Author: Sam Axtell

Canine Conditioning and the canine athlete

The benefits of canine conditioning

Exercise has both physical and psychological benefits for dogs. Dogs that undertake a canine conditioning program have better cardiovascular function, core strength, proprioception (balance and body awareness), flexibility and strength than their sedentary colleagues.A canine conditioning program will also be mentally challenging for your dog, providing much needed mental stimulation for your dog (and you!) as they get to grips with sometimes challenging new skills.

Injury prevention in dogs

Critically, a canine conditioning program has been shown to both improve the performance of working and sporting dogs as well as helping to prevent injuries. When injuries do occur, they tend to be less severe and recovery is faster, which has to be good news all round.

So what’s involved in a canine conditioning program?

Every canine conditioning program begins with an assessment of the dog to ensure that it is fit to undertake the program. By the end of the assessment we’ll have a good idea of your dog’s relative strengths and weaknesses.Once this part is complete it’s on with the six week program where we cover the basic canine conditioning elements of balance; mental stimulation; flexibility; core strength and strength.It’s great fun and the dogs love it as it’s genuinely mentally challenging for them.

A word about safety

It’s unfortunate that a number of dangerous practices have become common as people try to build core strength in their dogs. Instability equipment such as wobble boards and peanut balls are common and many people have taught their dogs to ‘sit pretty’ in the mistaken belief that this will build core strength, little realising that the dog’s facet joints in the back are I’ll equipped to deal with this exercise.The simple reality is that there are many well meaning individuals out there who have a poor understanding of dog physiology who are mindlessly promoting these practices. However, there is emerging evidence that these activities can have a detrimental effect on your dog or are, at best, ineffective.Rest assured that there are plenty of safe and effective exercises to build all round fitness in your dog.

Join me

As a licensed instructor with the Canine Conditioning Academy, I am uniquely placed to take you through the fantastic canine conditioning program.Contact me today to find out how you and your dog can get involved. Telephone 07842 153831Email

Seven things your dog knows about productivity that they’ll probably never tell you.

The secret’s out

I have a confession and I really don’t know how to tell you. Alongside my passion for working with dogs I have another more secret obsession that I’ve been hiding from you.

The sad truth of the matter is that I’m a complete productivity nerd. Yes, it’s true. I just love getting stuff done.

And then I got thinking maybe, just maybe there was a way of combining my passions. There is a fair amount of established wisdom about the kind of things that make you more productive. I should know. I read about it. A lot. And the thing is, I can see some of these things reflected in the ways dogs behave. But let’s face facts. Fido is never going to share these things with you. So it looks like it’s down to me.

Seven things your dog knows about productivity that they’re never going to tell you

1. Get up early

The early bird catches the worm, or so the adage goes, and if your dogs are anything like mine, they’re raring to go at 5:30 in the morning.

Starting the day early enables you to get on top of all those important tasks for the day, plan out your key actions and make progress on your important projects. But not everyone is a lark. If you’re an owl you are no doubt better in the evening. The secret is to plan your day so that you’re focused on your most important work when you’re most alert.

2. Stretch

It feels great to have a good stretch when you wake up and your muscles, and your dog, agree.

When you sleep, your muscles lose tone and fluid tends to pool along your back. Stretching helps to massage fluid gently back into the normal position. Also, your muscles protect themselves from over-extension by inhibiting the nerve impulses as they approach their limit.

Have you noticed that your dog usually has a good stretch as soon as they get up? That’s the reason why. It’s odd that they’ve never mentioned it to you before but dogs are funny like that.

I’m not talking about a full stretching routine here. That wouldn’t be good. Just a complete body stretch to send you on your way. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, ask your dog.

3. Drink lots of water

Not many of us drink enough water but our dogs usually do. Water plays a crucial role in supporting the function of the brain. It helps transport oxygen and nutrients critical to the brain for optimal function, whilst providing cushioning and lubrication to the brain tissue. I have to confess that I probably don’t drink enough water throughout the day but I always drink a pint on rising.

4. Keep fit and keep moving

Your dog needs no motivation to keep fit and get moving. Dogs are natural athletes and just love to run around. Some of us more inclined to be couch potatoes but all the evidence suggests that having a fit body has lots of positive spin offs for our brain power too. Fortunately you have the perfect training partner and coach at hand. Why not try walking a bit more briskly, Cani-Cross or one of my Canine Nordic Walking sessions. Your brain and your dog will thank you for it.

5. Be like a dog with a bone

Sometimes you need a degree of tenacity to get stuff done. Let’s face it, we’re all prone to procrastination but sometimes you just have to power through those routine mundane tasks or face your fears with some of those bigger tasks. I find it helpful to think why I might be procrastinating. Am I putting the task off because it’s boring or am I a bit frightened of putting myself out there. Once I have identified why I’m procrastinating and the consequences of not doing something I can usually find a way through, just like your dog with a bone.

6. Power nap

Your dog is constantly napping throughout the day and, whilst I don’t recommend that as a way of getting things done, occasionally I will indulge in a power nap to recharge my batteries. Experts recommend napping for no more than 20 minutes during the day. Any longer and you risk going into a deep sleep and waking up drowsy and unable to crack on with all those important tasks.

7. Prioritise

Your dog probably has three clear priorities for their day – going for a walk, eating and spending as much time with you as possible. Just like your dog, you’ll be more effective if you can prioritise your three most important tasks for the day. If you get those done you can always pick another task to do or you could congratulate yourself on being so productive and help your dog with their to-do list by taking them for a walk.

So there you are. The cat’s out the bag now and I’ve probably annoyed your dog by sharing these canine productivity secrets but look on the bright side, Fido. Your owner is going to have more time to spend with those most important in their life and, knowing them as I do, that’s bound to be you.

The Complete Beginners Guide to Canine Nordic Walking

What is Nordic Walking?
Nordic Walking is a specific fitness technique developed by Nordic Skiers to keep themselves fit in the off-season. It is a complete exercise system that can be used by anyone from the most sedentary to the super-fit. It exercises 95% of muscles in the body and, when done correctly, can burn up to 65% more calories than walking alone.
What equipment do I need?
If you join me on one of the Wolf Run Canine Nordic Walking sessions, all equipment is provided.
The equipment you will use is as follows:
Nordic Walking Poles
These differ from normal hiking poles. The releasable strap and angled “paw” are designed to complement the Nordic Walking technique, enabling maximum push through the pole. The two main suppliers of such poles in the UK are Levi and Gabel.
Harness for your dog
A good harness should be snug fitting and not impede the dog’s movement in any way. We find a cani-cross walking harness to be the best for this activity.
Bungee line
The bungee line attaches you to your dog throughout the activity. It absorbs any shock for both you or your dog. If there is a sudden jolt your bungee line will absorb this.
The length of the line is important here. Too long and you may feel your dog is out of control. Too short and you risk treading on your dog’s back legs. About 2 metres is just about ideal.
Waist belt
The waist belt connects you to your dog. A good quality waist belt is important to support your back if your dog pulls (although my experience is that even the most enthusiastic pullers soon stop once we get going) and to safely secure your dog so you can confidently walk hands free.
What sort of dogs can do it?
Any dog can do Canine Nordic Walking but please do check with your vet if your dog has a medical condition that will affect it’s ability to take part.
Can anyone do Nordic Walking?
Nordic Walking is a low impact activity, making it suitable for many people that couldn’t do other types of exercise such as running that puts more stress on the joints.
The “gears” system we use means that you can Nordic Walk within your own limits, choosing to push yourself as little or as much as you want.
Nordic Walking has been shown to be beneficial to a wide range of health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, bad backs, respiratory issues and Parkinson’s disease.
If in doubt please consult your doctor before embarking on a program.
Is there any special training involved for my dog?
One of the most amazing things about Canine Nordic Walking is the way your dog will tune into you and automatically seems to know if you are turning right or left, slowing down or speeding up. Whilst you are Canine Nordic Walking your dog will be on high alert “listening” for your next move. This means that this is a mental as well as a physical activity for your dog. Indeed, owners have been amazed quite how tired their dog was at the end of a session.
If you wanted to develop this training it is quite easy to do so. For instance, when your dog goes to the right, you simply add a command for this such as “right”. If you use this consistently and praise liberally your dog will soon pick it up.
What are the benefits for me and my dog?
Aside from the health benefits outlined above, you will be doing an activity that will build on the bond between you and your dog and, quite literally, you will be harnessing their desire to work.
I’m sold. How do I sign up?
If you want to give your dog a fantastic day out please contact me to book onto a session. Leave me a comment at the end of this blog, email me at or phone or text me on 07842 153831

Trade secrets- what to do if your dog strains a muscle and how to prevent it happening in the first place

In the second part of a two part blog, I explore what immediate steps you can take if the worst comes to the worst and your dog strains or tears a muscle and what you can do in the longer term to prevent these painful injuries from occurring.

What to do if you suspect your dog has torn a muscle.

  1. Don’t panic! Ok, so that bit’s easier said than done and if your dog suddenly goes lame or doesn’t seem their normal selves, it’s quite natural to panic. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can immediately put into place to help your dog.
  2. Rest. The acute or really painful phase of a muscle strain lasts for approximately 72 hours or about three days. During this time, the injury is extremely painful and it is critical to rest during this time as the dog can easily injure themselves further. It is important to note that that the dog may be unwilling to rest but it is important that you, as a responsible owner, enforce this in their behalf.
  3. Ice can have a transformative impact on a muscle strain. If you apply ice to the affected area it will reduce swelling and ease the pain. Initially you can apply it for up to 10 minutes every hour during the first 72 hours. Please avoid heat though. Contrary to popular belief it won’t assist in reducing inflammation one little bit.
  4. Ok, so this one is a bit controversial but I would definitely consider a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory in the first 72 hours. Why? Because if you’ve ever experienced a muscular strain yourself you will appreciate just how painful and debilitating they can be. Anti-inflammatories prescribed by your vet (and I wouldn’t recommend you using anything else) like Rymadil and Metacam don’t get a great press because, just like Ibuprofen in humans,they can have some quite unpleasant side effects. However, I’m not suggesting for a minute that you put your dog on these long term or any longer than 3 days. What I am suggesting is that whilst your dog is experiencing the intense pain of a muscular strain, they will almost certainly appreciate some help getting through this. After the first three days I would not continue with this as intense pain will subside. The remaining pain does have a useful function in curbing your dog’s exuberant behaviour that might cause further damage
  5. Monitor your dog. If you don’t see an improvement after 72 hours please consult your vet. The symptoms you are seeing might indicate an orthopaedic or other issue or, in rare cases, muscular strains can require surgery.
  6. Consult a canine massage therapist after the first 72 hours have elapsed. As a muscular strain, which is essentially a tear in the muscle, has begun healing scar tissue will naturally form. This is all part of the healing process. However, this scar tissue can cause inflexibility in the muscle and over time this can restrict mobility. Your canine massage therapist can friction out the scar tissue and stretch your dog’s muscle, restoring the natural range of movement and function of the muscle. The earlier you can get your dog to me, the more I can do to help it.

Preventing muscular strains in dogs

So we’ve looked at what to do if your dog is unlucky enough to sustain a muscular strain but we all know that prevention is better than cure. So what can you do to safeguard your dog against injuries of this type.

Fortunately there is a lot you can do:

  1. Always warm your dog up correctly prior to physical exercise. I go through this in detail in my Canine Conditioning courses but the warm up is designed to ensure that the dog’s muscles are warm and the rest of the body is prepared for exercise.
  2. Future proof your dog. By making sure that your dog has a strong core, is flexible, coordinated and strong, you will be minimising it’s risk of becoming injured. Again, I cover this in detail on my Canine Conditioning course which is based on the latest scientific research and does not use potentially unsafe equipment like wobble boards.
  3. Know when you’re overdoing things with your dog. Your dog will chase a ball until the point of exhaustion and many agility dogs will quite literally run themselves into the ground. Your responsibility as an owner is to ensure that your dog doesn’t injure itself by overdoing things. A high drive dog coupled with a high drive owner can be a recipe for disaster, with neither knowing when to stop. In this scenario, mild injuries can quickly become serious injuries. Rest is as important to fitness as exercise. Take it from me that your dog will not be monitoring this. If you want a strong, fit, durable dog, this is something you will need to take responsibility for.

To book onto the next Canine Conditioning course or to book a Canine Massage Therapy session please leave me a message at the end of this blog or text or ring me on 07842 153831.

Common muscular injuries in dogs. What they are, what causes them, how to prevent them and what to do if your dog gets one. Part 1.

How did my dog injure itself?

As a canine massage therapist, one of the most common questions that clients ask me, is how a dog developed a particular injury. Without being there I am obviously not going to be able to tell you specifically how your dog obtained an injury, but there are some broad principles that can give us some clues.

In part one of a two part blog, I explain about the most common muscular injury that I encounter as a Canine Massage Therapist and Canine Conditioning Instructor – the strain – the symptoms to look out for and what causes them.

The strain

A strained muscle is a stretch or a tear to the muscle fibres or tendons. It should not be confused with a sprain which is a stretching or tearing of a ligament.

A strain can be either acute or chronic.

Acute strains

An acute strain occurs when the muscle is suddenly stretched beyond it’s usual range of motion, resulting in a tear or a pull to the muscle.

Acute strains usually happen as a result of:

  • Slipping eg on laminate floor or on a muddy field.
  • Running, jumping or turning suddenly.

Chronic strains

Chronic strains are a result of prolonged repetitive movements and may occur as a result of any number of activities the dog does on a regular basis eg playing ball, tugging, jumping on and off the sofa.

How do I know if my dog has strained a muscle?

The truth is that it will be difficult for you to know for sure. If you’re in any doubt, please seek advice from a Canine Massage Therapist. However, some of the symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Your dog is in obvious pain
  • There is swelling or bruising in an area
  • Your dog may be limping
  • Your dog is licking a particular area
  • Your dog’s behaviour and temperament suddenly changes ie they may appear depressed and withdrawn or may suddenly become aggressive with other dogs
  • Your dog is unwilling to do certain things it could previously do eg jump in and out of the car or lie in a particular position.
  • Your dog “presents” a particular area to you to be rubbed e.g. it’s neck or hind quarters.

What sort of things put your dog at increased risk of muscle strains?

Of course your dog can injure itself during a routine walk in the park. But what are the key factors that puts your dog at increased risk?

  • Poor conditioning. If a dog has weak muscles, particularly core muscles, they are at an increased risk of injuring themselves. As a Canine Conditioning Instructor, I see many supposedly “fit” dogs that could easily run twenty miles yet their core muscles which support their spine and pelvis are weak. In such cases the risk of the dog straining it’s muscles are high as muscles not designed to do a particular job try to take over. Being overweight is also a risk factor.
  • Fatigue. Tired muscles are less able to provide ample support to the joints. When a dog becomes tired it’s natural movements become compromised and the dog is more likely to succumb to forces that could over-extend a muscle.
    • Improper warm up and cool down. How often have you seen people drive their dog to the park, let them out of the car and immediately start throwing a ball for them. This is a recipe for disaster. Usain Bolt would never arrive at the starting blocks and go into a full sprint without warming up, so why would you let your dog do exactly that? Always ensure that your dog is warmed up properly before you let your dog run off at full pelt. Ten minutes on the lead is ideal for this, gradually increasing the pace from a walk to a trot.
    • Environmental conditions such as wooden flooring (which should always be covered by mats to prevent your dog slipping), muddy fields or ice are all risk factors. On cold days your dog’s muscles will need extra time to warm up.
    • Repetitive activities. If your dog is habitually doing an activity such as chasing a ball, jumping on and off the sofa or tugging it drastically increases their chance of injury.
  • Watch out for part two of my blog where I explain what steps you can take to avoid a muscular strain and what to do if your dog is unlucky enough to injure themselves in this way.