Many people have an opinion on whether or not dog jumping is bad for their joints. Is it healthy or harmless? How do you stop dogs from jumping? And can you train a dog not to jump? Let's take a look in more detail.
It’s a little confusing trying to work out fact from fiction when it comes to dogs and jumping. That’s where we come in! We want to make sure as many dogs stay healthy. Our technical experts have broken down a guide to joints and jumping, to help you make the best choices for your paw-legged pooch.
Back to basics – why does jumping affect joints?
In years gone by, dogs and their wild cousins have had to leap and jump to survive. However, with our domesticated dogs it's a question of surfaces, load, scale, strain, repetition and how these affect the body
It’s useful to think about the act of jumping from a dog’s perspective – understanding what’s happening physically helps us understand how and why different kinds of jumping affect our dog’s joints.
Just before your pooch prepares to take off, they shift their weight back into the large muscles of the back legs and onto the back-leg joints. The activated back end pushes your dog up and forward like a coiled spring which has been released.
This action requires a full range of motion in the back leg joints including the stifle and the hip and tarsal (hock), and of course, activation in all the supporting muscles. When they land, their front legs are mobilised, flexing and extending to brake and steady the dog.
These movements are perfectly normal. But, as you can imagine, the heavy impact takes more out of your dog’s joints than walking or running around on flat ground. Vets refer to the additional stress on the body as ‘increased load’.
What happens when a dog jumps down?
The act of jumping down involves less muscular work – it’s when your dog puts the brakes on during this process that they might risk a twist or strain.
When getting down off a couch or bed, your dog uses their body weight for downward momentum. Once they land, they’ll then ‘brake’ through the front section of their body. Their front legs and shoulders abruptly take much more weight and strain than if walking or running on flat ground. This is especially true if your pooch is carrying an extra pound or two. Again this is ‘increased load’ at work.
How different surfaces affect your dog?
This is a BIG factor. Jumping from hard to soft – or soft to slippery – adds another layer of complexity. Your dog has to counter slippery surfaces with their own muscles, or may risk toppling over on impact. This can cause what’s called ‘eccentric contractions’, leading to twists, strains and sprains.
Just imagine jumping from a high wall onto a soft mattress and trying to stay on your feet when you land. It’s pretty difficult right? Dogs experience the same when they jump.
Clutter, slippery floors, and rugs can also cause problems. Twisting or straining on landing to avoid hazards will mean more work for the muscles and joints.
Big or small? Breed and size can be a factor!
Yes. If your dog is a toy or miniature, they may have to jump twice or three times their height to join you for a snuggle. Some breeds and mixes are more prone to accidents and incidents, and obesity plays a part too. Unfortunately, if your dog is carrying a bit too much weight, their joints take the stress, which can make a risky action even more problematic.
Jumping and dog joints: your questions answered?
We’ve asked the YuMOVE vet team, some of the most common questions about jumping and dog joints and asked them to set the facts straight!
“Is it ok for my pooch to go up and down the stairs?”
Most healthy adult dogs manage carpeted stairs well. But it’s worth remembering that stairs or steps do require greater range of motion in the front and back leg joints compared to walking on flat ground. Stairs can be a challenge for the smallest breeds and dogs who are prone to joint stiffness. Ramps, or being carried or supported with a sling is a good idea in these cases – always talk to your vet for advice.
“I heard that my dog shouldn’t jump out of the car, or up into the trunk?”
It depends on your car and your dog! A large SUV, a slippery blanket in the trunk and a small or older dog is a very different scenario to a smaller sedan with a rubber mat in the trunk. The best solution though is to use a portable pet ramp. It's a good idea to get your pooch used to ramps when they’re young and agile, life will be easier for both of you if jumping becomes a struggle as they age.
“So the same for jumping down off the couch?”
Exactly! Jumping on and off the couch isn’t ideal for dogs because of the combination of different surfaces. Going from hard to soft, and vice versa, increases the likelihood of twists and injuries.
“What’s the best way to get my dog up onto my bed?”
It’s so much safer to pick your dog up for a bedtime snuggle – and if you can, lift them back down from the bed. This is especially important if your bed is high. Jumping on and off the bed is a ‘high-load activity, with a mixture of hard and soft surfaces which causes a lot of strain in your dog’s musculature and joints.
"Surely my puppy is ok to jump up on the couch with me?”
Although they’re so much more agile as pups, growing joints are particularly vulnerable. And the behaviour and what you allow in puppyhood sets the model for adult life. We’d suggest training your pup to ‘wait’ and lifting them onto furniture if you want them to come up for a cuddle. Which we know can be challenging. Make sure you let your friends and family know too for when they come to visit.
“My pooch just loves our trampoline – that’s ok right?”
Well, we need to be really careful. Many dogs love the bouncy feel of the bed or couch and will sometimes even use it as a ‘springboard’ if they’re having zoomies. We all know a pooch who loves to play on a trampoline given half a chance. However, bouncing on an uneven surface or – worse – from soft and springy to hard ground can increase the chance of injury.
"My dog loves taking part in agility – is that ok?”
Although jumping increases the load on the joint, if the surfaces and heights are within a safe range, your dog is healthy, and you don’t overdo it, jumping is relatively safe. There is a risk of injury when partaking in any sport, but if you’re careful and responsible, you can minimise the risk. The benefits of better fitness and an increased bond between you and your pooch can outweigh some of the risk.
Have you had any trouble discerning fact from fiction when researching whether jumping is bad for your dog? Share your experiences with us over on Facebook and Instagram – we love hearing from you, and try and share as many of your dogs with our community as possible!