Many people laugh and say “my dog is fitter than me“, which is likely true, but is your dog fit enough to sustain the amount of activity you set it?
I have seen dogs refuse commands, run off the field, bark at handlers and just plain shut down in the middle of an exercise, what I haven’t seen is too many people analyse the cause properly and just blame it on the dogs attitude or disobedience. Some even blamed their training, illness and other things they said were contributing.
I notice a lot of dogs competing in dog sports or even just fetching a ball becoming fatigued and soon after becoming “disobedient“. I find it unusual that when humans want to compete in a sport, they commonly aim to “get into shape” before competing, but so few of us ever consider our dogs fitness level and if it is at the necessary level to complete the work we aim at without fatigue.
In our injury prevention articles you will read the opinions of many experts in the field who advise that many dog sports injuries can be avoided by making sure your dogs physical fitness is at the level needed to compete before competing. When a dog is physically tired, just like us they are unable to maintain peak physical power and as this power drops, they can slip, miscalculate turns, jumps or landings and this is when injuries occur.
Sure you may have a dog that has not had an injury, but I would be surprised if you are a dog sport competitor that doesn’t know of a dog that has been injured, it is more common than you may think! Whilst many injuries are healed by a little time off, they can be worse needing physio, chiro or even surgery and some dogs never compete again.
I believe that the more we work with dogs, the more we know about them, getting better performance from them, learning better training methods and keeping them healthy for longer, but it takes research followed by change, which many people aren’t keen on.
It is smart to prepare your dog for dog sports competitions by training the exercises you will be judged on, we all know that and wouldn’t for a moment consider competing without having these trained, but we seem to neglect the fact that our dogs may not be physically ready, and this may cause them to let you down in the ring.
What is fitness?
People often think “fitness” is related to cardio exercise, and in part they are right, but that is only a small part of it. Muscle tone, tension and strength, balance, improved proprioception (body awareness), core strength, joint health and many more performance enhancing fitness and endurance aspects effect the way our dogs perform, avoid injury and remain motivated.
When I started using the FitPAWS Peanut with Venom, my young Malinois, he was what I would call “cardio fit” and he was in my opinion and others, very strong. When I began testing the Peanut I was amazed to see that he was showing signs of muscle fatigue after about 5 minutes on the ball. He really wasn’t doing much up there but he seemed to tire fast. I was surprised and I must admit, a little disappointed as I thought he had more endurance than that. It wasn’t until someone asked me to try the ball out and do a few sit ups that I quickly understood the system!
I was spent in a minute as the ball requires you to support yourself and perform the sit up, it is damn hard! It is hard on your abs sure, but your core gets a huge work out! I had Venom on that ball every day and whilst it didn’t take long for him to develop the endurance to stay on the ball for much longer, he gained better awareness of how his body could control the unstable ball. The increased strength was also instantly translated to his tug work, which made me want to get myself on that Peanut!
As the weeks past I noticed him more confident and able to master the hardest exercises on the ball and love getting on it too! He has gained incredible stability and can climb rocks like a mountain goat when I take him hiking, it certainly has opened my eyes up to a new opportunity to create a stronger, faster, fitter dog that is more resilient to injury.
As I learned more about the balance balls, discs and pods from FitPAWS, I have had many clients dogs work on the Peanut in my training room, clients have bought them and I have had many a discussion about the interesting changes that have taken place in their dogs too. We have dogs going through injury rehabilitation and using them as well as the workouts are precise, tough and also low impact.
Over this time I have looked a lot at Canine Fitness and as you will see from the articles we have produced and the ones that have been written for us by many of the worlds top experts, I now look at Canine Fitness in a new light. I train Cardio work on a treadmill, why? Because it is very precise and has a very low risk of injury, unlike free exercise, it is measurable and so are the results, and improvements. That is not to say that I don’t free run exercise my dogs, I do, but I separate this into dedicated cardio work, dedicated gym work (fitballs), swimming and of course free run exercise. I have to say that I am delighted with the progress my young dogs are making…