Here are a few tips to keep any stretches you do with your dog or horse safe and effective.
- Have a sense of what muscles you are stretching and why before you begin. Unless the muscles across one side of a joint are initially tighter than others across the same joint, you may create an imbalance over time by only stretching one group.
- Apply stretches slowly! This way both you and your animal have a chance to feel when it’s time to stop before the range of motion is taken too far. If muscles are overstretched, a necessary but counter-productive guarding response occurs, or worse, a muscle or tendon may be injured.
- Gently jostle the leg or neck before applying any stretch. This will help muscles relax, reducing initial (and maybe unnecessary) guarding responses.
- Do not hold stretches for more than 1-2 seconds, but rather keep the joint moving slowly in and out of a comfortable, easy “stretch,” repeating several times rather than one long stretch. The range of motion will (usually) increase a little with each repetition, and you will avoid many potential pitfalls of the longer static stretches. The longer stretches require much more skill and experience from both you and your animal to be done well.
- Use either massage or exercise to warm muscles up before doing stretches. This will reduce the chances of causing a strained muscle, though even a warmed-up muscle must be stretched appropriately for safety.