Those of you with dogs, I want you to observe what they do first thing in the morning. Prior to peeing. They usually do three things: 1) they stretch 2) they yawn 3) they shake. They usually do those three things after waking from a nap as well. Have you ever wondered why? Because dogs are smart. They all have an innate understanding of their biology.
Our body is 60-70% water by volume. We are basically a large sponge wrapped in a waterproof package of skin (although our skin can sweat and has water content itself so that’s not entirely true but please allow me the use of the metaphor). If you squeeze one part of the sponge you serve to dehydrate it. The release of pressure re-hydrates that area. Massage and foam rolling are largely serving to create that pressure gradient change and push fluid around—akin to squeezing a sponge in a bucket of water.
When sleeping, we place pressure against surfaces of our body for extended periods of time and effectively dehydrate those tissues. Changing positions in our sleep serves to prevent us from compressing one surface area or body part for too long to keep things appropriately hydrated. This is why bed sores are of such concern in hospital settings. Dogs know this quite well. Especially if they sleep on the floor or on surfaces less soft than our cozy beds. Which is why, when they wake, they stretch, yawn, and shake.
They stretch because their tissues have been stagnant for an extended period of time. Stagnant tissue has minimal blood flow and even less fluid exchange in general. Stretching serves to lengthen tissue and asks it to glide across itself. Muscles must contract while others relax to perform any movement and by stretching, dogs create pressure gradient changes internally which pushes fluid around. There’s a reason it’s called downward dog! Doesn’t your dog do a beautiful downward dog every morning!? Usually followed by a nice cobra stretch?
The second thing a dog will do is yawn. And they’re not ashamed of it. They don’t hold their paw over their face and try to hide it in fear of offending anyone. They open their mouths about 10 times wider than seems possible and usually make a nice long vocal ”yaaaaaaaaaawn” to go along with it. We humans often have the urge to do that but don’t for fear of being rude. Forget rude. This is your health we are talking about. A big, long, vocal yawn encourages gas exchange and creates space in the thoracic cavity, again serving to push fluid around. As your lungs expand they push and pull other things out of the way. Your heart gets smooshed for a moment, your diaphragm pushes down into your abdominal cavity giving your digestive organs a little pressure massage, your rib cage lifts up stretching all the muscles of your chest and back. Yawning while stretching is a good idea because that big breath expels CO2 and brings in more oxygen which is delivered to tissues via the blood stream while our muscle contractions are pushing more blood around than if we remained in a static posture. Don’t your dogs usually yawn and stretch at the same time? They know.
Finally, after yawning and stretching, your dog will shake. (How many times did you yawn while reading that last paragraph, by the way? I’m hoping at least two.) They shake as if they just went for a swim. Why would they do that? Because they know that their skin is fascially connected to the tissue underneath it and they must rehydrate that as well. Dehydrated tissue is stiff and viscous. Well hydrated tissue is flush and lubricated. They want to lubricate their skin as it interfaces with the tissue underneath so they shake, from head to tail, to help distribute all of that fluid they just pushed around by stretching and yawning. They are loosening up their tissues, from the inside out, getting ready to move.
And dogs are natural movers. Have you ever met a dog who will not jump at the chance to go for a walk? In fact, if you suggest the idea of a walk to your dog, I will bet that they will perform those same three behaviors in preparation for their walk. They will stretch, yawn verbally, and shake with excitement which serves to prepare their tissues for performance. If we were wise, we would do well to incorporate those behaviors into our own morning routines as well as our pre-exercise routines. In the pursuit of health, do as your dog does.