Have you ever noticed your dog leaning when they are taking a tight turn. (If not, just look at the above photo.) Interestingly, if they’re turning right, they lean on their right side. If they are turning left, they lean on their left side. This isn’t just true for your dog, if you’ve ever seen a person turn on a motorcycle, they lean so much it’s hard to understand how they don’t fall. Runners do it too. Sprinters in the 200 meter are taught to “lean in” to the turn as they come around the track.
So why does this happen and how important is it to the conditioning of your dog? The reason for the leaning, oddly, is so the object turning doesn’t fall over. Simply put, the turning in one direction creates “pull” or Centrifugal Force in the opposite direction of the turn. In order to counter balance this “pull” in the opposite direction of your turn, you have to lean away from it, or, toward the direction you are turning. The tighter/faster the turn or Centripetal Force, the more “pull” in the opposite direction of the turn, and therefore, the more lean that is necessary to stay balanced and up right. Said another way, the faster/tighter you want to turn, the more you have to lean.
Why is this important for the canine athlete? If tighter faster turns require more lean, then your dog will need more body awareness, balance and coordination in order to gauge how much lean is necessary to oppose the pulling force. Poor awareness will lead to too much lean and your dog will lose its balance or, more often, too little lean will result in slower turns. Additionally, and most importantly, unlike a motorcycle, leaning for dogs require the strength to do so.
Poor body awareness and balance will inhibit your dog’s desire and capability to lean, but weakness will render a dog unable to withstand the load placed on the side of the body your dog is leaning on. Even worse, there is usually an inconsistency of strength between sides. Meaning your dog will turn tighter in one direction than the other simply because they are stronger on one side of their body than the other.
However, despite your dog’s ability to do lean naturally, we can make them better at it through conditioning. Although general conditioning practices will help improve limb strength, balance and body awareness, you need to do specific exercises that load one side of the body (ipsilateral), and they need to be performed at multiple angles as well, like the ones that have been shown here.
You might have heard of the SAID principle, Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. To build a strong, injury free foundation, your dog should perform conditioning exercises from a square, balanced, uniform base. However, this will yield minimal results for improving your dog’s ability to turn. If you don’t stress your dog’s body, in a similar fashion to what it takes for them to turn, their nervous system won’t adapt to doing it. It’s simply not how things work. And this is, in part, a significant reason why many people don’t achieve their conditioning goals. When I trained human athletes the saying was, “If you don’t train it in the gym, you won’t see it on the field”.
So if you want to see your dog turn tighter and faster you have to give them the strength, balance, and body awareness to do so with specific exercises that can make that happen. Keep in mind, canine conditioning exercises -and full extension exercises in particular- create the risk of injury during execution. It is best to seek instruction from a veterinary or canine conditioning professional before starting a conditioning program with your dog.
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