Today I want to talk about what may or may not be good for a puppy’s knee joints when starting a K9 Conditioning or any training program. There has been a lot of discussion about this topic lately so I thought I would catalog my thoughts here. I start training a puppy the day it arrives at my house. What I choose to do all depends on their level of engagement and their age. Because of my dog with structure issues, I am very cautious about a puppy’s joints.
K9 Conditioning exercise can be done with dogs of all ages. I generally recommend shorter training sessions, less repetitions and high reward for puppies. There are precautions you should take with a dog younger than a year old (or before growth plates have closed). The growth plate at the head of the tibia at the stifle (knee joint) is one of the last growth plates to close at around 10-14 months - depending on the breed. This leaves the stifle (knee) joint less stable for a longer period of time than other joints. Because of this instability, I prefer to do exercises and activities with caution. Not to say that the puppy has to be totally restricted just better choices can be made. More information about growth plates can be found in the reference book noted at the end of this post.
Below is a list of equipment to use and what activities are best for puppies. This is NOT a complete list. These are my personal preferences and are on the “cautious” side. There are many activities that a puppy can do in the regular course of life that puts stress on their joints, or could cause injury. My goal is to decrease the chances of injury. Genetic issues can also play a part. Some dogs are more predisposed to injury than others. Caution is always the best option. You don’t have to put your puppy in the glass house but decreasing repetitive movement on unstable surfaces is a proactive approach to injury prevention.
If there is a stable option when doing a conditioning program or any training with your puppy, “why not use it” instead of the unstable option where you may be taking a chance of early injury (tear, strain, rupture etc)? Simple: USE THE STABLE OPTION
Some equipment I would NOT recommend for puppies
1. Balance discs (any size)
2. The flat side of a Bosu trainer-which generally has a very slippery surface
3. Wobble board or Buja board. I like to wait on these until growth plates are closed.
4. Slippery floors-causes a dog to have to over emphasize movements and that can create stress on the joints.
The four items listed can create stress on the knee ligaments and tendons that stabilize the knee. Sideways rotation of the knee can cause injury to the ligaments. If a ligament is torn, it is injured forever. Ligaments do not regenerate they heal by creating scar tissue. Surgery can be performed to repair the ligament but as I understand it, no repair is as flexible as the uninjured ligament before injury. Scar tissue is not as flexible as ligaments. A torn, ruptured or strained ligament can be detrimental to a performance dog due to chances of re-injury or injuring the other knee. For more information about the injury of ligaments, see reference noted at the end of this post.
Equipment and activities I would recommend for puppies (on the cautious side):
1. A Rocker board rocks in two directions like a teeter. This is used for balancing with all four feet on the board, rocking back and forth or side to side to engage core muscles
2. Peanut exercises – get advice from someone who knows about correct positioning
3. Phone books, Rubbermaid stool, & aerobic bench-Great tools for body awareness, muscle strengthening activities and to mentally challenge your puppy.
4. Paw pods or tuna cans – GREAT for body awareness, core/trunk strength and mental challenge
5. Weight shifting on the flat, on an aerobic bench and on the rocker board is great for core strength, stabilizer muscle strength and improving balance.
6. Sit pretty – as long as trained correctly with hocks flat on the floor, hind legs tucked under the puppies butt, with feet tracking forward, and a straight back.
7. Rollover –strengthens core, muscles along the spine, hips and shoulders.
8. Independent back up - encourages weight distributed to both rear legs and improve body awareness if each foot is moving independently (do not toss a treat between your dogs front feet to encourage back up, this just teaches your dog to hop back and put all their weight forward on their shoulders)
My thoughts on equipment and activities for puppies, to reduce the chance of knee injury, for what they are worth. .02 cents at least???
Bobbie Lyons, Cert CF
K9 Fitness Coach
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Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT