Repetition is a killer
This cannot be stressed enough.
Repetitive stress is the number one problem in all dog sports. Repeating a skill over and over is bound to cause problems.
It’s very important as handlers that we limit the number of repetitions. This is extremely hard for new players as there is so much to learn, so much of our technique is based upon what each particular dog needs to be successful, and flips are so darned cool. This means that we need to teach flips in short spurts.
I’m not going to put an exact number on what is or is not safe, but we need to keep the reps down to a minimum. As long as we’re staying within 2-4 minutes of work in each learning session, we should be alright. Remember it is the handler’s responsibility to keep our dogs safe. Just because our dogs will do the skill over and over doesn’t mean we have to let them.
Landing is Our Safety Cue
Because there are millions of ways that dogs can land; so many different skills: flips, vaults, overs and all of their variations; body types: big dogs, small dogs, dogs with lots of bone and a host of other variables, smooth movement out of landings is probably the best simplest way to assess safety.
Any clunking, freezing, stalling, or other noticeable breaks in the flow of the landing process should be looked at as possibly being unsafe. We are looking for smooth and well balanced landings. If our dogs look to be well balanced and prepared for the next move, that’s a pretty good indication that the skill was performed safely.
Front Footed Landings Are OK
Some believe that front footed landings are not safe for dogs, particularly when it comes to flipping skills. We don’t believe that here at Pawsitive Vybe. If we watch dogs leap off of objects, out of the car or out of the crate, we will nearly always see a front footed landing.
The front footed landing allows the dog to absorb a good deal of shock by easily moving out of the landing or funneling the impact along the length of the dog’s body and via the articulation of muscle, bone and connective tissue instead of taking the impact structurally on all fours.
The dog’s body, when running and turning, funnels this shock all the time, the dog’s body is built to take shock on the move. Shock absorption on the run happens in this order: pasterns (lower front leg), then shoulders, then chest, then the muscles of the back, then rear legs, then the back itself.
Things get dicey is when the dog experiences shock at a stand still. Landing on all fours does not allow the dog to dissipate movement via normal shock absorption. Instead of all of those parts of the body doing their part one at a time and in concert, the dog has the muscles of both legs then the skeletal structure of the back taking the full force of the impact.
It’s not at all unlike a human jumping on the run and landing on one leg, which allows us to walk out of that landing, dissipating the shock with momentum, and landing on two feet which locks us into our skeletal structure and leg muscles alone taking the beating.
Handstands are Bad
All front footed landings are not good. If the dog lands in a handstand, and it’s recognizable as a handstand to the human eye, that funneling process is not taking place as discussed above. Handstand landings should be avoided at all costs because our dogs shoulders are not meant to take that kind of shock on their own.
Flailing and the Disconnected landing
Flailing is not cool. Any time the dog looks as if they’ve been thrown out of a moving vehicle it’s not aesthetically appealing and also shows that the dog is battling to maintain control over the skill. Flailing should be treated as unsafe and efforts should be made to stop that from happening.
We should be quite wary of the disconnected landing. There’s a lot of articulation and expression in many dogs flips, which is totally cool. It’s how they manage their motion and maintain balance, but if that disconnect is still noticeable during the landing, the funneling of motion is most likely not happening correctly and the body can kink causing undue pressure to one particular part of the body.