Condition Your Bird Dog to Help Prevent Soft-Tissue Injuries
Crashing through the tag alder, tripping over a drumming log, or putting an ankle between a rock and a hard place are hazards that make pursuing the king of game birds both challenging and appealing. It’s no wonder our canine athletes come down with aches, pains and strains, yet it’s amazing they’re willing to persevere, often relying on heart and sheer desire.
Soft-tissue injuries, which damage the muscles, ligaments and tendons, in bird dogs are common, and lameness in bird dogs is nothing to ignore due to the risk of a minor injury turning into a chronic problem. Not only could an injury be painful for a dog, it also could mean sidelining a promising hunting season in rehab.
There are many things that can contribute to injuries in hardworking bird dogs. It is important to understand why an injury occurs to prevent future problems. Poor flexibility, inadequate warm-up and lack of conditioning are examples. Fatigue, overtraining and insufficient rest can be factors, as can forceful contractions, overstretching tendons, repetitive stress and strength imbalances.
“Dogs need a 10- to 15-minute warm-up before they exercise,” says Jennell Appel, DVM, CCRT, a certified canine rehabilitation therapist and founder of the SportVet Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Mobile Clinic. “A fast-paced walk helps to improve flexibility and heat the muscles, which reduce susceptibility to a strain injury and facilitate oxygen utilization due to an increase in hemoglobin release.”
A conditioned dog has greater stamina and longevity in the grouse and woodcock coverts, with less stress on the body. “If you do core work with puppies, you will reap the benefits later,” says Appel. “The five components of conditioning are strength training, endurance, balance, body awareness, and flexibility.”
A dog also should be gradually cooled down 10 to 15 minutes after work. “A slow walk on a leash helps to dissipate waste products in the body,” she says. “This gradual decrease in cardiac output helps prevent the blood from pooling in the muscles and reduce soreness.”
Stretching should be part of a training regimen, but should only be done after the muscles are warm, such as following a day afield or after a 10-minute walk. Exercises to help stretch the shoulders (biceps and supraspinatus), iliopsoas and hamstring are beneficial. Although stretching before a hunt does not reduce the risk of injury, it does help decrease the force of muscle contractions. Regular active stretching is best.
“I usually encourage stretching at the end of training or a hunt,” Appel says. “Stretch dogs at the end of the day before being put in a vehicle for travel. A stretching protocol should consist of stretching two to three times a week, not every day, and always on days afield.”
Nutrition also is a critical component to conditioning your hardworking bird dog. Diet can change a dog’s athleticism. Dogs must be fed a high-fat, high-protein performance food to maximize their performance. These dogs have a high oxygen metabolism, or VO2 max, which gives them increased aerobic energy and endurance. The Purina Pro Plan SPORT portfolio is designed to provide optimal nutrition for your hardworking bird dog.
Note that it takes several months to get a dog in tiptop shape. Adopting and implementing a conditioning program now will pay dividends by the time grouse season rolls around. That goes for you, too!
Conditioning Exercises for Bird Dogs
These exercises build on the five conditioning components to deliver maximum benefits and help prevent soft-tissue injuries.
|Strength Training (Resistance Training)||Running uphill (straight or angled), weight/cart pulling, hindlimb resistance bands, trotting over obstacles (Cavaletti exercises), stand/down/sit, crawling||Increases muscle girth and decreases stress on joints by building muscles to support joints|
|Endurance Training||Slow, steady trot for at least 20 minutes, steady swim for at least 15 minutes||Decreases heart rate, increases lactate threshold in muscles (exercise intensity at which lactic acid begins to accumulate), and increases maximal oxygen consumption (point during exercise when oxygen consumption remains at a steady state despite increase in work)|
|Balance||Figure 8 walking on an air mattress, three-leg and two-leg standing on a balance ball or disc||Increases core strength|
|Body Awareness (Proprioceptive Training)||Ladder/obstacle/plank walking, mattress walking||Increases the ability to sense spatial orientation of the body and adjust movements accordingly; proprioceptors located in the muscle send signals to the brain, allowing for coordinated movement; nerves can be trained, and the connection between neurons can be strengthened|
|Flexibility||Stretching program twice weekly||Increases extensibility of tissues and range of motion; decreases chance of tearing muscle/tendon fibers|