Updated: Jul 7, 2022
Jumps are the most common obstacle on an agility course and account for the majority of injuries. So how can we improve our dog's jump technique, lowering their risk of injury but without the need for or impact of using jumps?
That’s exactly what we will cover in this article.
Using jumps is obviously a great practice for our dogs but as they are the leading cause of injury we want to minimise the amount of time our dogs spend jumping especially when they are younger and inexperienced.
So how can we improve our dog's jump technique?
Improve core strength to help with the flight phase of jumping and our dog's coordination
Ensure good hindlimb muscle mass to propel our dogs over the fence
Improve joint ROM to ensure our dogs can easily navigate the jump without knocking poles and ensures joints don’t become injured on take-off or landing when full range of motion are needed
Improve proprioception and coordination to ensure our dogs don’t collide with jumps and are able to quickly adjust their stride between obstacles etc.
Ensure handling ques are on time and clear to our dogs this gives them ample time to prepare for the jump and has been shown to reduce injury risk
But how do we actually do all that?
Well, I’ve got 3 exercises* for you that will not only cover all the above points but will also be quick and easy for you to do in the comfort of your own home.
Number 1: Weight shifting exercises
Number 2: Cavaletti
Number 3: Down to stands
Okay so maybe technically there are more than 3 exercises here because there are a tonne of variations in each one but don’t worry I’m gonna talk you through each one and the best variations to start with and how to progress them as your dog improves.
Weight shifting exercises
Weight shifting exercises involve shifting our dog's weight from one area of their body to another. Obvious I know! But to do this our dogs have to use their core muscles and all the muscles surrounding their joints to help them keep their balance. This improves their hindlimb muscle mass and their core strength. Weight shifting also helps to remind our dogs where their limbs are in space as when we perform weight shifting we need our dogs to be aware of their limbs in order to shift their weight without moving. Weight shifting therefore also improves our dog's proprioception (awareness of where their limbs are in space).
So now you know how weight shifting exercises are going to help your dog's jump technique, where do you start.
Start with static weight shifting, this is where your dog stands square on the floor and you gently rock their weight from front to back and side to side at the shoulders and hips, they should not move.
Once you’ve mastered this you can make it harder by raising the forelimbs, hindlimbs or both on a step or memory foam block. Just remember the limbs left on the floor take more weight.
If you want to make it super challenging you can use wobble cushions.
Cavaletti exercises or walking/trotting over poles improve our dog's joint range of motion, muscle mass and strength along with improving their proprioception. Did you know they also improve core strength!
So how do we get started with cavaletti?
Start with the 1 pole on the ground or a broom handle/whatever you have to hand in walk then if your dog manages that without breaking stride or clipping the pole increase to 3 then 5 poles placed either randomly or with a paw between each pole.
If your dogs mastered this you can play around a bit depending on what you want to focus on. Say you want to focus on stride length move the poles slightly further apart or try in trot.
To improve ROM increase the pole height but never above the hock as this promotes jumping and isn’t as good at improving ROM or coordination.
To improve proprioception and coordination use random poles or walking on different surfaces.
Bonus all cavaletti improve core strength!
Let's face it cavaletti are awesome and they can also help us with our handling as we can use them as we would a jump to help us control our dog's speed, wait and direction ques and most importantly our timing. For example, why not go from a run to a walk then cavaletti, or a sit wait to a trot cavaletti then a cone turn and back over them?
Down to stands
Down to stands help flex and extend all your dog's joints as well as work all the muscles which flex and extend the joints (that’s most of the limb muscles).
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. But some helpful things to remember are to ensure your dog doesn’t pull up with the forelimbs but pushes up from the hindlimbs when they stand and to ensure they stay square in both the down and stand.
SO there you have it, 3 exercises to improve your dog's jumping without a jump.
I was inspired to write this blog post after reading a brilliant article by Online Pet Health all about jumping dogs and you can read it too here: https://onlinepethealth.com/the-variables-of-jump-biomechanics-in-canine-agility-dogs-2/
And if you want to find out more about common injuries in jumping dogs check out my own research here: https://www.fitpetphysio.com/product-page/the-common-injuries-of-agility-and-flyball-dogs
* Please consult a vet and vet physio before making any changes to your dog's routine. Exercises only to be completed by healthy dogs.