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Canine Cross Training: Building Balance, Strength and Endurance in Your Dog - Part 2 of a Series

For Health & Wellness Wednesdays, we continue featuring an excerpt from the book, "Canine Cross Training: Building Balance, Strength and Endurance in Your Dog" by Sasha Foster, MSPT, CCRT.


Reprinted with the kind permission of Dogwise Publications. 

"Canine Cross Training: Building Balance, Strength and Endurance in Your Dog" by Sasha Foster, MSPT, CCRT - Chapter 3 - Balance (Part 1 continued)

Balance tests

In order for balance to improve, the exercises must be difficult enough in terms of overload principle for the nerves and muscles to begin the process of cellular adaptation, remapping new nerve pathways to create new movement patterns, but not so difficult that the dog has to compensate while completing the exercises (which leads to lower quality movement patterns). So in order to start the dog off with the exercises that will promote maximum benefit, core stabilization and whole body awareness tests must be completed. How a dog performs on these tests determine which balance exercise level he should begin with.

Core stabilization and whole body awareness testing

There are four levels each of testing for core stabilization and whole body awareness, numbered one to four. The core stabilization tests determine how long the dog can maintain a position in which his rear feet are placed on a piece of exercise equipment. The higher the rear legs are raised, the more difficult it is to maintain the position. A dog with good core strength, all things being equal, will be able to maintain the position a relatively long time and can begin his training with more difficult balance exercises. The whole body awareness tests involve placing the dog's rear feet on an unstable surface (wobble board, tilt board) to determine how steady he is on the object and how long he can remain on it.

To prepare to build the balance component of a dog's cross training program, look at the Balance Training Calendar below. This calendar tracks the balance exercise in terms of intensity, frequency and duration and provides a schedule on which to mark down when the exercises have been completed. Begin by testing the dog for core stabilization and whole body awareness. When the exercise levels are determined, mark the levels on the Balance Training Calendar. When you have completed the tests for the other conditioning components, strength and endurance in the following chapters, then read Chapter 6, Activity Specific Cross Training Programs. This chapter will describe precisely which exercises should be included in a dog's conditioning program and what the conditioning goal should be for specific activities.

Level One and Two core stabilization tests

Ask the dog to stand with his rear feet on a balance disc. He can do this by walking over the top of the disc so that his front feet are on the floor while his rear feet remain on the disc or by asking him to step backward onto the disc, then rewarding him. Test to see if the dog can hold the position for fifteen seconds and repeat five times. If the brain receives a signal that the body is able to maintain the position, even if it is difficult, the nerves will signal the muscles to remain on the disc. This position will be maintained until the muscles fatigue and cause the dog to step off the disc. If the dog is very unsteady and/or repetitively steps off the disc, begin the core stabilization exercises at Level One. If the dog is unsteady but keeps his feet on the disc, begin exercises at Level Two. If the dog is stable and can complete the exercise for five repetitions, then have him perform the Level Three test below. This process continues until the correct intensity of exercise is determined. Once the correct exercises are chosen, they should be completed for twice a week for twelve weeks. Please see specific exercises later in this chapter for number of repetitions per session.

Level Three core stabilization test

Ask the dog to stand with his rear feet on an elbow-height box. He can do this by walking over the top of the box so that his front feet are on the floor while his rear feet remain on the box or by asking him to step backward onto the disc, then reward. Hold fifteen seconds, and repeat five times. If the dog is very unsteady and/or repetitively steps off the box, begin the core stabilization exercises at Level Two. If the dog is unsteady but keeps his feet on the box for fifteen seconds, begin the exercises at Level Three. If the dog can complete the exercise with good stability for five repetitions of fifteen seconds, test for Level Four.

Level Four core stabilization test

Ask the dog to stand with his rear feet on an elbow-height peanut by having him to step backwards onto the peanut. At this level, the dog must have independent rear limb movement to safely complete Level Four core stabilization exercises. Hold fifteen seconds and repeat five times. If the dog is very unsteady and/or repetitively steps off the peanut, begin the core exercises at Level Three. If the dog is unsteady but keeps his feet on the peanut, begin the exercises at Level Four. If the dog can complete the exercise with good stability, then contact Canine Fitness Zone for elite Level Five conditioning exercises. Note that the recommended peanut height for this exercise is much lower than what is recommended by some equipment companies. For toy and mini breeds, turning a balance stone upside-down will provide the same exercise intensity at the correct equipment height.

The following diagram provides an illustration of the core stabilization testing process.

We hope this provides valuable information and you can visit www.dogwise.com to find out more about the book and use coupon code USDAA for 10% off. Enjoy!

This concludes this week's section. Stay tuned for the second section next Wednesday, May 4th. Click here to read part one.

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