Warm-Ups; Not Just for Canine Athletes

By Cathryn Adolph, LVT, CCRP, CCFT

When we think of warm-up routines, we often picture top level human athletes.  I personally think back to the Olympic coverage showing Michael Phelps waiting on the side lines doing full range of motion with his arms.  But did you know warm-ups can benefit our dogs as well?  And its not just for canine athletes, warm-ups can help any dog that participates in high energy activities.  

My dog is not an athlete…

Let’s look at the game of fetch for an average pet dog.  A ball is thrown and the dog explodes quickly to chase the ball.  When they catch up to the ball, they may or may not dive onto the ball.  Occasionally they may miss and dig into a sliding turn.  And often they trot back to repeat.  If we compare this to a human athlete, it truly reminds me of a soccer player.  Players drive the ball hard towards the goals, makes quick turns, with fast acceleration. 

Benefits of Warm-Ups

Simply, warming-up can prevent injuries when we are performing activity.  Other benefits include:

  • Warm muscles have greater elasticity and range of motion, which decreases the chances of strains.
  • Gradually increases heart rate and breathing rate before heavy activity.
  • Increases rate of muscle contraction and nerve impulses which will allow the dog to quickly catch themselves is they fall.
  • A quick warm-up can create mental focus before training.   
  • A warm-up routine allows us to get to know how our dogs move and if it changes, allow us to potentially detect injuries sooner. 
  • And more….

Warm-Up Activities

When compared to strength training, warm-up exercises should not cause fatigue. By keeping repetitions low but at a brisk pace we can meet our warm-up goals. These exercises should be include dynamic stretching and range of motion exercises for the major joints, spine, and even the tail.  Dynamic means the dog actively performs the motion themselves.  An example of a dynamic range of motion exercise is a dog performing a sit to stand which flexes the stifle, hock, and hip.  If we compare this compare this to an owner or handler bending these same joints (passive range of motion), there is no muscle engagement and studies in human medicine have shown no benefit.

When Should We Warm-up Ours Dogs

Ideally, we should warm up our dogs before any physical activity that will elevate their heart rate.  For pet dogs some examples include:        

  • Playing fetch
  • Going for a hike
  • Swimming
  • Sprint work, including leashed run/jog with owners
  • Fitness or conditioning work

At home

Warm-ups should be fast and easy.  The routine should be no more than 5-10 minutes in total and begins with a quick walk or trot to engage major muscle groups.  Specific warm-up exercises will be based on the activity your pet will participate in.  For our patients at Pawsitive Steps, previous orthopedic and medical history is taken into account before a warm-up plan is created.