Veterinary rehabilitation is synonymous with postoperative recoveries and injury response. However, a preventive approach to canine strength, fitness, and physical balance can minimize injury risk for dogs of all ages and walks of life—especially competitive athletes, young performance prospects, active pets, and working canines.

The Animal Rehabilitation Center team understands dog sports and their physical demands. We can evaluate your dog’s current fitness level and design a tailored exercise program—for at home or in our center—to ensure proper physical balance and form while safely building power, stamina, and flexibility. Let’s take a look at the advantages of rehabilitation for the healthy dog.

Injury prevention in healthy dogs

No one wants to see their dog suffer an injury. This experience is exceptionally difficult for a sport-dog and their handler team, who may be forced into early retirement or, worse, a decreased quality of life. Injury reports have surged with the rise in popularity and difficulty of physically demanding dog events like agility. Suspected links to injury risk include activity frequency, intensity, initial obstacle training, length of competition time, and course design—suggesting that we must pay close attention to how we build up, run, maintain, and rest four-legged all-stars. 

Although estimating how many sport-related injuries could be prevented is impossible, a comprehensive strengthening and fitness program—including warm-up and cool-down—can help your athlete stay on their toes—and off the bench.

Cross-training ensures total dog fitness

Whether your dog trains and competes in multiple sports or specializes in one area, each activity carries its own risks, including deceptively low-impact options, such as obedience, rally, and nosework. If your dog does not physically prepare for their sport or activity before the event, they are at risk for overuse (i.e., repetitive strain) injuries, such as tendinopathies, muscle strain (e.g., iliopsoas), and muscular imbalance, that can predispose them to knee, spine, and forelimb injuries. 

Cross-training introduces new movements unrelated to your dog’s normal activities to ensure total body balance and proper mechanics (i.e., form). Rehabilitation at Animal Rehabilitation Center can help fill in the gaps in your dog’s regular routine—especially if they suffer from “weekend warrior syndrome” (i.e., intense, short-term activity followed by prolonged Monday through Friday rest).

Addressing compensations and natural weakness in active dogs

When they assess their dog as “strong and healthy,” many owners and handlers consider the dog’s body weight, energy level, or willingness to perform the activity. However, dogs are masterful at hiding weakness and pain, and will overcome inadequacies and physical challenges with adrenaline and an eagerness to please their owner.

At Animal Rehabilitation Center, our approach to “strong and healthy” involves evaluating a dog’s natural posture, gait, weight-bearing, and flexibility, as well as their physical condition. Dogs—like humans—are “sided,” and tend to be stronger on the right or the left, which can lead to injury if not addressed with targeted exercises.

Focused warm ups and cool downs for active dogs

Performing an activity or sport without warming up or cooling down can put unnecessary strain on muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Taking your dog from the crate to the ring—or the car to the field or trail—does not provide adequate muscle and tissue circulation, or prepare the heart and lungs for physical demands. Also, neglecting your dog’s cool-down period by returning them to their crate, or following their activity with a prolonged game of fetch or tug, may cause lactic acid buildup or fatigue-related injuries.

Based on your dog’s activities, we can provide a customized warm-up and cool-down routine that primes the body for work, and helps with a return to its normal state after the job is complete.

Rest and recovery for active dogs

Knowing when to rest and recover can be hard for active dogs—and active owners—but they are essential for muscle repair and development. Our rehabilitation programs are designed to ensure your dog takes appropriate breaks, so they can continue to play or compete safely for many years. In addition to therapeutic exercises, we may recommend modalities that improve circulation and relaxation, and reduce activity-induced inflammation or soreness, including:

Comfort and confidence will improve your dog’s performance

Performance issues such as refusals, reduced speed, and disengagement can indicate an underlying physical weakness. Unfortunately, these are often treated as training issues and “corrected” with skill drills. 

Dogs who benefit from fitness and conditioning feel more confident performing the actions their sport requires. Improved body awareness, balance, and strength ensure better skills execution, while increased stamina reduces fatigue-related issues, such as miscalculated jumps, poor timing at the flyball box, or failing to collect before a turn.

Regardless of your chosen sport or activity, you’ll want to ensure your canine partner is fit for the job. Schedule your dog’s consultation at the Animal Rehabilitation Center.