That’s a tail-wagging “YES!” Before exercise, you should warm up your pup and then cool him down after the exercise session! Read more below to learn why and how.
A warm up increases blood flow to muscles, improves flexibility, slowly increases the heart rate and increases the elasticity of ligaments. It’s also thought to decrease the risk of injury.
How can you accomplish this?
Loose leash walking.
You can do five minutes of loose leash walking before doing a run, hike or fitness training session. What if you can’t get outside before a fitness training session indoors, but you need to warm up your dog? You can leash your dog to a belt around your waist and have him follow you around the house while you do active chores – dishes, vacuuming, laundry, etc. This waist-tethering is also a great cool down technique!
Ask your dog to do sit-to-downs, sit-to-stands and other combinations of sits, downs and stands in a row. See this blog on how to teach stand, sit and puppy pushups!
Warm up your dog’s entire body by doing figure 8s around two soccer cones or two tall rain or winter boots! Place the cones or tall boots about two times the body length of your dog apart. Using a treat in front of his nose, lure your dog around the cones in a figure 8 pattern. Vary which direction the dogs start - sometimes left through the center of the 8 and sometimes right through the center of the 8. The closer your dog is to the cones, the more he will work spinal flexibility!
Avoid passive stretching before exercise. According to the American Sports and Fitness Association, passive stretching is reliant on an external force, such as gravity, a partner (or you stretching your dog) or using stretching accessories, such as a band.
Conversely, active stretching as part of a warm up is ok. This means the dog would be actively moving one muscle group to stretch another muscle group. According to dog fitness trainer Bobbie Lyons at Pawsitive Performance, active stretches should only be held 1-2 seconds. This type of stretching does not involve the owner stretching the dog’s limbs into flexion or extension. If the dog performs the stretch with no external force (i.e. an owner), it is an active stretch. After the five minutes of loose leash walking, active stretching - such as having your dog do a few play bows, front paw targets with his front limbs on a chair or bench to stretch his hips, or right and left circles - is a great addition to the warm up.
Cool downs are also important for your hound. Cooling down allows his body temperature, breathing rate and heart rate to slow down gradually. In addition, a cool down may reduce soreness and decrease recovery time needed between exercise sessions.
How can you accomplish the cool down? As mentioned above, you can passively stretch your dog as part of the cool down. Prior to stretching, be sure that you allow his heart rate to lower a little and let his muscles cool off from “hot” to “warm;” you could accomplish this by doing a few minutes of loose leash walking. The dog must be relaxed during stretching and you should never force the dog into position.
What are some options for stretching?
Nose to side of body stretches.
Use a treat in front of your dog’s nose to lure him to place his nose to his right shoulder - as near as possible given the dog's natural anatomy - for 5 seconds. Let your dog return his head to a neutral spine - nose in front of his body - and give the treat. Then repeat with the nose to the right rib cage for 5 seconds and treat at neutral. Then repeat with the nose to the right hip for 5 seconds and treat at neutral. Repeat the entire series on left side. Your dog's spine should remain parallel to the ground and he shouldn’t tilt his head up or down (unless you were directed to do so by your veterinarian as part of a special stretch for your particular dog).
Have your dog hold the play bow for a longer duration than your dog did in the warm up – perhaps 2-5 seconds - for three repetitions!
Spine flexion stretch.
Have your dog look between his front two legs while he is standing. To do this, hold a treat between his two front legs so he looks toward his stomach. This will stretch some of the opposing muscles in the spine than your dog just stretched in the play bow. This is the equivalent of you putting your chin forward and down on the front of your neck to stretch the back of your neck.
Other stretches, such as limb stretches in flexion and extension.
Other stretches should usually be held 15-30 seconds. To learn more about stretching and how to properly guide your dog, consider more education by searching online for webinars, buying a dog stretching DVD, or taking online classes.
Now that you know how to utilize a warm up and cool down, you’re set for a safer exercise session with your canine.