Flexibility is an important component of fitness training. It plays a major role in overall health, fitness and function. But just like in human fitness, flexibility is often overlooked in our dog’s fitness program. Cookie Stretches are a great way to work on flexibility with our dogs. The goal of the exercise is to have your dog bring his nose to different parts of the body to get a nice stretch in various parts of the neck and spine. Ideally, the stretch should last 5-10 seconds at each location and repeat 3 times. The dog should start in a balanced stand and keep their feet still while performing the stretches. Having your dog stand on 2 pieces of equipment such as buckets or pads to make sure the dog is in a balanced stand and to help keep the dog from moving their feet is helpful. Cookie stretches are called cookie stretches as we generally use a ‘cookie’ or treat to lure our dog’s nose to the desired locations. However, other positive training methods such as chin rest or nose touch can be used as well. Personally, I like to use a spatula with peanut butter on it as the dog will hold the position while licking the peanut butter.
Not only are cookie stretches great for flexibility, they are also great assessment tools. Make note to any imbalances between the sides of the body. For example, can the dog turn his head to the left and touch their hip not to the right? If you perform these on a regular basis and keep track of the dog’s ability to flex to the different locations, you will be able to tell if something ‘new’ is going on. For example, if the last time I did these stretches my dog could bring his nose up high but now he can’t bring his nose up at all or not as high, then I know something is going on. If this occurs, then seek professional help from your health care team.
Below are graphics to show you the different parts of the body that are nose markers to stretch your dog’s neck and spine.
Note: Please follow your vet's advice with stretching and flexibility. If your dog has a chronic condition or an injury, please consult your vet before stretching. Dogs with back/spine issues may not be able to bend their backs. Dogs with shoulder issues may not be able to flex their shoulders as much. So if your dog has issues, please consult your health care team for instructions and what your dog can and cannot do.
~ Lisa Schmit, PhD, CCFT, CPMP
Owner: In the Zone Agility in Illinois