How Doga and Pilates Can Benefit Agility Dogs
For most of us exercising is a chore, but this is not the case with Doga or Pilates! Dog owners looking for ways to relax with their dogs find it easy to do so with a Doga or Pilates class. Dogs relish the chance to spend quality time alone with their owners. With Doga and Pilates, both pet parent and pooch get to exercise both their minds and bodies at the same time.
“The benefits of Doga include: being able to spend one-on-one time with your dog doing something that emphasizes relaxation which helps to the strengthen the bond shared between you and your dog. Most Doga classes include stretching and massage techniques specifically for your dog. These help with a dog’s overall flexibility and conditioning. Another benefit would be to help your dog be comfortable and relaxed while being handled, which can assist with grooming and veterinary exams,” explains Alyssa Slay from Camp Dogwood.
Slay also adds that like agility, doga is all about the partnership with your dog. “The benefits actually extend to the human as well in terms of promoting flexibility, strength, overall conditioning, awareness of breathing, relaxation, and stress management. These benefits would certainly be advantageous in the agility ring, whether it be for training or competitions.”
Like us, dogs need to keep both their body and mind in shape. When working with agility dogs, Sherri CappaBianca from Rocky’s Retreat, Orlando says “For agility dogs, we recommend hydrotherapy to increase endurance and build muscle, especially rear end muscle, and to help with injury recovery when injury occurs.”
“We also do what we call “Pilates” type work where the focus is to build core strength and improve hind end awareness. We do this using the FitPAWS equipment. The idea behind using this equipment is to first teach the dog to do a behavior (a sit for example) correctly on the ground, then work toward doing the same movement on an unstable surface, such as a FitPAWS balance disk. That’s what builds core strength. There’s several things you can do to improve hind end awareness, like using Cavaletti poles.”
“With agility dogs, you need to make sure the core is strong and the dog has good awareness of their limbs at all times, to prevent injury. Otherwise you’re asking for the dog to get hurt,” explains CappaBianca. F
Further consider that agility dogs need to take time out to relax and heal if they have any past injuries. Competition is stressful. Before starting any doga or pilates classes with your pooch, it’s best to make sure that your dog has no old injuries, and that he’s okay to do a class. Consult with your veterinarian before starting Doga or Pilates to make sure that it’s a good match for your pooch.
Chances are that you’ve already got an idea about what you’re wanting to achieve from a Doga or Pilates class. That being said, there are hardly any drawbacks from Pilates or Doga.
“Protecting your sporting dog’s body through Pilates style exercises is vital to ensuring a long and healthy agility career. Core and muscle strengthening, as well as stretching, protects joints and bones and increases speed in motion. Pilates works large and small muscle groups bringing about greater body awareness, as well,” adds Kristie Swan, CPDT, Grand Rapids, MI.
“The first night owners are taught about their dog’s individual physicality (as well as canine structure in general) and how to do stretches – what to look out for and how to adjust,” says Swan. “ Owners are cautioned that dogs who have never done this should not be pushed – start slow and build. The balls don’t come into play until each dog is evaluated and floor exercises have been taught- usually part way through second class night.”
“I came to add this class to the curriculum because of the wonderful results I had with my Chesapeake Bay Retriever. She was x-rayed and we were told she would have a level 2 (out of 6) dysplasia in her left hip. I began pro-active physical therapy, which included a lot of core and rear muscle strengthening. Three years later we x-rayed again and the Orthopedic Vet said there was only a very slight laxity on the left side. In other words it shouldn’t cause her any physical issues and she can remain active in agility, Frisbee, hiking, swimming and running.”
“I recommend this to all of my classes not just the sport classes. Any dog that runs or jumps or is physically active should have a strong core as well as a strong and limber body. I see runners out with their dogs and I want to stop them to ask if they stretch or do any other form of protective physical therapy for their dog. A blown ACL or other injury can be painful, expensive and time consuming. Learning Pilates like stretches and ball work can protect against injury,” explains Swan.
“Also, having gone through old age with more than one dog I know how valuable strong rear legs and body are for elimination. This is an excellent rainy day or bad weather activity. Core strengthening exercises engage your dog physically and mentally. The post exercise stretches and massage calm and settle them.”
Swan recommends that pet parents look for an instructor who knows how to evaluate the canine body. “ My instructor is a certified canine rehabilitation specialist and masseuse.” If there is any concern check with your vet. If a dog has an issue such as (but not limited to) a luxating patella special considerations and exercises may be necessary.
“An added bonus is that Pilates exercises can be tiring without needing a large amount of space. A high level of intensity can be reached utilizing little area making it an excellent form of exercise for small areas like hotel rooms and RVs while traveling. Also a time saver, twenty minutes of Pilates can wear out a beginner while even the most advanced dogs need no more than thirty to forty minutes and a short walk to have a complete workout,” explains Swan.
“Taking time to relax in today’s fast pasted world can benefit you and your high energy agility dog,” says Nicole Vykoukal, LMSW, RYT, Austin Doga, Texas. During Nicole Vykoukal’s Austin Doga classes, human students practice gentle yoga poses, calming breath and mindful interactions with their dogs. Many Austin Doga students report doga has improved their connection and relationship with their dog. Doga helps you press the reset button on your nervous system and you and your dog learn to settle into a more relaxed, calmer state.
“Doga is for all dogs, and those that come are all welcome! Dog Yoga is a way of life for a dog, not something separate from life. Dog Yoga is jumping, chasing, walking, digging, socializing and retrieving,” explains both Allison Culver and Kim Shotola from the LightFootWay.
“This is a journey to explore our bodies and minds together. Dogie yoga is about creating a bond between you and your dog!! It is an opportunity to connect in a new way.”
“Dogies accept themselves exactly as they are in each moment! This is their life lesson to us! Dog yoga is an activity you can get involved in with your dog one on one. No team or playing field needed. Doing yoga together can create an unconditional bond of love between you and your dog that is so special and forever growing in many directions. It is an excellent way to stimulate and exercise your dog, and doggie yoga can be done indoors on rainy days. This workout for your dog is not only physical, but you are also working on their emotional and metaphysical. Doing yoga with your dog calms and relaxes the muscles thus, bringing relief to sore joints or achy hips. Get involved with your dog and your dog will get involved with you – see a deep and rewarding relationship evolve, which will keep them healthy as they age! For more information, visit USDAA.
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