Jump to content
New Club Members - Create an account for full access ×
  • Brad LaBroad
    Brad LaBroad

    Cairn Conditioning

    Education Event Notes

    The following notes are from an impressive education presentation by Dr Bianca Shaw of Back on Track Veterinary Rehabilitation Center.

    Dr Shaw extended a busy workday well into the evening to meet with members of CRCTC to discuss and demonstrate how the nature and construction of Cairn terriers relates to their movement and physical health as well as the types of injuries or defects she sees in her practice and in the literature. She demonstrated a sampling of conditioning and rehabilitation exercises used to support various objectives we might have for a dog (recovery, conditioning, performance, senior care), and we ended with a live demonstration of the water treadmill.


    Dr Shaw kindly gave permission to share some notes from a handout she provided, so long as readers understand that these are examples and talking points —  some exercises may not be appropriate for a given dog's condition or status . An assessment of each dog's capabilities, limitations, and needs should be part of formulating a treatment plan. For example, while discussing and demonstrating some of the exercises she gave examples of how the exercise would be performed or modified based on the current status of a particular dog and its injury or goal.

    With that important cautionary disclaimer, here are some notes to give you an idea of the many ways to work with our canine companions to live an active life, cope with aging, improve athletic performance, and recover from injuries, surgeries and other impairments.

    Cairn Conditioning

    Back on Track Veterinary Rehabilitation Center, LLC
    April 5, 2016, Bianca Shaw DVM
    botvrc.com  503-546-8995

    Cairn conformation should be fairly square and compact, with the head slightly off and forward of the shoulders, not right above. The rear limbs should have good angulation, avoiding hock hyperextension or a pelvic tuck. The spine should be straight and level.

    Mobility issues may include degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, stifle or knee problems (patellar luxation or cranial cruciate ligament disease), and repetitive stress injuries.

    General Fitness

    • Spinal flexibility (circling, cookie stretch)
    • Core conditioning (incline stretch)
    • Limb angulation (sit-stands)
    • Joint flexibility (incline sitting, curbs)

    Geriatric Fitness

    • Center of gravity, weight shifting (3- or 2-legged stands)
    • Rib compliance
    • Spinal rotation & side-bending (sit pretty, crawl)

    Performance Fitness

    • Core, Core, Core (figure-8 cavalettis)
    • Power and extension (sit to jump)
    • Pivots (rear end, front end, sideways walking)
    • Feet & toes

    Recovery Fitness

    • Core and weight-shifting
    • Compensations
    • Comfortable range of motion & stretch
    • Accessory Motion
    • Impact work

    Circles - Incorporating circles into your regular walks will cause increased trunk motion and increased use of the limbs on the inside of the circle. Go in one direction for 2-3 revolutions, then once in the opposite direction. Next time reverse the pattern. Start with circles 20 feet in diameter and gradually reduce the size over 2-3 weeks. If he can do 5 foot circles, then add in tight spins, 3 times in each direction. Continue circles weekly.

    Cookies - Using cookies for motivation, we can facilitate specific motions and stretches. This activity will also cause weight shifting onto certain limbs. Have your dog reach for cookies or treats upwards,side to side, down to the chest, down to the front toes, and around to the shoulders. Gradually have your pet reach to the hips and rear toes. Hold the treat for several seconds before letting him have it so he holds the stretches for slightly longer periods. The goal is to have them shift the weight of the body without moving their rear feet.

    Crawls - Crawling will facilitate increased motion and strengthening of the spine. You may find this easier to teach if you use a tunnel, low table or chairs with elevated rungs. Have your pet crawl along the floor on elbows and knees (or rear feet) trying to maintain this position for 8-10 steps. Repeat three times per day.

    Curbs - Navigating on and off curbs will help to strengthen your pet's limbs, improve range of motion,and improve awareness / coordination of the legs. Walking next to a low curb and keeping your pet's body parallel to the curb, have him step onto and then off again every 1-2 body lengths. Focus on keeping the body straight and parallel rather than letting it curve and allowing him to lead with the head(like a snake). Your pet should not be watching the front feet, but he should feel for the curb. Practice for 30 seconds to each side and increase by 15 every few days up to one block at a time.

    Incline Stands - Having your pet stand at a slant with the front feet higher than the rear will cause increased weight bearing and muscle activation in the rear limbs. Using an object or ramp,approximately 4-6 inches high, place the front feet on the object and have your pet hold a standing position for up to 2 minutes (or do sets of shorter stands as tolerated). Focus on keeping the hips centered over the rear feet and the head raised so that the back is a straight line. You can use treats to keep their attention. Repeat 1-2 times per day.

    Pivot - A turning motion of the rear limbs helps to build the muscles that help with internal and external movement of the limbs. With your pet standing next to you, slowly and gently walk into their side to encourage their hind end to pivot with their front end stationary. Continue this motion for 2-3 circles in one direction and then repeat in the opposite for 2-3 rotations. It might aid you to have your pet on a leash to ensure that they do not walk away from you.

    Sideways Walking - with your dog on a short leash, have him stand with his side facing your legs.Walk toward him causing him to side step. Keep this up until he has gone about 10 side steps. Now switch sides for another 10 steps.

    Sit Pretty - This exercise will strengthen the trunk muscles. From sitting, have your pet raise its front legs off the floor into a "beg" position. You can do this by encouraging your dog to raise its head further and further toward the ceiling with a treat. Ask him to hold that position for up to 20 seconds. If needed, you can assist him to balance by holding a paw in your hand. Perform three times in a row. Do not allow your dog to extend the rear legs into a stand.

    Sit-Stands - This exercise will help strengthen the rear limb muscles. Have your pet sit, then stand,then sit, then stand in place. Your pet should not relax fully into the sit before asking them to rise again, but make sure that they are sitting with legs squarely beneath them, the feet parallel, and the pelvis above the feet. Repeat 3-5 times, building up to 10 repetitions.

    Sit to Jump - This exercise will strengthen the back legs. Have your pet sit facing a jump or other obstacle up to 6 inches high. He should be approximately 10-12 inches from the obstacle. You can throw a treat or call your pet to encourage him to jump over the object from the sitting position. Repeat 3-5 times per session.

    3-Legged Stand - Having your pet stand on 3 legs will help to strengthen the trunk and other limbs while challenging their balance. Pick up each leg for 10-30 seconds at a time. Sway the limb back and forth and in varied circular motions, rather than holding it still, to encourage active balance work. Switch legs and increase movement as tolerated.

    2-Legged Stand - Having your pet stand on 2 legs will help strengthen the trunk and opposite limbs while challenging their balance. Pick up the diagonal legs, then pause before you stretch the front leg forward and the rear leg back. Hold this position for up to 10 seconds, then go back to the paused position, then lower the legs back to the ground. Do 3 sets with this pair of legs and repeat with the opposite 2 legs.

    Water Treadmill Demonstration

    Our meeting concluded with a tour of the water therapy room where we saw a deep pool and the water treadmills. Dr Shaw talked a little about the uses and benefits of the pool versus treadmill depending on the needs of the dog. Dr Shaw was kind enough to provide a demonstration of the treadmill. 

    A couple of our Cairn demo dogs had prior experience with a water treadmill and apparently it is usually enjoyed by the dogs. Here Malka was pleased to be the center of attention and show us how it works. 

    Malka is no stranger to water-based activities. She won a hot-dog bobbing contest at our summer picnic while recovering from two surgeries. Her water-walking rehabilitation had cross-training benefits!


    As a club member and a Cairn owner I appreciated Dr Shaw's generosity in hosting a large group at her office, preparing an on-point and focused presentation with illuminating demonstrations on volunteer Cairns, and sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for thoughtful and targeted care of our four-legged companions. For myself I was struck by her observation that many senior dogs perk up far beyond expectations when simple things are done to relieve, accommodate, or even push back the physical strains and limitations of aging.  It almost makes me wonder if perhaps I too should be exercising? :P 

    Edited by Brad LaBroad


    Recommended Comments

    Join the conversation

    You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
    Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

    Add a comment...

    ×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

      Only 75 emoji are allowed.

    ×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

    ×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

    ×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...