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Canicross - Do you warm up and cool down?

Updated: May 29

Canicross is becoming increasingly popular in the canine world and I did my first session last week with Tees valley Canisports. So this inspired me to create a simple warm up and cool down protocol for all the canicrossers out there. This simple guide aims to provide a quick warmup and cooldown routine which helps reduce injury risk and aid in recovery.

So where do you start?

Step one: Warming the muscles

When you arrive at the area you are running the first thing to do is to take a walk.

Aim for 10 minutes, if it is a cold day go for 15minutes to ensure the muscles are warmed through thoroughly.

Start the walk off slow with a loose leash, and as you progress speed up the walk to a brisk walk. Do not let your dog pull on this walk, allow your dog to sniff and toilet also.

You can finish off the ten minutes with a short jog to increase circulation and get your heart rate up.

Step two:

Once you have completed your walk warm up there are some quick exercises to do with your dog to activate different muscle groups before you head off onto your run.

Exercise 1:

Baited stretches - a nice quick exercise to increase spinal and neck flexibility is cookie stretches. Have your dog bend to the left as far as they can without spinning or stepping out and then back round to the right.

Do this 3-5x per side.

You can also encourage other stretches including stretching up and down

See the image for an example of the different stretches you can do.

Image taken from

Exercise two: sit to stands

If your dog can do a straight sit to stand this is an excellent exercise to activate the hind end muscles.

Repeat the exercise 3-5 times depending on your dogs capability.

See the image for correct sit posture

Exercise 3:

Another great exercise to increase flexibility is the figure 8 exercise

Using your legs as a guide ask your dog to weave through your legs in a figure 8 motion. Repeat this a few times.

Image taken from:

Remember to be cautious with all exercises and look out for signs of fatigue.

If you feel your dog needs specific help or is struggling in certain areas always check in with either your vet or veterinary physiotherapist.

So what should I do after a run?

Once you have finished your run, take your dogs harness off guessed it, head back out for a walk. The aim of this walk is to slow the heart and respiratory rate back to normal. However keeping moving whilst your cooling down aids with lactic acid build up and supports recovery. Again aim for a nice relaxed loose lead walk so your dog can differentiate between high energy running and a slow relaxing walk.

Aim for 10 minutes of walking but you may need longer if its a warm day or if you tried particularly hard. If your dog is particularly hyperactive or hyper fixated try and see if they will relax into the walk (this may require a slightly longer walk), not only are we trying to cool the body down but mentally to recover the dog needs to learn to relax.

At the end of the walk you can incorporate the baited stretches from earlier.

There are also great limb stretches you can do to really stretch those muscles after a hard run.

Stretching the hip flexors:

While in a stand, gently extend the hind limb backwards. Keep the back and pelvis parallel with the ground. Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Stretching the chest

Stretching the chest can be performed in a sit position. This stretch involves gently moving the limb away from the chest to the side. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Repeat with the other side.

Stretching the shoulder flexor

The shoulder flexors can be stretched in a stand.  Grasp the forearm gently in front of the elbow and stretch the limb forward while staying parallel with the ground. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Repeat with the other side.

Always assess for signs of pain, behaviours such as licking, lip licking, yawning, growling.

How does seeing a canine physiotherapist help?

Veterinary Physiotherapists can assess your dogs muscles and joints for potential soreness that may be present but has gone unnoticed by yourself. This is quite common as dogs are excellent at masking pain.

It is very often that chronic pain in dogs is often missed as it is assumed that dogs are only in pain if they are limping or cry out.

But think about your muscle or joint soreness? Does this stop you doing day to day activities? For most people pain just sits in the background and if there's a flare up we take painkillers. But for dogs painkillers are only introduced when the pain is so severe that the dog cannot hide it any longer. So our aim is to see dogs regularly so we can manage early signs of pain and intervene as early as possible to prevent chronic pain and long term compensatory issues.

Muscle soreness can present as stiffness after exercise.

If your dog looks stiff after sleeping, struggles to get up stairs or on and off furniture these are all indicators of pain and may be coming from the muscles or joints or both.

Harness fit can also lead to muscle soreness. If your dog becomes fearful when you get the harness out this may be a sign it is of poor fit and is potentially rubbing and can be part of the reason your dog doesn't like wearing one.

Visiting your physiotherapist regularly can ensure that small changes can be picked up quickly. It also allows for us to assess weaknesses in your dog which with specific exercises can be focussed on to reduce injury risk and promote a long, healthy, active and mobile lifestyle.

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