If you know me then you know I’m an advocate for canine fitness. I support and encourage people to do more things with their dogs and in doing so strongly encourage everyone to take the fitness of their canine partner serious. Fitness is not just for the “sport” dogs, our pet dogs need a good fitness routine as well.
There is so much information on the internet regarding canine fitness that it is easy to get overwhelmed and just toss your hands up. I certainly don’t want anyone to fall victim to information overload.
It’s important to start off by reminding you that all dogs regardless of their life stage can benefit from canine fitness. You can read a previous blog on this here. If your dog is recovering from an injury, you will need a letter of clearance from your veterinarian stating your dog is cleared for exercise with no limitations. If there are limitations, I need to know this up front.
How do we achieve success with canine fitness?
Any goal without a plan is just a distant dream. Don’t let the fitness health of your canine be a dream, let’s make it a reality! Creating a plan to help you be successful with keeping your favorite training partner in shape isn’t as tough as it may sound.
What are we planning? We are planning each training session which allows you to have a clear vision of where you are going and how you will get there. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated, but it needs to be addressed before you have your dog in front of you and treats in hand. Planning is setting you up for maximizing your mental focus during your training session. Your dog will thank you for this later as there will be less sessions ending with you or him frustrated. Planning will help you stay on track with your goals because accountability is a real thing. I suggest using a training journal and keeping notes on each session as needed. You will be surprised how far you have come when you can measure a goal with a date on it.
What should be included in the plan? There are 4 areas:
- Goals: What do you want to accomplish this month, then we separate this into weeks, then to days. Planning and record keeping will keep you honest in repetitions, sets and patterns. Dogs & people love patterns, it’s familiar but when it comes to fitness, we must be mindful in not performing empty reps. Empty reps would be just going through the motions. It’s also critical not to drill your dog with any training and not to work your dog to the point of fatigue. Signs of fatigue you can find here.
- Challenge: Adding challenges at the appropriate time will allow our dogs to gain strength. Remember we don’t want empty reps. We handlers really have to pay close attention to form in regard to fitness. An exercise that is too challenging or not challenging enough can be performed with incorrect form “posture” very easily. Incorrect form works the wrong target muscles and can also lead to injury.
- Balance: Is the plan balanced? Are we working all five areas of the canine athlete puzzle? Balance, Mental, Strength, Flexibility, & Cardio. Our dog’s fitness needs are more than just stamina, there are a lot of components that keep our canine going strong.
- Prepared: Be prepared before you get your dog out. What pieces of equipment will you be using if any? What treats motivate your dog but don’t excite them to the point where they can’t think. Have those treats ready to go in a cup pre counted out to match your reps.
A word on equipment. The equipment we decide to use directly impacts our training goals. One of the biggest mistakes I see people making is jumping right into the unstable equipment. It’s the “impressive” “fun” pieces, but it may not be what your dog needs right at this moment.
Foundation fitness training should be evaluated on the flat or on stable equipment regardless of how athletic your dog may be. If your dog cannot perform the exercise with proper form “posture” on the flat, they should not be asked to perform the exercise on unstable inflatable equipment. That would make the challenge too hard.
I get asked all the time what equipment to buy. My response is always start out with a stable disc (perch, pivot disc etc.), Cavaletti poles, foam pad and/or yoga mat, a platform of some sort. There is so much you can do with just that, it’s certainly enough to get started without breaking the bank.
Length of session
Remember training sessions should be kept short. We are not entering this plan with the goal to fatigue our dogs. Use the cookie in a cup method if you need help in keeping honest with the number or reps. Don’t push for one more just because your dog is doing so amazing! Once your 5-10 cookies have been used that session is a wrap and it’s time to rest. Resting is imperative to our dog’s health and longevity in their sport of choice. Just like people who start a new fitness routine with a personal trainer, exercises can lead to sore muscles and rest is required to build strength.
Train the dog you have right in front of you right now. Don’t focus on what your dog could do yesterday or last week. Meet them where they are today. Canine fitness should be a fun way to build and strengthen your bond while enhancing your dog’s fitness.
If you are interested in purchasing a fitness disc you can email me. firstname.lastname@example.org This disc design was created by my handy husband who took my specific needs and made it a reality. I have now had my original disc since 2012 and it is still my most used piece of equipment today.