April is National Canine Fitness Month. As a certified canine fitness trainer (CCFT), I’m excited to share some fitness knowledge with you. Regardless if you have a performance canine or a professional couch companion, keeping them physically fit is important.
What exactly should go into a fitness plan? A plan that covers all areas of the canine health puzzle. The five areas are: balance, strength, cardio, flexibility and mental. Since cardio is usually an easy area to achieve, I’m going to share with you an exercise that covers the other puzzle pieces. Today I am going to discuss one of my favorite foundation fitness exercises which dogs of any life stage can participate in, this covers all areas of the fitness puzzle except cardio.
Starting a fitness program can be overwhelming. It’s important that you work with someone who is certified and trained to build a program custom for your dog. I love starting clients with posture weight shifting exercises. Since it is low impact, all dogs regardless of their fitness level can participate. Practicing good posture also promotes balance and symmetry (think shoulders back!).
Now before you tell me, “ugh my dog has perfect posture,” I want to stress how important good posture is. Every time your dog jumps on the sofa (weight shifting to rear), takes a weave entry (weight shifting to rear) or eats dinner from a bowl (weight shifting to front) they are weight shifting. Dogs carry roughly 60% of their total body weight in their front end. Some dogs will weight shift effortlessly and natural while others will need some help in learning how to weight shift in more active situations.
What will you need?
- Low to medium value cookies. Sometimes kibble will be okay here but no need to bring out the high value. When working with fitness we want to encourage slow calm movements and sometimes high value food can really excite our dogs past their ability to maintain good posture and form.
- A non-slip surface, I like to use a yoga mat or interlocking mats.
- Dog will be stable and flat. Stable: the surface is solid and will not move (your dog is on the floor standing on a yoga mat) Flat: the dogs’ forelimbs and hindlimbs are the same height.
- Goal: shift the dog’s weight onto his hindlimbs by bringing the head up right, all while maintaining a square stand.
- Benefit: This exercise improves cervical spine extension, weight shift to rear, and strengthens epaxial muscles (top of the spine muscles). Since my breed is slightly longer than tall (Australian Shepherds) this is an important exercise I don’t skip over. Longer backed dogs tend to have weaker cores, not a big deal as long as we condition them.
- Beginning with a square balanced stand, encourage your dog to raise his head towards the ceiling (you can use luring or have him nose target). We are not asking our dog to hold this position at this time, simply get our head shift up, feed in position and then allow him to return to neutral position. Repeat this 5 times. Your dog should be shifting his weight to his rear. The only way you can see this weight shift is if you video and watch, in other words don’t try to lean sideways and look while performing this as you will cause your dog to sacrifice form.
- Handler Mechanics: pay attention to how high your hand is with the lure/target. Going to high may cause your dog to lift their front feet off the ground which is not the goal here. To avoid the potential cervical rotation (head tilt) or unbalanced rear weight shifting I suggest you alternate between your left and right hands for lure/targeting.
https://youtu.be/zwzcmlDZeYg Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel to see more exercises.
It is incredibly important to watch for signs of fatigue. Don’t ever push for just one more rep when you see your dog is clearly fatigued. Fatigued muscles cannot work properly which means you will sacrifice form. We don’t ever want to sacrifice form! Some things to watch out for; if you notice excessive foot movement, excessive head rotation, trying to sit once your dog understands this is a standing game, an unbalanced stand after starting with a balanced stand.