One of the most basic goals of conditioning and rehabilitation is to achieve symmetry. Symmertry means your dog is equally strong across their centre line, that they aren't favouring their left or right side. They should look the same on the left and right with the amount of muscle, waging their tail evenly, holding their legs in approximately the same position with their joints at similar angles.
A lack of symmetry can force your dog to compensate so that they can maintain normal movement and get about their lives. Compensation further creates imbalance and stresses your dogs body. The longer this goes on and the more your dog practices moving incorrectly the greater the chance your dog will stop being able to compensate and lead to injury and pain.
In cases where there has been a significant injury, the lack of symmetry can be quite obvious.
The first step of assessing symmetry is to have a look at how your dog stands. Do they always stop with a particular foot forward? Or does their head always bend to the side. What about regularly lifting their foot.
Asymmetry may also be much more difficult to spot so we assess single leg strength, the way your dog shifts weight and their behaviour as you do this testing. By paying attention to more subtle signs of asymmetry in fit dogs, we can take control of your dogs health and prevent injury.
In a square stand lift your dogs left back leg just off the ground. Think about how they shift their body. Ideally they shouldn’t have to dramatically move their pelvis to compensate for a back leg being moved. Think about how much force they place through your hand.
Now do the same thing with the right back leg. Is there any difference in how your dog reacts or how their pelvis compensates? Is the force they are placing through your hand noticeably different?
Perform the same test on the front end of your dog.
Lift the Left front leg slightly. Does your dogs supporting wrist slowly sink into the ground. Do they wobble around? Do they put all their weight through their foot to try and stop you lifting it from the ground? What about displacement or stress behaviors?
Repeat with the Right front leg and compare the outcome.
Ideally your dog should be able to maintain their body without a great deal of movement on just 3 legs. They should not be wobbling around and should put an even amount of weight through each leg.
If your dog struggles with this test then your dog has a weakness. It is worth looking into an underlying reason before starting strength training or completing any hard training or competition.
I encourage everyone to perform these tests with their dogs regularly. It is a great way to monitor your dogs progress and can provide an early warning sign that something is not quite right, and when they are performing well you can play more advanced games and tricks with confidence that they have a strong foundation.