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Isometric training to reduce stress – mastering stressful situations

So hilft isometrisches Training deinem Hund entspannt durch stressige Weihnachtstage zu kommen!

Isometric training looks very unspectacular at first glance. However, the effect on the dog is great in every respect. Isometric training is physically and mentally challenging for our dogs, even if it doesn’t look exciting (“You can’t see anything!”) or require active muscle or joint movement.

In addition to muscle tension, full concentration and focus on your own body is required. So we manage to bring body and mind together and ground the dog. What sounds so “esoteric” is immensely important in training – both physically and mentally – with dogs.

Isometric training from a dog physiotherapy perspective

Isometric exercises should be an integral part of any good fitness and movement training program. Unfortunately, in times when people like to train with lots of equipment, they fall behind.

This form of training has many different advantages

You can train anytime and anywhere – without equipment or preparation.

It can be used on any dog – adapted to its physical needs – whether it is an older dog, a young dog, a sporting dog, with joint diseases or neurological diseases. There are no contraindications for which this type of training cannot be used.

In rehabilitation, you can counteract muscle loss and even promote muscle growth before the exercise phase.

Isometric exercises – how they work

In fitness and movement training, the exercises can be used to build up muscles and to promote coordination, balance and body awareness and perception. Dog owner and dog can learn these exercises very easily and use them specifically and correctly – with a maximum training effect.

Isometric exercises are characterized by the fact that we have a targeted, very conscious muscle contraction and relaxation, without an active muscle movement. This is especially helpful when movements are painful, but you still want to counteract muscle loss and strengthen the muscles.

The contraction and relaxation is triggered by the light pressure of the person’s hand. In addition, the self-awareness of the body is promoted. The dog has to concentrate on itself and its body and thus gradually lowers its state of excitement. Body and mind are always in close interaction. And so, with isometric exercises, by making the body aware, we can also bring about mental and spiritual relaxation.

Isometric training to reduce stress

We have now learned how isometric exercises affect the dog’s body and when they can be used. This is important for you as a dog trainer, because you will encounter many different dogs with a wide variety of physical needs and requirements. This way you can always be sure that you can use this type of training with every dog.

But how and why is this type of physical training used in dog training and what are the benefits for dogs and their owners?

There are many possible applications, e.g:

Stressed dogs or easily excitable, nervous and anxious dogs benefit greatly from these exercises. In tense moments, they are not “responsive”. In situations of excitement and uncertainty, it is often difficult to bring the dog down again.

It is helpful to integrate isometric exercises as conditioned relaxation into the training. Well-trained, these exercises can help the dog to become more relaxed and confident and to reliably support the dog in difficult situations.

This type of exercise is also ideal if you are looking for a focused introduction to dog training. Isometric exercises can be used specifically to start training with the dog and help it to concentrate well.

Important: How well a dog responds to isometric exercises in dog training must always be considered on an individual basis. Especially in (aggressive) dog encounters, the effectiveness of isometrics depends on what causes the difficulties in contact with other dogs.

Isometric training to reduce stress – what happens when we “put our hand up”?

Placing the hand with light pressure causes a change in tension in the muscle in the dog. This promotes awareness of the body and strengthens body awareness.

If the dog gets into an exciting situation, for example on a walk, we can use the isometric exercises we learned earlier. By voluntarily tensing and relaxing various muscle groups, the dog must direct its concentration away from the trigger and towards itself. If the tension is followed by a release, a state of relaxation can be induced. The exercises bring the dog back to the “here and now” as he has to focus on himself. This increases the chance that the dog will become responsive again from its reactive action.

Interrupting the stress spiral in dog training

An excited dog is under physical and emotional tension. This can be recognized, for example, by the fact that the body movements become stiffer and the muscles firmer.

When the dog’s fight or flight system is activated, the muscles become very tense. If relaxation is not actively ensured, residual tension remains in the muscles. As a result, this tension becomes even greater the next time a stress trigger occurs in a stress spiral. The dog is in a vicious circle. In the medium term, this can lead to health problems.

We can effectively interrupt this spiral of stress. Through targeted training with the help of isometric exercises, the dog learns that when the hand is placed on certain muscle groups, these muscles relax.

How it helps the dog

Through continuous training, we can help our dogs to become calmer in everyday life, free them more quickly from stressful situations, help them to concentrate and “ground” them overall. Stress can be better compensated for and certain mental and resulting physical complaints can be avoided or alleviated.

Extra knowledge

Many dogs press themselves against their humans in situations that are stressful for them. This can be a sign for self-relaxation, because feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin, are also released.

The training environment and key points for getting started with isometric training

Basically, it is important that you yourself are relaxed and calm and create a calm environment. Concentrate fully on your dog. You should always take enough time to set up the isometric exercises and ensure that there are as few distracting factors as possible. It is not feasible for the dog to simply have a training session in between on a walk at the beginning, as he will then be distracted by too many external factors. Use moments when your dog is also calm. So not immediately before the walk, or when he is in a playful mood.

For training, the dog should always stand on a non-slip surface. Ideally a yoga mat. For dog training in the dog park, however, even grass is perfectly adequate. Think about a word signal in advance that you will use to build up the isometric training.

How much “pressure” is right and for how long?

First, hold the pressure – without re-springing – for a few seconds. About 3 seconds at the beginning. If the dog is familiar with the exercise and physically able to do it, you can gradually increase the amount of time you apply pressure with your hand as the training progresses. The dog should always have the opportunity to relax between sessions. It is important that the pressure is only very light. At the beginning it is enough to work with the inherent pressure of the hand. So just putting your hand up. As soon as you feel that the dog is holding against you, sufficient pressure is built up.

If the dog swerves, the pressure is too strong.

How often and when can I use it in stressful situations?

Isometric training can be integrated into your daily routine. However, as it is both mentally and physically demanding, I recommend that you start with one to two repetitions per exercise. It is the quality that counts and not the quantity of exercises.

Isometric training should only be used in “stressful situations” when the dog is really familiar with this type of training. This is the only way to ensure a successful operation.

Extra knowledge: It helps many dogs a lot to stand on a boundary such as a yoga mat or targets when setting up the exercise. The spatial boundaries provide security and training quickly becomes a ritual for the dog. This provides additional security.

An example of a training structure

By applying targeted pressure to muscle areas, we trigger the opposition reflex in the muscle. It is important that the training build-up takes place in very small steps and is adapted to the respective dog. Dogs that are reluctant to be handled will need even smaller training steps than those described here.

It makes sense to use a word signal to tell the dog what we intend to do. So you give the word signal e.g. “touch” and put your hand on the dog’s shoulder, for example. You can reinforce the action with a treat. Repeat this action several times. After several repetitions, the dog knows what is associated with the word signal and it becomes predictable for him what we want him to do.

The next step:

You give the word signal “touch”, then the hand goes to the shoulder and you build up some pressure on the body. While the hand holds the light pressure, the word signal and a treat are given. The hand remains on the dog’s body and only leaves when the food has been eaten.

In the long term, not every repetition of the exercise needs to be rewarded with a treat, as the dog already perceives relaxation as a reward. Exercise sessions should always be kept short. Isometric training is very strenuous, even if it doesn’t seem like much.

It generally makes sense to start building up your isometric exercises before the moment of stress itself. This way the dog already knows them and they can be used as conditioned relaxation.

All the love, your Martina


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