Balance is your dog’s ability to maintain its center of gravity without falling while standing and moving. Balance is the result of many systems working together, including the visual system, the vestibular system, and proprioception (or body awareness.)
The muscles involved in balancing typically are the small muscles whose primary job is to stabilize joints in the limbs and the core. The core, includes the muscles that stabilize and support the spine, pelvis and hips. The core includes many muscles, many of which are hidden deep beneath the surface, including the multifidus, paraspinal muscles, and abdominal muscles.
Strong core muscles help to eliminate excessive or unintended movement in the spine and pelvis, transfer force from one part of the body to another, and mobilize the spine in movement, helping to reduce the likelihood of injury.
A strong core is critical to canine movement. It is the central link in the “kinetic chain” that is your dog’s body. No matter where movement starts, it travels forward and backward adjoining links of the chain. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your dog’s front legs and back legs function. And that decreases strength and power from many of the moves your dog makes. Properly building up your dog’s core will rev up the power!
A strong core also enhances balance and stability and vice versa. So, to put it the other way, balance and stability training enhances core strength.
Each balance exercise is like a “crossword puzzle” for your dog’s brain and body to figure out. Your dog must learn which muscles to activate, how many fibers in that muscle to activate, with how much force, and at what time. While some dogs are naturally gifted at balance, others are not, but balance can be improved in every dog through specific balance training. Balance training must be done in a safe, controllable, yet, progressive, manner with exposure to a variety of unstable surfaces. Balance training that is not performed in this manner potentially puts your dog at risk of injury during the learning process.
Balance training should be both static and dynamic. Static balance training involves learning to balance while standing on various unstable surfaces. This then should progress to dynamic balance training in which your dog learns to maintain balance while doing a variety of different movements, from simple weight shifting to transitions through various positions. Through balance training, the core is strengthened for both static stability and dynamic stability. This, again, helps to reduce the risk of injury and increase power.
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