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Weightpulling as Physical Therapy

Macha's weightpull career started with her tearing her CCL at 6 months old. We used light drag weight as part of her physical therapy to rebuild the muscles in her rear legs and to help prevent her from injuring her other leg or re-injuring the one she had previously torn. We slowly added weight as she got stronger and started taking her to competitions a year & a half later. Today, you'd never know that she had such a crippling injury and that she was able to heal and regain complete use of her leg without surgery!

Di Andress
Rehabilitation and Conditioning Exercises

Although orthopedic injuries are fairly uncommon in this sport, unlike agility and some higher impact sports, it is important to condition your dog properly and not encourage a training regimen that your dogs skill level and body condition have not been prepared for.

If your dog shows ANY indication of lameness, see your veterinarian for further recommendations and treatment.

In order to use his/her body most efficiently for pulling, he should ideally hold his head at or below shoulder level and engage all four legs equally. If you are not sure if this is happening, it is extremely helpful to videotape your dog's pulling style from the front, side and rear to evaluate his form and ideal function. You may find that as the weight gets higher the dog changes his body style. If his pulling style and efficiency changes too much from the "ideal," you may be increasing weight too quickly.

It does not take very much drag weight resistance to condition a dog on a regular basis. Work with your veterinarian, a qualified trainer, and/or physical therapist to decide how much resistance to use. This will vary depending on your reason for conditioning (be it physical, behavioral or sport), and your frequency of conditioning sessions. This way your dog will have a long, healthy career.

The exercises listed below are used for both conditioning for the canine athlete to prevent injuries, as well as rehabilitation for dogs recovering from various orthopedic injuries. All of them can benefit any dog and owner team both physically and mentally from the time spent and the relationship derived from the teamwork and training.
This information had been provided by Jennifer Barnes LVT, CCRP, a Licensed Veterinary Technician and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioners at Village Veterinary Hospital in Canastota New York, working under Dr. Kerry Brown, DVM and the 8 other doctors at their practice.

Passive Range of Motion
Goal: Helps to maintain or improve flexion/extension of the joints, improve flexibility of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and enhance awareness of structure and function.
Hold the limb above the joint with one hand and grasp below the joint with the other. Over a few seconds, gently flex the joint until the first indication of discomfort is noted.
Over the next few seconds extend the joint again until the first indication of discomfort is noted.
Repeat for 10 or more repetitions.

Goal: Helps to stretch and realign soft tissues and collagen.
Hold the limb above the joint with one hand and grasp below the joint with the other. Over a few seconds, gently flex the joint until the first indication of discomfort is noted. Hold this position for 30-90 seconds.
Over the next few seconds extend the joint again until the first indication of discomfort is noted. Hold this position for 30-90 seconds.
Repeat for 2 to 5 repetitions.

Treadmill Walking
Goal: Encourage the use of the limbs, increase muscle mass and tone, increase cardiovascular health, and overall conditioning.
Begin with slower walking and increase speed and incline as directed.

Stair Climbing
Goal: Improves power of hind leg extensors.
Begin slowly to encourage proper use of limbs.
Animal should step with each limb independently of each other vs. skipping or hopping up steps.

Cavaletti Rails
Goal: Improve limb use, increase stride length, and improve active range of motion of the joints.
Begin with rails (poles) low and spaced evenly, a distance equal to the distance from the animals shoulders to hip.
Begin at a slow walk over 3-5 rails. Repeat for 5-10 repetitions.
Progress to increasing the height of the rails, the distance apart, and the speed at which the exercise is completed as directed by rehabilitator.

Goal: Encourages lateral flexion of the spinal column, improves proprioception, offers weight shifting during movement to encourage limb use, and strengthens muscles for more advanced movements.
Place poles or objects in a straight line an equal distance apart. Distance apart should be less than the length of the animal to encourage side bending and weight shifting.
Walk the animal through the poles at a slow pace to begin to encourage the proper movement.

Weight Shifting
Goal: Enhance proprioceptive ability.
Feet should be placed squarely under the animal.
Gently push animal from side to side.
Support may be used to avoid falling in very weak animals.
Perform this exercise for several minutes.

Balance Board
Goal: Challenge and enhance proprioception.
With either all four feet on the board or just the front feet or just the hind feet, manipulate the balance board in a rocking motion.
Begin with very gentle, deliberate movements and progress to a more unpredictable movement as abilities improve.
Any uneven surface will work. (ex – pillows, air mattress, balance disc)
Perform this exercise for several minutes.

Goal: Strengthens hind limb flexors and stifle extensors.
Have the animal sit and stand squarely, with both rear limbs evenly spaced while sitting, and pushing off equally with both rear limbs to stand.
Begin with 5 repetitions and work up to 15, 2-3 times daily.

Goal: Improve the strength of the forelimbs.
Lift the rear limbs off of the ground and advance the animal forward.

Goal: Improves the use and strength of the rear limbs.
Lift the forelimbs off of the ground and ask the animal to step forward and/or backward.

Goal: Improve muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.
Begin slowly, 2-3 minutes, 2-3 times daily and increase up to 20 minutes, 2-4 times daily.
Jogging up hills may be added to challenge animal.

Articles about the benefits of resistance training.
Weightpulling is one of many, low impact, easy exercise techniques you can practice with your dog. It doesn't require much time, training, equipment or money for you and your dog to reap a variety of benefits and have fun together at the same time!