Left or Right?
You may be surprised to learn that always performing even the simplest activity only on one side of your dog impacts your dog’s muscle development and consequently joint health.
Put yourself in your dogs shoes for a moment. Try this:
1. Sit upright on a chair and look straight ahead. Make point of noticing your neck and shoulder muscles.
2. Now look up slowly to the right as far as you can and hold that position.
3. Notice how the muscles on the right side of your neck have shortened and the muscles on the left side have lengthened.
Now I’d like you to imagine your dog always walked on one side, looking up at you on average 10-15 times during a walk, walked twice a day for several years.
Muscle development will inevitably bias toward one side.
So, on one side of your dogs neck, the muscles will be short and on the other side they will be longer. If your dog’s muscles are not “unwound” and brought back to balance, at the very least they run the risk of restricted neck and shoulder movement.
Over time this causes compensation, uneven loading, and stress on muscles and joints, and reduced range of movement.
And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that muscle compensation is a common precursor to muscular injury.
One-sided activities impact joint & muscle health and development.
Ready to Test the Theory?
For this, you’ll need your dog, their lead, and an upright pole. A bamboo cane set upright in the ground is a great way to achieve this – if you don’t have a pole get creative. The goal is for your dog to walk around a thin upright object with you.
For dogs walked on the LEFT do this.
1. With your dog on a lead by your side, and with your dog closest to the pole, slowly walk around the pole clockwise 3 times.
2. Make a point of observing when you tug on the lead and budge your dog around with your leg. Now stop doing that.
3. Next – keeping the same distance from the pole as before and with your dog closest to the pole again, I want you to walk slowly around the pole anti-clockwise 3 times.
For dogs walked on the RIGHT follow steps 1-3 but work anti-clockwise first and then clockwise. Remember to walk slowly!
How many of you …?
- tripped over your dog on the second set of circles
- budged your dog around with your leg
- tugged on the lead to direct your dog
- or had to move further away from the pole so as to not influence your dog’s movement
- Was one way easier?
I’ve hugely simplified this and ignored any pre-existing injury or conditions, breeds specifics, and age which is the information I would normally have to hand to fully assess your dog. this is just to quickly test the theory.
The fact is that all muscles work together in pairs and so the actual impact on your dog’s body of repeated one-sided activities spreads further than the neck and shoulders to include other muscles, muscle groups, and joints.
Here are some more ways uneven muscle development can happen.
More Common Causes of Uneven Muscle Development
- Walking your dog just on one side
- Training your dog just on one side
- Only walking your dog on flat ground
- Conformation (How they are built)
- Inappropriate exercise
- Over exercise
- Inappropriate use of equipment (eg untrained use of balance balls, wobble cushions)
- Sport-specific training only
- A restrictive or poorly fitted harness
- Constant pulling on the lead
- Poor diet
It’s critical for our dog’s health and well being that their muscles are healthy, appropriately developed, adapted for their sport, strong enough to support the skeleton, that all joints are moved through their full range of movement.
Sport-specific training should be balanced with core training delivered by a qualified core conditioning coach who will also take account of pre-existing conditions, breed, and lifestyle. Your Coach is also trained to assess for when it is advisable for your dog to be referred back to your vet.
What Can You Do To Limit Uneven Muscle Development?
As with all things muscle development is dog-specific but performing activities equally on both sides will help enormously.
Our faithful companions will work for as long as you ask them to.
They get tired, feel fatigued, are susceptible to injury, and feel pain and discomfort just like you do.
Be consciously aware that nothing moves in the body without muscle and that your dog has around 700 muscles pulling on 320 bones to produce movement.
Muscles move the body – not bone.
The caveat to this? Every dog is different!
The safest thing to do is to strengthen your dog’s core before joining your agility, canicross, working /service dog training, or at the very least join a conditioning programme to enable you to work safely alongside it.
What is Core Conditioning?
Core conditioning fills the gap between Canine Physical therapies and Sport Specific Training.
They are slow, controlled, low impact exercises designed to gently and safely target and address muscular weakness in your dog’s body which makes these programme suitable for dogs from 12 weeks+ . My oldest graduate is 14 years!
I teach you how to strengthen your dog’s core by improving coordination, strength, mental and physical agility, flexibility, fitness, and muscle function in the same way as your personal trainer would.
The better your dog moves the less likely he or she is to injure and the longer you both can enjoy doing all the things you love!
Your dog will look & feel better, happier, and have bags more energy!
Angela Day, MCICM (grad), CM (Dip), MIAAT, MIRVAP (MT)