Tips and Tricks

SirPrize recently passed his Novice and Intermediate Trick Dog Tests, and although I didn’t train these tricks specifically for these tests it got me thinking, many of the tricks he knows are because of the fitness training we do!

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Often times people who train with me will ask, ” Why do you want to know if “Rex” can nose touch or shake a paw?”

Simply because we can USE these tricks in our conditioning training! With a trick such as the nose touch, you can get your dog to shift his weight on his own without having to do it manually by applying pressure to his body. The same unassisted weight shifting also occurs when we ask the dog to perform “shake/paw” trick while on balance equipment. Not only that, but it gets your dog thinking more and a thinking dog is getting the added benefit of getting a mental workout and not just a physical one. In addition, the bond that comes with this training time grows stronger between the handler and the dog. Put all of this together and you get a happy, mentally stimulated, pooped pooch!

Along with these two tricks, you can increase the difficulty in the weight shifting exercise by teaching your dog to “wave” or “high five”. The added independent motion of the dog having to balance himself with greater instability will make this once-simple core exercise more advanced. Want to add more motion? Find your dog’s favorite ball or toy and teach them how to catch it. Catching is a skill in itself, but add it to a balance prop and the benefits are compounded. (Keep in mind this is an advanced skill. Your dog has to be strong enough to find his balance and hold it with the other ‘tricks’ before adding this to your routine.)

Can your dog turn a circle right and left on the flat? Doing it on a piece of balance equipment makes this an advanced exercise too. It takes core strength, body awareness and control.

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The list of tricks that can be used in some form or another goes on and on! Some can be used as part of a warm up routine, some can be used as an exercise in itself, and others make an exercise more advanced. Here are some additional examples:

  • Crawl
  • Leg weave
  • Rollover
  • Sit Pretty
  • Paws Up
  • Target
  • Back up
  • Jump

So while trick training to some may just be cute or a fun bonding experience with your dog I say, use what you’ve trained (or train some new tricks) and apply them to your fitness training routine to keep it interesting for you and your dog.

 

happy training

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Progress

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.Messages Image(31003666)

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. image1.pngAmong 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.

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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.

image1 2Many 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.

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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.

happy trainingPS: If you want to continue to follow Meg and Bolt’s journey, visit them at Unstoppable dogs

 

 

But I did everything right

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….

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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.IMG_1535

 

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, IMG_1534vet 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….

Let’s Warm Up!

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!

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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
  • waving
  • folding down/stand
  • walking

 

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.

happy training