Have you ever observed your dog's posture when sitting? Standing up from an improper or poor sitting position applies greater lateral bending forces to the knees and hocks, and doesn't activate correct muscles. So how can we achieve a proper sitting position?
What is a proper sitting form (right photo)
The dog should:
- sit squarely,
- with hips, knees and hocks aligned nicely,
- legs kept close to the body,
- and positioned equally on both sides.
This correct position (right photo) allows the dog to engage all his knee, thigh and gluteal muscles properly when standing up.
What is an improper sitting form (left photo)
- with legs splayed wide, hocks spreading out to the sides
- uneven left vs. right knee position (unbalanced weight distribution and ability to flex the knees)
- paws pointing out from the body, twisting the knees
and is usually a sign of:
- weak hind limb musculature, inability to keep legs nicely under the body
- weak core
- weaknesses in hip, knee or tarsal joints (pain, past injuries, arthritis)
What can you do if your dog sits like the dog in left picture (sloppy sitting)?First and most importantly, always exclude possible physical limitations.
There are a lot of possible health-related reasons for your dog’s improper sitting form. Past injuries, possible weaknesses, chronic problems in joints or soft tissues of the hind limbs can result in compensatory changes and losing the ability to sit properly.
Dogs with chronic unaddressed issues in the knee or hock joints often end up with reduced joint range of motion, and therefore, lose the ability to fully flex these joints. Bad hip conditions create a vicious circle of pain and disuse of this body part, resulting in a weak core and hind limb musculature with hocks splaying out to the side while sitting. Spinal issues (lumbosacral diseases, spinal injuries) can also elicit painful response. Forcing the dog in correct sit when it is not desirable, or if the dog is physically not able to (or ready yet), can quickly do more harm than good and requires professional help. Therefore, you should always consult with an orthopedic vet and certified rehab professional to address the issue properly and help your dog regain these abilities through an appropriate individualized approach.What kind of ground is your dog sitting on? This makes a difference
Sitting on slippery surfaces such as tiled or hardwood floors does not provide enough grip for your dog to keep the legs in proper position, let alone load the hind end to stand up. So make sure your dog is sitting on a surface that provides a good grip (grass, concrete, carpet/rug etc).
What else can I do?
If your dog does not have a known history of past injuries or joint diseases, and is sitting sloppily on non-slip flooring, a lack of strength might be the reason!
Weak core and hind limb musculature prevents the dog from maintaining a good posture. Strengthening exercises are definitely a great way to improve the overall physical condition and well being of your four-legged companion.
Keep your dogs fit!
Obese or overweight dogs also lack the needed strength to sit correctly.
What about puppies?
Well, young puppies might not be really able to perform a proper sit just yet, let alone work out. But don't worry, possibilities for proper sitting come with growing up when they develop enough body awareness and strength.
Here are a few tips that can help your dog achieve a better sitting form:Work on smaller surfaces
Sitting on a reasonably smaller surface itself usually promotes better sitting position and thus helps strengthen correct muscle groups. We can use a slightly raised platform or balance pad to start with.
Use a narrow path
Work with the dog on a narrow plank, just wide enough to promote good position of limbs, but narrow enough to prevent turning the feet out. It also helps to improve body awareness skills, and at the same time helps strengthen the limb adductors (muscles responsible for bringing/keeping the limbs closer to the body).
Use unstable surfaces
We have talked about the differences between using stable vs. unstable surfaces in one of our previous blog posts - working on unstable surfaces additionally challenges body stabilizers and will certainly aid in strengthening the core, and muscles around joints, as well as help strengthen joint ligaments. Even if you don’t own anything yourself yet, something as simple as an air mattress will also do!
We can build up the needed endurance for maintaining a proper sitting posture by slowly increasing the duration of holding a proper sit, or we can work on activating correct muscle groups with position changes (sit to stands, down to stands).
Finally, we also pay a lot of attention to the dog's ability to maintain a correct sitting position during fitness exercises, because only working out with proper form (for a particular exercise) can give us the desired strengthening outcomes and great results! Therefore it is extremely important that we teach or help the dog achieve a proper sitting position first before we work out. Once achieved, a sit to stand exercise is a great hind end strengthening exercise, targeting the quads, hamstrings and glutes in particular.
Author: Jana Gams DVM, CCRP
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