A question was asked in one of my online K9 Conditioning Classes about some “fad” tricks wondering if they are “safe” for our dog's joints. Sometimes the excitement of training something new and fun spurs on too much repetition. Most things are OK in moderation, some with risks and some without. Using common sense with respect to safety and repetition is all that is needed. It is truly amazing to me what people will ask their dogs to do and then be astounded and horrified by the cost of surgery and the amount of time spent in recovery.
When training new tricks, some of my concerns are:
That said, below is my opinion of the tricks that were questioned.
1. Rear feet up a wall (hand stands), is NOT my favorite trick and I have not taught my dogs to do this. Most dogs carry 60-85% of their weight forward on their shoulders so my preference is to teach tricks that teach the dog to distribute weight more to the rear and “relieve” the shoulders from added stress. I also see many people doing this with their dog’s front feet on a slippery surface. Shoulders are VERY fragile joints and especially with a performance dog, I don’t take any chances. (other concerns, neck and mid back)
2. Stand on hind feet and lower to a sit pretty, I do teach my dogs to do this one but kind of in reverse. It takes strong muscles in the core and rear legs to pull off this trick. The big thing here again is repetition, the surface you are on and the speed in which you do it. I do NOT encourage any kind of “hopping” on rear legs due to the added stress to the knees. Walking on hind legs is OK as long as they are on sure ground and the speed in controlled.There are cases in which this trick (or tricks like it) has real benefits. My dog Riley had an issue with his hocks after taking a break and then restarting agility training. We spent a period of time working on range of motion, cold water therapy and strengthening exercises to improve his strength and flexibility. I then taught Riley to sit up (sit pretty) and then stand on his hind legs to strengthen and lengthen through is hocks. This exercise is used as part of our warm-up routine and we have not had any further issues.
I trained it this way, as a very slow controlled exercise:
Having said all that, our dogs can get easily injured in agility, hiking a trail, retrieving or just running out to go potty so it is our job to make the right decisions for our dogs. I often look at all the NEW (and old) tricks people are teaching and I modify them to be “safer” for my dogs and client dogs. I am very cautious with “repetitive” training to make sure it is doing my dog good and not encouraging poor posture, wrong muscle use or stress on a particular joint. My rule of thumb is to set a timer (we all have them on our handy smart phones) for 5 -10 min max and during that 5-10 minutes I may work on three different tricks or more. When the timer goes off, we are done, no matter where we are in the process. I find that tricks are trained way faster in this manner than spending more time and more repetition per session.
However shocking it may be, (grin) concentrating on tricks and exercises that make my dogs strong with better weight distribution, is where my focus is in everything we do.
Bobbie Lyons, Cert CF
K9 Fitness Coach
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Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT