To stretch or not to stretch. That is the question!


In last week’s blog post, I shared a quick and easy dynamic stretching routine that I do daily with my dogs.

If you missed it, you can see it here:

This week, we are going to demystify stretching some more and look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

First, what is stretching? Wikipedia defines it as “a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle's felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone.” 

Sounds complicated, right? We define stretching as a movement or position used to try to elongate a muscle and improve range of motion or flexibility.  There are 3 types of stretching we commonly see used with dogs.

Static stretching:  Static stretching is a stretch that is held in a position for a set period of time.  The stretch is held for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching that we think of when someone says “stretching”. It used to be the gold standard and was believed to be the best way to improve range of motion. However, in recent years, many experts have indicated that static stretching is much less beneficial than we first thought.  Which brings us to...

Dynamic stretching:  Dynamic stretching is a stretch that is performed by moving through a safe range of motion in a slow and controlled fashion, usually for 8-10 repetitions. Dynamic stretches go almost to the limit of the range of motion without exceeding it. In humans, dynamic stretching has been shown to have benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in both sports and daily living.  And finally, there is…

Passive stretching:  Passive stretching is when an outside force helps you or in this case, your dog, achieve a stretch. The outside force can be a variety of things (body weight, resistance band, stretching device, etc) but for our dogs, the outside force is generally a human being positioning them in the desired stretch position. The significant risk with passive stretching is that the external force (the handler) may be stronger than the dog is flexible and this could lead to injury.

So what type of stretching should you perform with your dog?  First, let’s look at what you shouldn’t do.

Here at DogMotion, we recommend that only a trained professional perform passive stretching.  Why?  Because it’s the type of stretching that has the highest risk of injury.  It is easy to overstretch a muscle when performing passive stretching and we don't want to see that happen.

Only a trained professional should perform passive stretching exercises.

Only a trained professional should perform passive stretching exercises.

Our favourite and most recommended for of stretching is dynamic stretching.  Dynamic stretching is occasionally referred to as active stretching and while the two are not quite the same thing, the terms are often used interchangeably.  There are a number of studies that indicate that dynamic or active stretching as part of your warm up routine reduces the risk of injury such as muscle tears or strains. 

Dynamic stretches are movements that your dog performs that mimic the range of motion or actions that your dog will be doing in the activity to follow.  The benefit of dynamic stretching is that it allows your dog to control the stretch.  Your dog determines how far to push his muscles.  Include a dynamic stretching routine at the end of your warmup while the muscles are warm and just before you undertake the planned activity.  You can also perform a dynamic stretching routine as an activity on its own.  Just remember to warm up first and cool down after.  And keep the movements slow and controlled.

So what about static stretching?  In human athletes, studies have shown that static stretching as part of a warmup can be detrimental to muscle performance and increase the risk of injury. It is no longer recommended to stretch statically before an activity.

Static stretching can, however, be included as part of your cool down routine.  This is where static stretching may have some benefit to your dog and will also be the least detrimental. After you have cooled your dog down but while his muscles are still warm, you may wish to include some static stretches.  Now remember that static stretches are not the same as passive stretching!  In a static stretch, your dog will hold a stretch position for 10-30 seconds without any physical assistance from you.  They are the ones in control of the stretch!  Always remember to complete your stretching routine while your dog’s muscles are still warm.  Cold muscles do not like to be stretched!  The primary goal with static stretching post activity is to help maintain the muscle’s length and pliability and reduce the likelihood of stiffness and soreness.

When stretching your dog, it is important to consider the type of surface you are stretching on.  In order for stretching to be most effective, it is best performed on stable surfaces only:  on the ground, or with front or hind feet elevated on a stable platform such as a Klimb.  Keep the stability equipment such as balance discs, peanuts and Fitbones for balance and strength training.

So!  Stretch warm muscles only.  Include dynamic stretching at the end of your warmup routine, and if you wish to include static stretching, do so at the end of your cool down.  Leave the passive stretching to the professionals.  ;)