UPDATED: May 10, 2020
Whether you are looking for ways to help prevent, or minimize, your Dachshund’s back injury, or are looking for exercises to help your dog recover from Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) , you have come to the right place.
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 veterinarian.
In Gretel’s case, surgery was not needed but these physical therapy exercises are also helpful during Dachshund’s recovery from back surgery.
By doing these exercises, she is less likely to suffer re-injury. She’ll also be a stronger hiker for it.
They are also helpful to do before there is a back injury because stronger muscles help support the spine, potentially minimizing complications from IVDD.
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.
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, making Gretel stronger and more flexible can help support her spine, increase circulation to the disks, teach her proper body mechanics so that she is not putting undue stress on her spine, and help to keep future episodes mild.
All of these exercises can be done at home if you have the right equipment.
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Setting Up a Home Gym for Your Dog
This is the equipment I have for our “home gym”:
- K9 FITbone
- FitPAWS CanineGym Agility Kit
- Inflatable Donut
- Balance Disc
- Square cut out of a cheap yoga mat for a rear paw target (one from the thrift store is pretty cheap)
I don’t have enough space in my house to leave them set up all of the time (I wish!). Instead, I have to stack them in the livingroom 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 to fit them into your daily routine.
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 dog, 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 see J Linn at the Splashdog Canine Well-Being Center in Edmonds, Wash. and it’s really helped.
She was able to take more time with me than the rehab vet and really determine a method that worked for me and Gretel to get her to do the thing.
She first taught Gretel how to do the exercises and then taught me how to do them with her myself.
Dog Strengthening and Body Awareness Exercises
These are the exercises I was given for Gretel (arranged roughly from easiest to hardest)
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 her into the chute with a treat and then started moving it backwards in one steady motion. This helps deter a dog from stopping and trying to turn around instead of backing out.
She started with going in just a little and then increased the depth.
Once Gretel got down 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.
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 improving 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.
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 and then progressed to using this set. I placed the poles in the lowest notch on the cones, making the poles about 2 inches off the ground.
Use 3 – 6 poles placed as far apart at the dog is tall at the shoulders. This helps achieve the goal of your Dachshund moving their front and back legs over the poles at the same time.
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 when I rested the back of my hand on her chest when luring her to stand.
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.
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 circle, elevating their feet 2 – 3 ” off the ground.
Keep your hand, and therefore your dog’s head and front feet, in the same postion.
Then take a tiny step toward your dog’s side. They should naturally want to step sideways with their back legs to move away from you.
Keep doing this so they use their back legs to pivot around the disk, keeping their front feet in the same position.
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 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.
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.
It’s helpful if you hold the equipment stable with your feet or knees until your dog has found it’s 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.
This exercise strengthens your Dachshund’s core and improves balance.
This exercise starts with your dog standing with all four feet on an unstable surface as above.
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.
My Dachshund’s Back Exercise Routine
We started out with the easier exercises for short periods of a minute or two.
As Gretel progressed, the exercise difficulty was increased. We extended the time she was doing the original exercises and added more challenging ones into the routine.
This is a long list of exercises. At first, I thought I was supposed to do all of them 5 times a week. There was no way I was going to be able to fit that into my schedule!
After thinking about what would be realistic for me, and discussing the expectations with her rehab vet, I settled on a balance that could work.
My long-term goal is to do 2 – 3 of these exercises with her per session and do 2 – 3 sessions a week.
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.
Now both of her thighs are the same size when the rehab vet measures them.
The circumference of her thighs has increased 1 cm since starting the exercises, which is a lot for a little dog, indicating that her muscles have increased in tone and strength.
I’ve also noticed that her gait (the way she walks) has improved and she’s moving in a more mechanically correct way.
Seeing these improvements is motivation for me to keep making the exercise sessions happen