THE BLOG
06/06/2013 10:30 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

4 Simple Stretches to Keep Your Dog Moving

Whether your dog is a canine athlete, getting up in years, is a large or giant breed, or just deserves some TLC, stretching is a great natural tool.

Older dogs are prone to joint problems, loss of muscle tone and size, decreased flexibility, and the aches and pains of an aging body.

Dogs involved in athletic events can put a lot of stress on their bodies during competition. Stretching is extremely important for these canine athletes.

Large and giant-breed dogs are prone to musculoskeletal problems, so keeping your big guy lean, strong and supple is crucial to his well-being.

Natural therapies like stretching, chiropractic, and regular physical activity are very important to maintaining your dog's comfort, mobility and quality of life. Providing daily walks followed by a short session of gentle stretching can do wonders for your pet both physically and mentally.

Simple, Gentle Stretches You Can Complete in Minutes a Day

There are three areas of your dog's body for which stretching is especially beneficial -- the hips, shoulders and back.

The following stretches, done slowly and gently, are well tolerated by most dogs. However, if you don't feel confident in your ability to do the stretches, consider asking your vet or a small-animal chiropractor to demonstrate the stretches for you so you can do them at home.

Instructions for most of these stretches have your dog standing, but you can also do them with your dog lying on her side, or in the case of the chest stretch, on her back. The model for the standing stretches, our dog Rosco, was an adult rescue who has never rolled onto his back. Some dogs are very uncomfortable in this position, so if yours is, don't force the issue. To demonstrate the lying-on-back chest stretch, we used our dog Ada, who we've taught from puppyhood to "play" on her back.

If your pet shows any sign of pain during stretching, discontinue the movement and have her seen by your vet as soon as possible.

Stretching the hip flexors. The hip flexors are muscles that enable your dog to move his legs and hips while walking, trotting or running. To stretch the hip flexors, ask your dog to stand, and grasp a back leg above the knee. Gently and slowly move the leg back straight out behind your dog's body. When you reach a point of resistance, where further extension will require applying pressure, hold the leg in position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat this stretch two or three times with each back leg.

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Stretching the shoulder flexors. Shoulder flexors are muscles that allow fluid movement and proper use of your dog's front legs. To stretch the shoulder flexors, with your dog standing, grasp a front leg above the elbow, place your other hand under the elbow to stabilize it, and gently move the leg forward (imagine you're teaching your pet to do a "high-five"). At the point of resistance, hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat two or three times for each front leg.

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Stretching the chest area. The muscles of your dog's chest endure a great deal of strain. This is an abduction stretch, meaning a stretch away from center. With your dog on his back, grasp both front legs near the wrists and gently open them out to the side. Hold for several seconds, release and repeat.

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Stretching the back. This stretch requires the use of training treats. Again with your dog standing and you on one side of her, move the treat slowly in the direction of her tail, encouraging her to follow it with her eyes -- turning only her head. This will require her to bend her body into a C shape. Hold her in this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then step to her other side and repeat the exercise. Do two or three stretches on each side.

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After you've stretched your dog's back, she'll really enjoy a sacrum and back rub. The sacrum is the area in front of the base of the tail, between the hipbones. Using light pressure and circular movements massage the hard flat surface of the sacrum. Move your hands slowly up your dog's spine and back using gentle massage strokes.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com.

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

For more by Dr. Karen Becker, click here.

For more on pet health, click here.

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