Benefits of Balance Training Your Dog
This week, we continue our discussion of an optimal fitness program for your dog and are highlighting the fourth component: balance training your dog.
What is balance?
According to Wikipedia, in biomechanics, balance is an ability to maintain the line of gravity (vertical line from centre of gravity) of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway. In practical terms, we define balance as the ability to sense and control the body’s position in space, both while stationary or while moving.
Sensory inputs effecting balance
The brain receives three different types of sensory input that help determine the body’s position:
- Visual – feedback on what the eyes see
- Vestibular- feedback on what the ears sense and how these signals relate to the feeling of equilibrium
- Somatosensory – what we like to call the “touch” sensory input, this is feedback on pressure, vibration, and position and movement relative to other body parts, from the skin, joints, tendons, and muscles.
These three inputs work together for optimal balance and reactive skills. As you might imagine, older dogs with impaired hearing or vision are likely to have compromised balance skills.
Benefits of Balance Training Your Dog
There are numerous benefits to balance training your dog and these benefits apply to humans as well. These benefits include:
- Reduced injury risk- good balance skills mean that your dog will be able to maintain better body control while moving and thus, protect themselves (instinctively) from bad positions that can cause injury.
- Improved athletic or sport performance- better balance translates directly to better athletic performance. A good example is the agility dogs who must navigate through obstacles without falling or misstepping.
- Core development and strength- good balance requires a strong core, which is normally active while the dog is stabilizing their body when off balance. A strong core and strong balance skills go hand in hand.
- Improved overall body strength- for a dog, just like a human, power transfers through the core. Joseph Pilates said it best when he described the core as the body’s “powerhouse”.
- Reduced signs of aging- taking all of the above mentioned benefits together, the end result can be that older dogs are able to maintain a ‘youthful’ quality of life even as they move into their senior years. Keeping their balance sensory inputs well trained can delay deterioration of these abilities.
Example balance exercises for your dog
Most balance exercises require the use of an unstable surface. Balance cushions, peanuts, swiss or bosu balls, or wobble boards are the most frequently used devices for dogs. They are a very good investment and you can use them for your own balance and fitness programs as well.
If you don’t have access to this type of equipment there are alternatives such as wood blocks, rocks, and logs. We will talk more about these alternatives in an upcoming post.
Two of our favorite balance drills incorporate the balance cushion and the wobble board.
Cushion Stability Drill
Have your dog place their front paws on a balance cushion while standing. With their back straight and aligned, have them hold their position on the cushion for 10 seconds or more. That counts a 1 rep. Do 4-5 times.
Repeat with the back legs on the cushion.
Wobble Stability Drill
Have your dog place their front paws on a wobble or balance board while standing. With their back straight and aligned, have them hold their position on the cushion for 10 seconds or more. That counts a 1 rep. Do 4-5 times.
Repeat with the back legs on the board.
Sources and further reading:
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