If you’re a Yoga aficionado, chances are you’re familiar with the Cat Pose, the Downward-Facing Dog, perhaps even the Extended Puppy Pose. Ahhh, but do you know how to do the Cookie Stretch?! Or rather, does your dog?
This past weekend, I wandered over to a dog health fair and made a pit stop at the Doggie Yoga class, my dog conveniently in tow. ‘Course I didn’t realize that it was a fool’s errand to attempt simultaneously to stretch the dog, myself, and photograph the proceedings. Graciously, Dr. Leilani Alvarez, the director of The Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service at the Animal Medical Center in NY, offered to take over so that I could snag some snapshots. I caption this one “Good Sport” or rather, “Seriously?”
Though the Animal Medical Center called the class “Doggie Yoga”, and though this is an activity that is on the rise, the emphasis was on physical rehabilitation.
Here are some tips for keeping your dog healthy:
1) Before you attempt “yoga poses” with your dog, it’s a good idea to have your dog examined by a vet to make sure your dog is a good candidate for this kind of activity.
2) Whether you try this inside or outside, find a flat, non-slippery surface where the dog has traction. Stay away from hills.
1) Stretch Your Dog
I found this surprising, as my dog instinctively stretches every time we walk out the front door. He hardly needs encouragement. But according to Dr. Alvarez, “When dogs are doing well and they’re healthy, they’ll stretch, though a lot of dogs don’t necessarily stretch on their own. They may have musculoskeletal conditions…they may be recovering from an injury…As they age, it’s even more important you assist them.”
The Cookie Stretch:
Hold a cookie in front of your dog’s nose, and then guide his/her head from side to side. Suggested movements are from nose to chest, nose to hip or mid-thigh, nose to air. This promotes spinal mobility and flexion of the cervical spine. Thanks to the self-described Agility Nerd, who is a dog trainer and handler, you can watch it in action.
The Cat Stretch:
Yes, dogs can benefit from arching their backs like cats, with your guidance. This video from Care Animal Clinic in Wisconsin demonstrates how it’s done.
2) Do Some Core Strengthening
A balancing exercise that helps promote strength is the Cross-Leg Standing exercise. As you can see from the photo above, the dog’s left leg is forward and the right leg (on the diagonal) is backward.
Deana Cappucci’s Bonus Tip: Just lift the leg up versus pulling it away from your dog’s body. Keep the dog’s limbs in line with his or her body.
3) Massage Your Dog
The triceps is an important weight-bearing muscle in a dog, especially in the front legs. Use a kneading technique to ease the tension that builds up in that muscle.
Deana Cappucci’s Bonus Tip: “Touch is a very powerful stimulus. Massage is a great way to bond with your dog, especially if you have rescued a dog who might have fear issues.”
Massage your dog’s paws. Be prepared for some resistance — a dog’s paws are sensitive to the touch. According to Dr. Alvarez, “the extremities receive the least amount of circulation. Massaging a dog’s paws promotes circulation to the area. Older dogs can develop arthritis, which can cause pain since their paws are so close to the ground.”
Deana Cappucci’s Bonus Tip: If you have a puppy, it’s great to acclimate them early to having their paws massaged. This will make them more comfortable during nail trims.
As the “doggie yoga” class concluded, I reflected once again on the patience of man’s best friend and the unexpected benefits of a cookie and a little move called the Cookie Stretch.
How about you? Have you ever participated in exercise classes with your dogs? How did it go?
Check out the Animal Medical Center’s videos of physical rehab for dogs and other pets.