Physical Therapy Exercises for Dogs with IVDD
If your Dachshund has suffered a disk rupture, or back injury, related to Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD), you may be looking for physical therapy exercises you can do at home to help your dog recover.
These IVDD rehabilitation exercises are good for your Dachshund even if they haven’t suffered a back injury yet.
They strengthen spine-supporting muscles and improve balance, which can help prevent, or minimize, a potential Dachshund back injury in the future.
A big part of my Dachshund Gretel’s active recovery from her back injury, caused by IVDD, were the strength-building, body awareness, and balance exercises prescribed by our rehab veterinarian.
In Gretel’s case, she was diagnosed at stage 2 and surgery was not needed.
However, these physical therapy exercises are helpful whether your Dachshund had back surgery or you went the conservative treatment route.
I want to share the exercises that were given to us by our dog rehab veterinarian so you can do them at home or ask your veterinarian about them.
Disclaimer: I’m not a vet. I worked with a dog rehab vet and a dog fitness trainer to determine which exercises to do and how to do them properly.
Please check with your veterinarian before you start any new exercise routine with your dog, especially if they are recovering from an injury.
UPDATED: February 2, 2023
Because IVDD is a genetic, degenerative spinal disease, these exercises won’t guarantee that there won’t be a re-occurrence.
There is a 20% chance that disks not involved in the initial injury can bulge or rupture.
However, improving a Dachshund’s muscle tone and flexibility can:
- Help support the spine
- Increase circulation to the disks
- Teach proper body mechanics so that your dog is not putting undue stress on their spine
- Help to minimize the severity of any future disk ruptures or flareups
- All of these exercises can be done at home if you have the right dog fitness equipment
Note: many of the links in this article are affiliate links. That means that we receive a small commission on qualifying purchases.
Dos Exercise Equipment Needed
Below are is the dog fitness equipment I have for our “home gym”:
- K9FITbone Regular dog balance training platform and two FITBone Minis
- FitPAWS CanineGym Agility Kit (used as cavaletti rails – two sets are ideal)
- FitPAWS Traxdonut
- Dog balance disc
- Adjustable metal dog fence for small dogs (X-pen style)
- Square cut out of a cheap yoga mat for a rear paw target (one from the thrift store is pretty cheap)
The total cost for this equipment new is approximately $375 plus tax, but you can likely find some of it on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for cheaper.
If you have a small dog, you may also be able to use a ladder laid flat on the ground as your cavaletti rails.
I don’t have enough space in my house to leave this dog gym equipment set up all of the time (I wish!). Instead, I have to store them in the garage and set them up each time we want to use them.
If you can, make a space in an extra room and leave them out while your dog is still doing the exercises regularly.
That will make it so much easier, and more convenient, to fit them into your daily routine.
Exercises for Dogs with IVDD
Physical therapy for dogs with IVDD typically includes exercises to help strengthen muscles, increase body awareness, and improve balance and flexibility.
These are the IVDD rehabilitation exercises I was given for my Dachshund Gretel (arranged roughly from easiest to hardest)
1) Walk backwards
This exercise teaches body and hind leg awareness.
The gym instructor created a chute with an X-pen and enticed her with a treat.
She led my dog into the chute with a treat and then started moving it backwards in one steady motion.
This uninterrupted motion helps deter a dog from stopping and trying to turn around instead of backing out.
The trainer started by leading her in just a little and then increased the depth.
Once Gretel understood what she was being asked to do, we progressed to asking her to back up to a target with no walls on either side of her.
2) Rear paw target
This exercise strengthens the core and chest muscles by putting a dog’s front legs on the ground but elevating their back legs on a balance bone.
The instructor got Gretel into position by using a cookie to get her to walk up and over the K9 FITbone.
She had her stop once her front legs were on the ground but her back legs were still up on the bone.
The video below shows a potential precursor to the exercise above using a yoga mat instead of the higher FITbone.
The goal here is not to improve muscle strength but to improve hind-leg awareness because the dog learns to feel the difference between the floor and the yoga mat and stop backing up.
Once your Dachshund learns to feel with their back feet, they may have an easier time learning that they need to lift their legs onto the balance bone in order to get to the different texture.
You can start with the shorter balance disk at the rear target and eventually graduate to the mini and regular FITbones.
3) Cavaletti rails
If you are not familiar, cavaletti rails are like small horse jumps with several in a row.
The goal is to get your Dachshund to step over them one leg at a time – first front, second front, first back, second back – without hopping or jumping.
It teaches your dog body awareness and to pay attention to what their feet are doing.
It also teaches them to pick up/bend their back legs instead of walking stiff-legged and swinging them around to the outside of the hips (like Gretel often tries to do).
I started with 1 1/2″ PVC pipe laid on the ground but found that they moved around too much so I progressed to using the CanineGym Gear Agility Kit listed above.
The canine gym instructor we took lessons from gave me this tip to shorten the height of the poles off the ground: lay the cones on their side and then insert the poles at the top (narrowest) part of the cone.
Use 4 – 8 poles placed as far apart as your dog is tall at the shoulders.
This helps prevent your Dachshund from moving their front and back legs over the poles at the same time (ie. they will need to move each leg separately).
4) Sit to stand
This exercise strengthens the rear legs and is pretty simple.
We started on the floor and then moved to doing it on the K9 FITbone.
I make Gretel sit and then lure her into a stand using a treat.
For this exercise to be of benefit, your Dachshund should use their back legs to push themselves up instead of their front legs to pull themselves up.
It helped prevent Gretel from stepping forward by resting the back of my hand on her chest when luring her to stand so she physically could not step forward.
5) Paws Up
This exercise strengthens the core and hindquarters.
The idea is to place your Dachshund’s front feet on an unstable surface while their hind legs remain on the ground.
This unstable surface can be something low like a balance disk or something higher like the K9 FITbone.
You can use a treat to lure your dog to step up onto the balance equipment then stop once their front paws are on it.
The idea is to encourage a weight shift to your Dachshund’s rear legs so you may need to back the treat up a bit (but not so far that your dog steps back off).
Try to hold the treat in a position where your dog will hold their head up and their back is straight.
6) Paws up pivot
This exercise strengthens the core, hips, and enhances body awareness.
For this balance disk exercise, lure your Dachshund (with a treat) to put their front feet near the center of the disk, thus elevating their feet 2 – 3 ” off the ground.
Keep your hand, and therefore your dog’s head and front feet, in the same position.
Stand beside your dog with your treat hand outstretched in front of their mouth and take a tiny step toward your Dachshund’s side.
Your dog should sense the “body pressure” and naturally want to step sideways with their back legs to move away from you.
Keep doing this in tiny steps so they use their back legs to pivot around the disk, keeping their front feet in the same position.
7) Paws up to rear paw target
This exercise strengthens the core muscles, rear muscles, and chest muscles.
It combines both the paws up exercise and the position of the rear-paw target exercise.
Using the K9FITbone, lure your Dachshund into the paws up exercise and have them hold that position for 10 – 15 seconds.
Then lure your dog walk over the balance bone so they are in the rear paw target position. Hold that for 10 – 15 seconds.
You can then have them step down, walk around the bone, and then start over.
To make the exercise more difficult, you can ask your dog to do the exercise in reverse.
To do this, use a treat to get your Dachshund to back up until both their front and back feet are on the bone.
Then back up some more to step their back feet off.
8) All 4 unstable
This exercise strengthens the core.
It can be done on an unstable surface like the K9 FITbone, balance disk, or donut, depending on the level of challenge appropriate for your dog.
This exercise is just as it sounds – all 4 of your Dachshund’s paws are on the unstable surface.
You can get your dog up onto the surface by gently lifting them and placing them there or by luring them onto it with a treat.
If you use something that is more unstable like the donut or balance bone, it’s best if you hold the equipment stable with your feet or knees until your dog has found their balance.
Then you can slowly release your hold on it to create more and more of a challenge for your dog.
During this exercise, it’s important to keep your Dachshund’s topline (back) straight and neutral as possible.
Also, your dog should be standing up on all four legs, not squatting or resting on their wrist or ankles.
9) Three-legged stand
This exercise strengthens your Dachshund’s core and improves balance.
This exercise starts with your dog standing with all four feet.
Then you gently lift one paw at a time.
The goal is to get your Dachshund to shift their weight to the other three paws and not push on your hand to hold themselves up or balance.
This is done with both front and both back legs, one at a time.
To up the challenge, do this exercise on an unstable surface such as the dog balance disk for regular sized FITbone.
I mention this because it is a often-recommended physical therapy exercise for dogs with IVDD, but most people will not be able to do this at home.
To be most effective, it requires an underwater treadmill or swimming pool without much chlorine in it
During hydrotherapy, a Dachshund may swim with a life jacket on, preferably in a pool specially designed for dog physical therapy.
These pools often have adjustable jets that add resistance to the swim.
If your Dachshund doesn’t like to swim, like Gretel, then the vet may recommend walking on an underwater treadmiill.
It is like it sounds – a treadmill is placed under water in a see-thru box.
The water level, determined by the vet and typically increasing in height, is determined by the rehab veterinarian.
Get Help If You Need It
Our rehab vet quickly demonstrated how to do some of these exercises with me and gave me a sheet of instructions.
I tried doing them all at home myself in the beginning. I am impatient though.
Gretel is a smart Dachshund, and the things I have “trained” her to do up to this point were simple, so I was used to her just “getting it” right away.
I don’t regularly work on training with Gretel though I had a hard time communicating what I wanted her to do and she had a hard time doing them properly.
The fact that she would do the exercises ok when the rehab vet demonstrated them, but it just wasn’t working when I got home, frustrated me and made me want to give up.
I decided to enlist some help.
I started taking Gretel to a doggy gym once a week.
We went to Splashdog Canine Well-Being Center in Edmonds, Wash. and it’s really helped.
The instructor there was able to take more time with me than the rehab vet and really determine a method that worked for me and Gretel to teach her the exercises.
The instructor first taught Gretel how to do the exercises and then taught me how to do them with her myself.
How Often Should Your Dog Do These Rehab Exercises?
When our rehab veterinarian first gave me this list of exercises, I thought I was supposed to do all of them with my Dachshund 5+ times a week.
But then I learned how important it is to start out with a few easier exercises and do them for only a minute or two and give her sufficient recovery time in-between.
I started too aggressively with the exercises at first because I got caught up learning them during the hour I paid for at the dog gym.
She was sore after and it added a small hiccup in her recovery timeline.
My goal now is to do some kind of rehab exercise 1-3 times a week with Gretel and never two days in a row.
If she has a hard workout day, like a hydrotherapy day, I typically wait 2 days before I do other IVDD rehab exercises.
As your Dachshund learns to do the exercises properly and with more confidence, you can increase the exercise difficulty.
You can extend the time your dog does each exercise add add more challenging exercises into the mix.
I always thought Gretel was strong (she is) so I wasn’t sure these exercises were going to help her much.
However, she wasn’t strong in a balanced way.
This muscle imbalance was impeding a swift, full recovery.
Now both of her thighs are the same circumference (balanced) when the rehab vet measures them.
I’ve also noticed that her gait (the way she walks) has improved and she’s moving in a more mechanically correct way.
I firmly believe that these exercises were a key element in her full recovery from her IVDD-related back injury and that doing them regularly will help prevent any future issues.
Update: Since the equipment is no convenient for me to set up and use, and I have a busy schedule running my own business, I don’t do these exercises for her much anymore.
But we do hike all of the time, which naturally incorporates mobility, strength, and balance exercises, to help keep her strong and injury free.
You might also want to read:
- The Truth About Dachshunds and Back Problems
- Do You Need to Treat Your IVDD Dog Like Breakable Glass?
- Owning an Active IVDD Dog: There Will Be Setbacks
- The Best Supplements for Dachshunds, including those recovering from IVDD
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.
It’s really helpful to see the videos of Gretel’s exercises. Thanks for sharing them!
I love seeing her progress! I’ve done a lot of the types of exercises with Nola; she’s especially fond of the Donut!
Part of what has inspired me to stick with Gretel’s exercises is watching Nola balance her front feet on the basketball 🙂
Cool! We do all of these exercises with Archer in his Sport Dog class. He doesn’t have the best balance nor the strongest core, but we have a great time stretching, trying to balance on fit bones/giant peanuts, and learning to walk backwards. I’m glad Gretel is getting stronger with her balance. Hopefully this helps prevent re-injury.
Chester’s balance sucks too. Ha, ha. Gretel is definitely my little athlete. Chester still likes the challenge and can hold his own though. I’ll never really know how much these exercises will help her but I know that they can’t hurt. Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Linus is the athlete in our house. He’d excel at the sport dog class or agility class. So far I’ve only had one athletic Lab, Derby. All the others have been stocky and not too coordinated.
My baby had surgery last month, when can I start him on these exercises? And how do you keep your dog calm in the crate? My baby tries to get out and I’m afraid he is gonna hurt himself
Hi Evelyn. I would find a rehab vet if you can and talk to them about when to start exercises. At the very least, have your regular vet give an ok. Each dog progresses so differently.
As for the crate, it’s important to keep your dog calm. Ask your vet for a sedative but I found some natural calming remedies helped. You can read what worked for us, and my advice for surviving the crate rest period, here: https://youdidwhatwithyourweiner.com/dog-crate-rest-tips/
When did you start the excerises? After crate for 6 weeks or sooner. My little guy had injury 5 days ago.
Hi Sara. Gretel was under strict supervision by a rehabilitation specialist. She’s the one that determined when it was safe for Gretel to start exercises. I think we started hydrotherapy after week 2 and added in these “gym” exercises in small doses the week after.
My dog had his first IVDD episode and surgery 4 weeks ago and I’m thinking about getting some balance equipment to do exercises with once he’s cleared for that kind of activity. Which pieces of equipment would you say are the most worth it? I was thinking about getting a K9 FitBONE and a generic 14″ balance disc. Do you think this is a good place to start?
Hi Jessica. Sorry to hear about your pup. I do really like the Balance Bone to start with. You can use it for so many exercises and you can make them harder or easier depending on how much air you put in it. The balance disk is also great for beginners because it’s low to the ground. That way your pup can’t re-injure themselves if they “fall off”. It’s small enough in diameter that it can be used for rotational exercises like pivot too. Good luck to you guys and thanks for reading my blog.
Hello my sister’s Labrador had a severely ruptured disc and is doing really well on week 4 of strict rest. He does have an elevated cot bed which he loves, its 7 inches off the floor. I can’t find any good articles on appropriate beds. Do you have any knowledge if now on the 4the week he can start to use the cot bed again. Thanks
Hi Eva. I’m sorry to hear about your Sister’s dog. I’m not a vet but, in my opinion, as long as the dog is tall enough to get on and off the cot without any impact (like stepping up or jumping off) laying on the cot might actually be a good thing. It’s easier on the joints than laying on a hard surface like the floor. Otherwise, an orthopedic memory foam bed might be comfortable. I don’t have a specific brand of those types of beds to recommend though.