Purpose: Standing Side Bend works to target the side body muscles, by flexing the spine along the dorsal plane. Different from a “cookie stretch”, where all 4 feet stay still, this exercise allows the front feet to move. Because the front feet are allowed to move, the musculature between the shoulder and hip is included in a much more meaningful way. This is important for all dogs… but is especially important for agility dogs who are required to turn tightly on the flat/over a jump, or dogs being asked to absorb shock/impact of landing with their front limbs.
Senior dogs can also benefit from this active range of motion exercise to loosen tight back muscles on their own terms, although a slightly modified placement of reward may be needed in some cases. More Senior specific mobility exercises can be found in the Official CCC Senior Dog Program » Zone Focus Track » Mobility Circuit.
Equipment: Plyo Box, Thin Foot Target, Manners Minder/Treat n Train or second handler
Targets: This exercise strengthens/contracts the side body muscles the dog is bending toward, and lengthens/stretches the side body muscles the dog is bending away from. Because the dog is executing the exercise with the strength of their own muscles, this is considered an active range of motion (AROM) exercise.
There are three variations shown in this Standing Side Bend exercise which all target slightly different muscle chains.
Nose to Hip: targets the muscles that follow a horizontal path from the head, through the neck, past the shoulder into the rib cage, loin, and pelvis. These muscles are mainly the epaxials, hypaxials and abdominal muscles. Although any muscle falling partially along the line of stretch would be included.
Nose to Rear Foot: targets the muscles that follow a slightly diagonal path from head through the neck, past the shoulder into the rib cage, loin and pelvis. Like stripes on a candy cane, these muscles lay at an angle to the spine and include latissimus, trapezius, rhomboideus, scalenus superficially, and serratus dorsalis, obliques, intercostals in the deep layer.
Nose to Loin: this variation specifically targets the musculature that runs from the neck into the shoulder by limiting the range of motion to the cervical and thoracic spine via placement of reward. The musculature targeted with this variation would be brachiocephalicus, sternocephalicus, omotransversarius, cranial trapezius and cranial rhomboideus, all of which the tendency to be very tight and can restrict the proper motion of the scapula, thoracic limb, neck and skull. Just like the neck and shoulder muscles in humans (upper trapezius, levator, SCM, scalenes, etc.) tend to be tight the analogous canine muscles tend to be tight as well.
- The handler will need to provide some stability to the pelvis, but overtime that support will be faded, and this exercise will become a stabilizing exercise as well as a mobilizing exercise. Be mindful the dog isn’t being overly dependent on the handler for stability. This would indicate too large of a range of motion is being asked for.
- During the “Nose to Hip” and “Nose to Loin” variations, the top of the head should stay parallel to the ground. Be mindful placement of reward is not causing the nose to face upward toward the ceiling.
- If the dog is tight through these muscles (which is very common), it’s likely the dog will try to shift load backward/hocks behind vertical/lean back into the handler… instead of bending the spine in a smooth arc. This would indicate too much range is being asked for, and placement of reward needs to be adjusted further forward, and/or further away from the dog for a time, until mobility improves. This is especially true for senior dogs.