In human sport we work a lot on core strength and when talking about core in humans we usually mean muscles in the abdominal area. You can read in more detail about the importance of human core musculature here. Increased core strength in humans reduces injury (Leetan et al, 2004; De Blasier et al, 2018) but the jury is out on whether core strength improves performance (Reed et al, 2012).
Many people working with dogs have simply transferred human core conditioning techniques to the canine species. Some even say that their techniques are scientifically proven! If you are told something is scientifically proven please, please, please ask for the link to the journal or paper and if they cannot give you a link to a peer reviewed journal then they cannot say it is scientifically proven.
However, I do think that strength and conditioning work is important for dogs; it is even more important if the dogs have an issue like Hip Dysplasia or we do an activity with them (sports dogs).
Most of you will have noticed that humans have two legs in contact with the ground while dogs have four. Humans have evolved from mammals that climbed trees for a living and dogs evolved from mammals that either ran fast or for long periods of time very efficiently. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the stabilising muscles in a dog are not in the same place as they are in humans.
Humans are a vertical column with approximately 3kg of head ‘wobbling’ around on top. There is a paper with this data, however, it’s a bit grim so I haven’t included a link; email me if you’re desperate to see it! The muscles in our centre, our core muscles have to work hard to keep us stable.
Dogs are more like a bridge with their legs being the vertical supports. The top line of the dog is where you would walk. The girders on the bridge show where most of the dogs stabilising muscles are. I think it’s more helpful to talk about stabilising muscles and power muscles in dogs. The stabilising muscles help our dogs stay injury free as they protect the joints and reduce overextension of other muscles.
Many of the dogs stabilising muscles can be found around joints (shoulders and hips in particular). As dogs can also flex and twist their spine a whole lot more than humans it means dogs need more stabilising muscles either side of their spine. Dogs do have some stabilising muscles in their ‘core’ but they are not as important as they are for humans.
It makes me very sad indeed that my profession is not regulated. Owners are left trying to work out who to trust and dogs are sometimes asked to do exercises that are not appropriate for their age, condition or sport.
My advice would be:
1. Ask what qualifications the person has and how many days of hands on training they had. To give you exercises to help your dog they need an excellent knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics. Would you get your car fixed or have an agility lesson from someone who’s had 8 days of hands on training?
2. Does the movement they’re asking you to do look like a ‘normal’ range of movement for the dog? Asking a Great Dane to sit up on its back legs would not be normal.
3. Can your dog do the movement without wobbling all over the place? Do they ‘refuse’ to do the exercise? Can the person teaching you make it easier and achievable?
4. Do not use YouTube to help you condition your dog. YouTube is great for fixing the printer, not so much for fixing your dog!
Research on canine strength and conditioning is starting to take place and there is a real desire in the industry for regulation and protection of title (like there is for Human Physiotherapists, Vet Nurses and Vets). I really hope that over the next few years more owners and dogs can safely benefit from the advantages that strength and conditioning can provide.
Albery, C. and Whitestone, J.J., Comparison of Cadaveric Human Head Mass Properties: Mechanical Measurement vs. Calculation from Medical Imaging.
De Blaiser, C., Roosen, P., Willems, T., Danneels, L., Bossche, L.V. and De Ridder, R., 2018. Is core stability a risk factor for lower extremity injuries in an athletic population? A systematic review. Physical therapy in sport, 30, pp.48-56.
Leetun, D.T., Ireland, M.L., Willson, J.D., Ballantyne, B.T. and DAVIS, I.M., 2004. Core stability measures as risk factors for lower extremity injury in athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(6), pp.926-934.
Reed, C.A., Ford, K.R., Myer, G.D. and Hewett, T.E., 2012. The effects of isolated and integrated ‘core stability’training on athletic performance measures. Sports medicine, 42(8), pp.697-706.