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Born to run...but not invincible

I moved to Austin in 2007, best move I ever made for my dogs and myself! In NY, Mother Nature limited time we could spend outside by blasting us with freezing temperatures and icy roadways. Within the first week of moving here I was completely inspired to get outside and enjoy the sunshine with my pack. Like most people here, I have become more active and I spend most of my free time outdoors with them all year long.

Now I am not the running type, as you all know (insert smokers cough here) but I have a great piece of land that allows me to be active with my dogs in other ways; agility, search work, herding, cart pulling and hard core chase games. As many of my clients have witnessed, every dog in my pack works in some way or another. So it is important to keep them healthy and remember that they are not invincible.

A large majority of clients I work with run with their dogs or go on very long hikes to wear them out. One of my frequent recommendations is to make your dog work, but we all need to remember that they also need proper maintenance to avoid injuries and health problems too. Rest and massage are a great way to keep your dog running for a long time, as well as a great way to build a better bond between you both.

We all know dogs will run themselves in to the ground for their owners. My border collie Maverick has to literally be stopped during herding, otherwise I am sure she would pass out from exhaustion. Axel, my powerhouse Staffie, would most definitely pull a cart until he couldn’t walk anymore, and my Chihuahua Capone, well I believe could run around the world at least 4 times before he dropped. Yes they have a high pain tolerance, which is why when they are showing signs of an injury; it is typically a major injury. The problem is, they want to please you and our loving fur-babies are over achievers by nature.

My best friend, Christina Hardinger, is a certified canine massage/acupressure practitioner, so I asked her to help me write a informational blog to help my athletic clients avoid potential exercise ending, injuries in their dogs.

The importance of massage for the active dog.

When we engage our dogs in “heavier” exercise, such as running, there are some basic things to take into consideration. If your dog is overweight, you would want to consult with the vet before starting any type of running. Too much extra weight causes extra strain on the joints and a brisk walk is often the better alternative to running until your dog has slimmed down. Great Tip: You can also make your dog swim instead to help shed the extra pounds; it is a non-weight baring exercise that is also great for dogs with arthritis. A dog with joint issues such as arthritis and dysplasia shouldn’t be running, but moderate exercise is great to help prevent muscle atrophy.

Running is best to engage in if your dog is in decent shape before you start. You want to gradually increase the distance you run with your four legged friend, don’t cold start them by walking one day, and then doing 3 miles the next. It takes time for them to get in shape, just as it does for humans. Exercise is great for an active pup and we all know the saying “a tired dog is a good dog”, but a dog with muscle problems from running is just that – a dog with muscle tension.

Here is the short version of what happens when we, or our dogs, exercise. By working out we create small tears in the muscle fibers causing a light inflammation in the muscle. That is actually how we build our muscles stronger, with the proper rest, that is. Make sure your dog gets rest between activities and a good way to do that is to run one day, and walk the next. It gives the muscles time to regain strength and minimize the inflammation. Overworked muscles become tense, and a tense muscle has a restricted blood flow. The lowered circulation doesn’t allow the muscle to get rid of lactic acid, and toxins, which causes swelling. A swollen muscle is painful, pain causes muscle tension, and soon you have a vicious circle… That is when you start to see trigger points form (small knots caused by lactic acid build-up). Tense muscles means the muscles get “shorter” and less flexible, which again pulls on the tendons and ligaments, causing them to tighten up. It is one of the reasons why you often see really active dogs get torn ligaments. The joints end up having less range of movement when the muscles are tight and at it makes the ligaments and tendons more vulnerable.

If you are all set out to have your dog be your running buddy, then treat him or her to a massage session on a regular basis. Massage helps keep the inflammation in the muscle fibers under control, prevents trigger points, and keeps the muscles flexible.

And on a different note.. We are already seeing summer like temperatures in Austin and the pavement gets hot really fast. Do the barefoot test before walking or running your dog. If you can comfortably keep your bare foot on the cement for a minute, then you are fine to walk the dog. If it feels really hot to stand on, then your dog will not enjoy it either.

Remember that their paw pads are where they, besides panting, get rid of the excess body heat. Don’t run your dog in the middle of the day when it is 90 F, and please take humidity into consideration. I see them at the park every spring/ summer. Dogs with their tongues dragging on the ground, looking like they are going to collapse any minute trying to keep up with an owner on a mission. Super hot days are made for walking early in the morning or late in the evening. And the same goes for running. – Christina Hardinger, Skillful Paws, LLC; 512-922-1664

So lets break it down and remember:

  • Prepare your dog properly before you run long durations with them

  • Check the surface temps so they don’t burn their paws

  • Keep them hydrated and cool

  • Make them rest, (they won’t on their own)

  • Schedule regular preventative massages to keep them running for a long time without injury!

  • If your dog already has an injury, call a certified massage practitioner to help get them back on the road to recovery and enjoying the great outdoors!

Thank you Christina for sharing this valuable information with us!

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