Posted Date: August 26, 2015
The first in a series of articles by canine rehabilitation specialist Dr. Leslie Eide on canine conditioning.
Athlete - a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical
agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or
game requiring physical skill.
soccer teams to professional football players; its not just about playing the
game, and according to the definition above, dogs that compete in agility are
athletes. Conditioning is a part of preparing for sports. It prevents injury
and helps athletes perform at their best. No matter what your goals are for you
and your dog, conditioning should be a part of your routine. The great news is
not only will it help your performance, it will better the bond between you and
your dog. By developing a conditioning program specific to your sport, the
benefit will be even greater for the both of you.
What you may not
know is that fitness work requires a great foundation, just like agility
training. You need to do your flatwork first before you start running courses! No
matter your dogs age or strength, it is important to build off of a great
foundation. As in all things we teach our dogs, some will progress quicker than
others. A sharp dog that learns quickly may surpass his strength level in the
training, and while he understands what you are asking, he wont be capable of
performing the task. Once a dog understands a fitness behavior, it will take 8
to 12 weeks for the muscles to adapt to the new exercise. At this point, the
dog no longer gains any benefit from the exercise, and it is time to move on. Increasing
the difficulty of the exercise is easy. You can add repetitions, use more
unstable equipment, or increase the height of the target. There is never a
point that we cant increase difficulty, especially if you remember to take
breaks throughout the year.
How you train the
behaviors for conditioning is also very important. When using fitness
equipment, you can place the dog on the equipment, lure them, or use
previously-shaped/captured behaviors that can be generalized to the equipment.
Shaping is breaking down the behavior into smaller steps and rewarding those
small steps, until you get the behavior you want. Capturing is rewarding a
behavior that already happens so that the dog offers that behavior more often. My
philosophy is to use shaping or capturing, so that the dog learns what you are
asking and builds strong neuro-muscular pathways. I use both methods to build
my foundation behaviors for canine fitness. These neuro-muscular pathways are
generally known as "muscle memory."
When you place your
dog on the equipment, the dog is not building any neuro-muscular pathways. You
are actually doing all the work for the dog. While some dogs may not have any
issues with this, some dogs may find this very scary and become anxious around
the equipment. Luring, especially with a very food motivated dog, may get the
results you want quickly, but I would argue that dogs really have no idea what
they are doing with their bodies. When you take the food out of the picture,
you are left with much more deliberate movement. While shaping/capturing might
take the longest, especially if you struggle with your click/treat timing, you and your
dog will get the most out of it. The neuro-muscular pathways are built
the fastest using this method and will provide the "muscle memory" needed to
help prevent injury in the heat of competition.
Based on my
philosophy for canine conditioning, Im introducing "Workout Wednesday." Every
other Wednesday, I will break down an exercise into its basic foundation
behaviors and how you can progress the exercise. This exercise will focus on
the strength and core portion of a conditioning plan. To give you a little bit
of a sneak peak, here are five of my foundation behaviors:
Front Paw Target
Rear Paw Target
4 Paws Targeted with neutral topline and neutral limb position.
rear legs in full flexion. Pelvis should not be rocked over to either side.
Kickback Sit to Stand
Square sit to a
stand by keeping front limbs stationary and pushing off the ground with rear
limbs into a normal standing position.
I hope you will
join me every other week to learn more about canine conditioning. It may be a
workout, but it is still about having fun with your dog!
Leslie Eide, DVM, CCRT
FitPAWS® Master Trainer" Instructor
Leslie graduated from Colorado State
University's Veterinary School in 2006. She completed a rotating
internship in small animal medicine in Albuquerque, NM. She continued her
education by becoming certified in canine rehabilitation through the Canine
Rehab Institute with a focus in sports medicine. She continues to learn more
about rehabilitation, sports medicine and pain management through daily
practice and continuing education seminars.
In the agility world, Leslie has trained two
dogs to their ADCH, one to ADCH Bronze, ATCH2, and MACH. Three of her dogs have
qualified and competed at USDAA Nationals with multiple Grand Prix Semi-final
runs. She currently competes with 3 dogs in agility.