Source: Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota
John Nielsen, CVT, VTS (ECC), CVPP, CCRP; Rehabilitation Technician
Walking frequently for shorter distances is the best approach. Note: Walking on a leash at a controlled speed, with the head upward, will help to engage the rear limbs. The front end speed should not be greater than what the rear limbs can do. Walk for ten (10) minutes two (2) times daily. Each week increase the walk times by 3 minutes per walk, as your dog will tolerate.
Walking with Pattern and Surface Changes
Incorporate pattern and surface changes in your walk time. Examples of pattern changes: figure eights, circles in both directions, zigzags. Examples of surface changes: walking on sandy beach area, gravel, mulch, grass, concrete, foam, and inflatable mattress. Perform this twice daily. Approximately three (3) to five (5) to minutes of walk time should be devoted to pattern and surface changes.
Walking frequently for shorter distances is the best approach. With your dog standing, encourage it to walk backwards by holding a treat / food directly under its chin next to the front of its chest. As it tries to bend its neck to retrieve the treat continue to hold it in a location it can't reach. Your dog should naturally take a few steps backwards to get to the reward. Encourage it to take 10 steps backwards, four (4) times a day.
While out walking, have your dog walk a few steps on top of the curb (on the sidewalk / walkway) then, while still walking have it step off the curb and walk a few steps. Repeat this “on / off” pattern for 3 to 5 minutes of each walk ensuring you walk in both directions to work both sides of your dog’s body.
Assisted Walking with Hills
While out walking, encourage your dog to walk at angle (30 to 45 degrees) up to the top of the hill then back down at a similar angle. Repeat this “up / down” or “zigzag” pattern for 3 to 5 minutes of each walk ensuring you walk in both directions to work both sides of your dog’s body.
You can utilize broomsticks or yard sticks for at-home cavalettis. Ideally, there will be 4 to 6 sticks in a row; height of the poles should be just above the hock (ankle), and 12 inches apart. Slowly walk your dog over the broomsticks ensuring it steps one foot at a time between the sticks. Perform 6 to 8 repetitions twice daily.
Assisted Standing with Stairs
Assist your dog into a standing position with its front feet up on the first stair. Give support if needed by placing your hand under the belly in front of its rear legs. Assist to stand for twenty (20) seconds then rest / lie down or sit. Repeat this frequently (at least six (6) times) throughout the day. This exercise may also be used during feeding if the dish is elevated slightly.
Opposite Limb Lifts
With your dog in a standing position, lift its right front leg and left rear leg off the ground. This will force your dog to balance on the remaining two legs and engage its core (belly) muscles. Hold this position for fifteen (15) seconds then place the legs back on the floor. Perform eight (8) repetitions twice a day. Repeat this with the left front leg and right rear leg.