Australian Shepherd in water


Author: Robert L. Gillette, DVM, MSE, DACVSMR Katherine Backel, DVM Red Bank Veterinary Hospital

Function and application

Cooling down is considered an essential part of any athlete’s training and competing regimen. But, you may not understand exactly why cooling down is important or how you might incorporate it into your canine athlete’s post competition routine. During an episode of short duration high intensity exercise, your dog’s body produces energy mainly through anaerobic pathways. During this window of time, glycolysis is the main energy process utilized by the body to generate ATP (the body’s energy source).  Lactic acid is a by-product of glycolysis and, as a result, builds up within muscle cells at the site of its production. Lactic acid is necessary to allow the continued use of the glycolytic pathway; however, it also can result in the burning sensation that is noticeable during intense exercise. Human studies have shown that participating in activities at less than 45% VO2 max or implementing self-regulated cooldown following exertional exercise resulted in improved lactic acid clearance (and thus hastened recovery). Recovery at higher intensity hindered lactic acid clearance. 1 It has also been shown that cooldown has reduced the incidence of post exercise hypotension in humans.2 Reilly and Rigby showed that soccer athletes who cooled down were able to perform follow-up activities at a level above those who had not cooled down. In the cooled-down athletes, muscle pain had cleared within 48 hours post competition, whereas the pain increased on successive days in those who had not cooled down.3 This information certainly shows that a proper cooldown session can benefit the canine athlete as well.

Cooldown techniques for your canine athlete

As discussed above, proper cooldown protocols have shown to reduce many of the issues that arise after exercise or competition in the human athlete.4 An appropriate cooldown protocol should address the general needs of the specific athlete and the muscle groups utilized during the event. Therefore, we should look to lower the core body temperature as well as support the cardiovascular system as the blood pressure lowers and blood is redistributed throughout the body. As previously described, the main source of power and speed is derived from the complex musculature over the lower back, the rear limb muscles that assist in propulsion and the forelimb muscles used for navigation.5 A cooldown protocol can be developed to address this process.

Post-activity walking is very helpful in addressing the state of the body as a whole.

In this case we should be especially cognizant of the dog’s microenvironment. If possible the post-activity walk and cooldown should be done in a well ventilated area that is cool. The air flow blows the heat emitted by the body away to assist with the cooling mechanisms. A cooler environment also provides a temperature gradient to assist in the cooling process. This assists the body’s mechanisms to restore the body back to its normal temperature. A short walk can then be followed by some light stretches of the muscle groups utilized during the event. If your dog has specific areas of muscle or joint soreness – consider applying cold packs or other cooling techniques to the area for 5 - 10 minutes. As an aside, after high activity a dog’s immune system will be suppressed from 30 to 120 minutes post activity. It would be good to separate your dog from the others during this time to minimize potential exposure to any unwanted infectious diseases.6 Following these guidelines will help provide a successful, safe and fun-filled afternoon with your canine athlete.
1. Belcastro AN, Bonen A. Lactic acid removal rates during controlled and uncontrolled recovery exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1975 Dec; 39(6):932-6.
2. Fleg, JL, Lakatta, EG, Prevalence and significance of postexercise hypotension in apparently healthy subjects. The American Journal of Cardiology, Volume 57, Issue 15, 1 June 1986, Pages 1380–1384
3. Reilly T, Rigby M. Effect on active warm-down following competitive soccer. In: W. Sprinks, T. Reilly, A. Murphy (eds.) Science and Football IV. Routledge, London 2002; pp. 226-229
4. Reilly T, Rigby M. Effect on active warm-down following competitive soccer. In: W. Sprinks, T. Reilly, A. Murphy (eds.) Science and Football IV. Routledge, London 2002; pp. 226-229
5. Zebas, C. J., Gillette, R. L., Hailey, R. L., Schoeberl, T., Kratzer, G., & Joseph, Y (1991). Kinematic descriptors of the running gait in the greyhound athlete. In R. N. Marshall, G. A. Wood, B. C. Elliott, T. R. Ackland, & P. J. McNair (Eds.), XIIIth International Conference on Biomechanics: book of abstracts (pp 469-470). Perth, Australia: University of Western Australia.
6. Gillette, RL, Athleticism and the Body's Defense Mechanisms, The Athletic and Working Dog Newsletter, pp 1,Vol 2(2) March 2003.
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