All dogs jump. It’s a natural seemingly effortless motion for dogs. Many dog sports ask the dog to jump frequently. Jumping style as well as fitness is important to maintaining your dog’s soundness. My main reason for becoming a certified canine fitness trainer was to focus on injury prevention. After living through some dog sports related injuries, I knew I wanted to focus on the proper way to condition my dogs for sports. Afterall, human sports have a very specific fitness and conditioning protocol which is designed to create the ideal athlete. This is not only designed to produce top performance but also injury prevention.
So how do we condition athletes, especially the four-legged type?
Plyometrics is one of my favorite exercises to incorporate into my conditioning program.
It is a type of exercise that involves repeated rapid stretching and contracting of muscles with the end goal being to increase muscle power.
What benefits does plyometric exercises have to offer?
Plyometric exercises improve joint stability, enhance shortening (concentric) and lengthening (eccentric) of muscles, increase speed and improve proprioception. I like to use plyometric training to decrease the reaction time of muscle action in order to increase the rate of force production (speed).
Plyometric exercises can be rather taxing on the overall dog, so we need to ensure that our dog is physically able to perform the exercises soundly. This is also an exercise that should not be overdone or performed to the point of exhaustion. In order words, be prepared to work a designated set of repetitions and then allow ample time for your dog to rest and recover. Remember that modifications can be made to meet your dog where they are. The goal is never to see how high your dog can jump, or how many repetitions they can do.
The goal is to condition your dog to have the proper jumping posture while building core muscles and developing balance in take-off and landing.
Starting out I begin with 3-5 repetitions and then rest for 48 hours. To clarify, one repetition is through the jump bump ladder and then back. I will slowly build up the repetitions, never grow this too quickly. Again, the goal isn’t to exhaust your dog to the point of fatigue. I suggest reaching out to your local Certified Canine Fitness Trainer for a properly designed fitness program or contact me for a virtual consult.
To set up this exercise, “ladder grid” I start with 3 – 5 jump bumps. The distance between each jump bump is dependent on your dog’s size. For my young bitch this is roughly 4’ for my dog who is larger, roughly 6’. The goal is to have the dog “bounce” in between each bump not stride. If my dog is not bouncing in between each bump, then I will adjust the distance between my bumps until I get the desired bounce. My target “reward” is placed roughly 10’ from the last bump that way my dog isn’t slamming on breaks to grab the reward, but can decelerate in a balanced, controlled manner and perform a collected stop. This exercise is all about precision control teaching our dogs to be thoughtful while in drive. Trust me it’s harder than it sounds.
There are three phases to this plyometric activity:
- Take off phase: concentric, here the muscles shorten or contract. Think of a spring compressing just before “springing” open. Here I want my dog to be loading their rear and pushing off with their hind limbs.
- Transition phase: This is the moment in between take-off and landing phase. This is a short phase and meant to be short in order to maintain the momentum of the exercise.
- Landing phase: eccentric, here the muscles lengthen creating a deceleration or breaking effect. Here I want my dog to land as balanced as possible. Front limbs close to being squared up. Ideally, we want balance in landing, and this will transfer over to balance in deceleration which produces tighter turns, more control with greater speed.
I pay close attention to the take off phase. I want to ensure that my dog is loading his rear and driving under his body using his core. If I am not getting this then I know I need to make some adjustments.
Keep all your training sessions fun! Don’t over work your dog with these exercises. I encourage you to take time to write out a training plan with goals. Need help with setting goals, check out a blog I wrote on just that here. As always happy training!