming are undeniable.  Swimming provides excellent cardiovascular conditioning and helps maintain muscle mass.   Swimming is a great weight control exercise and alleviates stress on the joints so that overweight dogs can get back into the swing of things while reducing risk of injury.

Swimming is an energy outlet, for sure.  A tired dog is a happy dog, and oftentimes a tired dog makes for a happy owner.  As in humans, swimming gets those endorphins going—which is great for overall well-being but it can also be therapeutic for behavioral disorders or for dogs that are just plain bored or tired of being cooped up in the house.

Swimming provides social benefits, as well.  Aerobic exercise can reduce depression in dogs that have exercise restrictions.  Of course, you’ll need approval from your veterinarian before starting a swimming exercise program.  Swimming can also boost confidence and it encourages dogs to learn from other dogs.

Perhaps most importantly, recreational swimming provides an opportunity to build the bond between dog and owner.  It’s a great way to spend time with your dog without distraction.  It’s a time to step away from the daily grind and spend one-on-one time with your pet and serves as a reminder of why pets are so important in our lives.  They give us so much and spending time with them is all they ask of us.

Now that we’ve covered the many benefits of swimming, let’s discuss the difference between swimming and hydrotherapy.  At our facilities, recreational swimming is for healthy dogs that enjoy water and have no physical issues that require supervision and assistance.  Hydrotherapy is utilized on the rehabilitation side to help dogs that have physical issues and, for their safety, require supervision by a rehabilitation therapist.  Our therapists are rehabilitation certified veterinarians, physical therapists and certified veterinary technicians.

The ultimate goal is to graduate the patient to the recreational pool and we release the dog from therapy when they are strong and healthy enough to swim recreationally.

Rehabilitating a dog with water has many benefits. One is decreased weight bearing and non-weight bearing exercise, which reduces pain. In the water, gentle range of motion of all four limbs is accomplished and strengthening is provided by the water resistance. The therapy water is heated to around 84 degrees Fahrenheit which helps to relax the muscles and increase circulation. Hydrotherapy is also used for neurological re-education. There seems to be psychological benefits for the dogs that occurs because they are able to exercise without pain.

Hydrotherapy is used for a variety of reasons including recovery from surgery, chronic conditions such as arthritis, degenerative myelopathy or hip dysplasia, obesity or weight management, or sports conditioning. The benefits of recreational swimming and hydrotherapy are both phenomenal. The important difference between the two is the state of your dog’s physical health. If your dog is generally healthy, by all means, get swimming! Just as with humans, staying active and keeping your muscles strong will help prevent injury in the future.

However, if your dog is injured or otherwise compromised, swimming may not be appropriate and hydrotherapy is necessary for them to get back into the game (or pool). If your dog has been diagnosed as having any of these health conditions, swimming may not be an appropriate form of exercise:

  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Seizure disorders
  • Endocrine diseases
  • Open wounds or infections
  • Fecal incontinence

If your dog has any of these conditions or if your dog is not otherwise in good health, we recommend a rehabilitation exam in order to determine if swimming and/or rehabilitation is best.

The Canine Rehabilitation and Conditioning Group (CRCG) offers year-round swimming 7 days a week at its Englewood and Broomfield locations.  Open and private swim times are available.  Rehabilitation is offered 7 days a week.  Give us a call or visit our website at for more information on our services and find out how you and your canine companion can start making a splash!

3 Important Reasons to Warm Up & Cool Down with your Dog

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Warm-Up Infographic-01