None of us like to admit that our dogs are getting older, but suddenly you are observing subtle changes in your senior dog’s day to day living. We love our dogs as members of our family and it is often very difficult for us to watch them age. Fitness exercises can help keep your senior dog mentally and physically active as you keep your dog thinking and moving.
Eight weeks of class training. Five runs in USDAA in April + 3 runs at AKC Nationals + 1 day at a local AKC show = 10 runs.
All of the hard work paid off.
Bolt (and Meg), have made the AKC United States World Team for the second time. And while that was one of the goals in getting Bolt back in shape, it is actually the icing on the cake. The ultimate goal is keeping him in top condition. When they had gone to tryouts, Bolt had only been back to agility for 2 months. Yet when he stepped into that ring, he was physically ready to go.
Even though he had an injury to a front limb (toe), it was important to give him a balanced plan and not just work the front assembly. Being on rest for so long would not only cause his front end to weaken, but also his entire body. It was vital not to overwork the one weaker area, as tempting as that may seem, as it can cause an imbalance in the body.
As you may remember, after veterinarian clearance, we began exercising Bolt as if he were just beginning fitness training (Find it here: Onward!). During the months leading up to tryouts, we added on various exercises that would strengthen and challenge all of Bolt’s body parts : core, front, rear, and back.
Initially, we did this exercise standing on a stable platform and progressed to the K9FITbone. Among other things, I had Meg ask Bolt to look right and left and watch her as she walked a circle around him. These variations caused him to shift his weight in all directions while working the small stabilizer muscles in his core.
One of the exercises we did for the shoulders, chest, carpals and toes was to stand with the rear feet on the K9FITbone with the front feet on two pods. We included some variations using this same set up in order to challenge these muscles groups in various ways.
Many exercises will work more than one part of the body but often they will have a primary focus.
For example, although this exercise has a main focus on the rear, it also works the core (as we are asking for a tuck sit and kick back stand) and front since Bolt is targeting his front feet on an unstable object.
Even though Meg has been working with me for a while, we reviewed what she needed to watch for to insure proper form not only for safety sake, but also in order to get the most out the exercises.
This is only a snapshot of what Bolt did to get back to his old self. By having a variety of exercises to work from, we were able to challenge his muscles in a multitude of ways by changing the exercises and also giving his brain a mental workout at the same time.
Meg’s goal was met but the journey is not over. Today it’s a trip to the Czech Republic on the World Team; tomorrow, life. Canine conditioning is not just for the World Team competitor. The benefits are endless for our companions as we travel with them into their golden years.
PS: If you want to continue to follow Meg and Bolt’s journey, visit them at Unstoppable dogs
Let us turn back the clock ….
I’m pretty sure if Bolt could talk he’d say,
“ENOUGH! I’m done! I’m Fiiiiiine!”
Bolt’s injury was to his toe on his front foot. A joint on an outside toe, specifically. Initially, he was on complete rest. No more agility, no more jumping on and off couches, chairs or the bed, and no more running around freely after his daily walks. It was now time for short leash walks just to potty and his days were spent in an exercise pen. When things did not improve within a week, his daily residence changed: crate living was now his new existence. Less freedom means more rest. If you’ve ever met Bolt, you’d agree that he is a high energy dog.
He needed to do something before his little head exploded!
Fitness training is not just for the body, but also for the brain. After all, it is just as important to workout the brain as well as the muscles. I suggested that Meg start doing some trick training that would not require Bolt to put any strain on that toe, would benefit them down the line, all while improving the close bond the two had already. She worked on things like nose touches, giving a paw and waving to name a few. In our previous conditioning sessions (B.I.=Before Injury), Meg would get Bolt to turn his head by using a treat, or physically lifting his paw. Soon, she’d be able to work his brain and his brawn at the same time while using less treats! After all, we didn’t want him to gain a bunch of weight on top of all of this.
Working on tricks helped to keep Bolt engaged and also tire him out because he had to think. Doing these “exercises” aided him in his rest because he now settled down faster while he was in his crate. As a side benefit, the bond between the two grew even stronger as they waited patiently for the doctors to give them the thumbs up to get back to “regular life”.
The time came that the veterinarians, specialists, and chiropractors (who were also veterinarians) gave Bolt and Meg the green light to get back to their regular activities. Yay! We could start back on the road to fitness! It is important to note that before embarking on any fitness program your pet should be cleared by a veterinarian. Bolt was getting back to his previous fitness level, NOT working with me as a rehab dog. As a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer I do not diagnose injury, nor am I a rehabilitation specialist. I work with dogs who have been given clearance by a veterinarian.
Even with the veterinarians’ blessings, Meg wanted to take it slow. Bolt had “laid low” for a long time, she did not want to over do anything, including agility, hiking or conditioning. Just as we would do if we had an injury, we would not jump right into running a marathon, but instead we would start our training with walking/jogging on a treadmill or outdoors, along with some light weight training for example. She began their slow return by taking short walks with some off leash playing, short agility sequencing with the bars low and limited turning, and conditioning training too.
We also resumed some of the exercises that we did when they began working with me in the past.
We did some simple manual weight shifting exercises- first on the ground or on a raised stable platform (such as an aerobic bench or Klimb platform).
Bolt would stand in a natural position and Meg would gently add some steady pressure with her hand to each of his shoulders and hip joints. We then progressed these same exercises back onto the balance pads and then finally to the K9FITBone which increased the difficulty due to the unstable surface.
Weight shifting is a seemingly simple exercise but it requires the use of many stabilizing muscles in the core, front and hind legs. As we add in various components (such as looking right, left, up and down or lifting a leg), the level of difficulty increases. Try it yourself. Stand on the floor with both feet planted firmly and have someone apply pressure to your shoulder. Now lift one leg and look up to the ceiling. Getting harder, right? What if you did it standing on a pillow or balance disc? You’ll notice how many more muscles are engaged and how much harder it will get as you continue to add more challenges.
So what happened to those tricks we taught him while he was resting?
We were able to incorporate them into his fitness regime right from the start. For instance, while standing on the aerobic bench or K9FITBone, Bolt would touch his nose to Meg’s hand on the right and left side to shift his weight.
Instead of grabbing his right or left front paw, she would ask him to lift it himself.
We did the same with other foundation exercises, such as the folding down and kick back stand, starting on the ground, progressing up to bench, balance pads, and then a balance disc or K9FITBone. It did not take us long to add these progressions as Bolt already had a strong fitness base.
And so began Bolt’s return to his normal, happy life. Onward and upward little man!
Why do we condition our dogs?
Because our vet said so? Because we need to take weight off our 4-legged friend for their overall well being?
There are plenty of good reasons why :
We want them to have a good quality of life as they stroll into their golden years.
We want to strengthen our bond, focus their energy, train more “tricks”.
We want to keep our dogs in the best condition that they can be in for their given sport….
And sometimes, it’s because we are coming back from an injury. Sometimes life has another plan, and no matter how “right” we do things, injuries may happen.
Agility has often been compared to (in some circles, on some level) olympic sports. So, take for example, French gymnast, Samir Ait Said. He broke his leg during a vault exercise in which he had previously qualified for in the 2016 Olympics.
Is it likely that he did not adequately prepare for the challenges his sport presented to his body every time he stepped into the gymnasium? No. Could he have also been injured doing a totally unrelated activity or just in his every day living? Possibly.
Athletes of all skill levels *should* take precautions to avoid injury. This is part of the reason why they train. Yet, injuries are common for people who train and perform fastidiously despite (we assume) high quality preparation. But, life happens. So does that mean we should never train or compete with our dogs out of this fear? Perhaps they should just live in a bubble? Or do we do our best to prepare our canine athletes for the demand of our sport? Our goal is to decrease the chances of an injury but if they happen we hope to lessen the severity and increase the possibility of fuller, speedier recovery. The choice is ours.
Whether our dogs are “weekend warriors” at local trials, or we have loftier goals of competing internationally, conditioning should be part of our regular training and preparation routine to keep them safe, happy and healthy. . This is why people often seek out a Certified Fitness Coach. Meg McCarthy started getting fitness advice and began training with me for her dog Bolt for exactly those reasons.
Before we started, Meg used to walk and hike Bolt regularly, along with foundation training and other agility training….and of course, competing. But she realized she needed more than that.
She wanted to try to keep Bolt as fit as possible, which is where I came in. We began with the foundations of fitness. The basics. Using correct form. Getting more bang out of each movement and position. Things progressed quickly and well. Meg was also getting herself in the best shape of her life and doing the same for her dog. Bolt’s performance in the ring began to reflect this work. In 2016 they accomplished many feats including a second MACh, a challenger’s round run at nationals, a second place finals run at Westminster, and, the ultimate goal, a spot as a member of the AKC World Team. Meg continued Bolt’s fitness plan into the fall, right up until they left to compete in Spain for the world championships. They were the strongest and healthiest they had ever been when they returned.
And then it happened. It can’t be. Is he limping? Oh no! An injury. An apparent tweaked, stubbed or wrenched toe on a rock? The A-Frame perhaps? Does it really matter? Everything stopped.
She had been doing all the *right* things! But, as we said, things happen. We can’t control everything (though try we might). So began the road to recovery. Long weeks of crate rest, vet visits, x-rays, visits to specialists, dozens of phone calls, second (or more) opinions, chiropractic visits, before finally…clearance from the veterinarians and specialists to begin the slow return to activity. Even then Meg built up slowly- short walks, gentle stretching, slowly raising agility bars back to full height, more chiropractic adjustments, and yes, conditioning – all while remembering to breathe while doing it.
—- to be continued….
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…
Leave well enough alone…
We hear statements like these all the time in our day to day lives. In team sports you might hear it said that a coach hasn’t made a lot of changes in his program because the team is doing well. Why change what works…. right?
I often hear similar arguments: “Why should I do canine fitness, my dog has not had an injury?” Or, “My dog has been doing really well at _______(insert given sport), he’s fine.” And
another popular one, “Fitness? I’m too busy to do that too!”
My question is why wait for an injury or a weakness to show up? We teach our dogs the necessary skills to safely navigate an agility course, turn quickly on a flyball box, or dive off a dock far or high. Why? Because we want to reduce their risk of injury by giving them (and us) the confidence to execute the skills we’ve taught, and of course, we want to do our sport well and win!
I could also argue that adding a fitness routine into your training program will increase your dog’s overall core and body strength which will increase their performance and help to prevent injury.
Dogs with musculoskeletal imbalances and weakness tend to have a higher rate of injury. Participating in dog sports doesn’t automatically make them in shape or immune to injury. In fact, the chances of getting injured increases. But there are risks anytime, anywhere. No matter how hard we try to keep them safe, accidents can happen.
I know in agility, a wrong or late cue on my part can cause my dog to slip, slide or fall which could lead to a variety of injuries.On the other hand, they can do any of those things as they run around in my backyard or walk across my hardwood floors . They do have to be dogs though, so rather than put them in a glass box, why not at least do what I can to decrease their chances of getting hurt when these things happen.
Often times people avoid attempting to correct, fix or improve upon something that is already sufficient. Yet the sports we compete in have changed over the years based on ways to be more efficient, faster, safer. Training styles have changed too as the challenges have changed. Therefore, shouldn’t we change our preparation for these sports too? Many people frequently hike or walk with their dogs and while this is a great activity, is it enough? Just like your chosen sport, it mainly works the large muscle groups. A fitness program works those smaller, underlying muscles that help to stabilize the joints and allows them to use more muscles than just relying on the larger muscles. We can work on strengthening the muscles that will help them distribute their weight more efficiently, be more powerful, turn better, and tackle the challenges of today’s sports.
Let’s face it, we love our dogs whether they are our faithful companions as we fly through this journey in life or if they are our teammate in a sport that encompasses our free time.
Eventually, your faithful friend will have to retire from your chosen sport, but they don’t have to retire from living. Conditioning can help your older dog have a better quality of life, increase their flexibility, range of motion and provide mental challenges to help keep them young. And isn’t that what we all want? Just something to think about. 🙂
Hurray!! I got the honor of being the instructor again with Bobbie Lyons for the Pawsitive Performance FitPAWS Weekly Challenge and here it is …week 8- the final week!
The Exercise? Sit/Stand/Bow with the rear legs elevated
This is a full body exercise with many advantages:
*increases body awareness
*improves rear leg extension (while backing up)
*strengthens the hips, the adductors and abductors
*increases core strength and stability;
*stretches shoulders, back, and hamstrings when the front legs are extended
Form is Important!
Tips for Training:
~Teach back up, sit, stand, and bow separately on the flat before moving to a balance prop
~ Introduce your dog to the K9FITbone before doing this exercise.
~When comfortable with equipment, ask for each movement independently before combining the movements.
(i.e.: Teach sit with rear elevated. Teach bow with rear elevated )
~Once each exercise can be performed independently then work on the exercise combination
If you’ve been following the FitPAWS Facebook page you have noticed a weekly challenge done by Pawsitive Performance and Bobbie Lyons with her team of CCFT’s. I am the instructor for week 7! This week’s challenge has three skills put together to get one fun training exercise:
1. Targeting the front feet
2. Pivoting around a piece of equipment
3. Pivoting Up onto a taller piece of balance equipment
Go to the FitPAWS Facebook page to see some training tips on this exercise or email me for more information.
Watch the video below and get started on this week’s fitness challenge!
Ever get the feeling you are being watched?
At a recent agility trial I had a fellow competitor ask me if she could watch me as I was getting ready to go into the ring. (But of course!)
But I don’t stretch my dog before going into the ring….What?! (Then why did she want to observe?! ) I don’t stretch him, but I do move him around with a specific routine. So routine that he often goes into the next movement before I do!
In the human fitness world there has been much discussion about doing static stretches (holding a position for a specific length of time) versus dynamic stretches (stretching muscles while moving).
Whether you’re a human warming up before running a 5K or a dog getting ready to go attack an agility course, a good warm up should get the blood flowing and loosen the major muscle groups while moving the joints using an active range of motion. When warming up we want to actively move the toes, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips and knees.
Some examples include:
- backing up
- weaving between the legs
- folding down/stand
You will see constant movement in these partial warm up routines from both Meg McCarthy and Bolt and SirPrize and me
(Note: these are not complete warm up routines)
A fitness instructor can help you design a customized warm up plan for your athlete.
This week’s FitPAWS conditioning challenge from Dr. Leslie Eide DVM at the The Total Canine: Veterinary Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine is one of my favorites (although, my list of favorites is quite long….and I love anything that uses a K9FITbone and a FitPAWS Donut/holder …. oh, and I like the paw pods too…. and the….. 🙂 Anyway, not only are you working the core, front, and rear, but the brain is getting a great workout too and it’s all while having fun and bonding with your dog! Does it get any better than that?
This weeks FitPAWS challenge by Leslie Eide DVM, CCRT, The Total Canine: Veterinary Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, works on the core and rear muscles, balance, and body awareness by doing a tuck sit and kickback stand using the FitPAWS Giant Rocker Board…check it out!
*Notice how the dog’s rear tucks in by rotating his hips and then rotate to go back into the stand with minimal movement of the front feet.
“Lift with your legs, not your back! Tighten those core muscles!”
Think about when you have worked out with a personal trainer or if you have ever taken a kickboxing, pilates, yoga or cycle class. What is it that the instructor is frequently “barking” at you about? That’s right, form. They often want you to slow down your movements and focus on your form so that you get the most out of your workout in the safest way. The same goes for when we exercise our dogs.
Paying attention to your dog’s form during exercise is one of the most important aspects of canine conditioning. We watch body positions in order to avoid putting stress on the neck, spine, shoulders and/or hips. In general, we watch the dog for:
- Natural head position and neck relaxed
- Neutral back, no arching or roaching (depending on the breed- for example, we would not expect a greyhound to have a flat back)
- Foot position
We also watch our dog’s form so that we are engaging the proper muscles, getting the most out of the exercise, and safely executing the position.
For example, if I want to engage my dog’s core, hind limbs, and shoulder rotation when I am having my dog lie down, then I want to have them fold into the position with their feet planted in one spot. If they sit first and then walk their front legs forward until they are in a down position they not only put stress on their shoulders but they do not engage the muscles in the rear and core. (For more on the folding down, click here)
So remember, it’s not just about exercising your dog, it’s about getting the most out of the WAY you do it!