Trial and competition schedules, vacation, injury and life all contribute to K9 Conditioning exercises being pushed down on the priority list. Just like with human exercise, if breaks are taken from K9 Conditioning workouts just start back with lower intensity exercises and slowly build back up to the level before the break occurred.
Yesterday I took Riley to a herding lesson. This was our first lesson back after a couple years off. So of course this got me thinking about what I need to change about his conditioning program. What is different about how he uses his body and what do I need to do differently to keep him strong and free of injury?
Things I noticed.
1. Riley likes to circle to the right and gives the sheep a little room going in that direction.
2. Riley slices and dices when going to the left. I had a really hard time getting a continuous circle to the left. A few steps into a left hand circle he slices in instead of continuing and he was really tight against the sheep.
3. Riley seems to use the length of his neck much more when herding.
4. The ground is very uneven and Riley stumbled fairly often.
5. Riley spent about half the time running and the other half at a trot. (he was VERY excited to see sheep).
Special care to warm up before herding
1. Tight and wide circles in both directions. (changing speeds, walking, trotting and gallop)
2. Weave through my legs to warm up spine and neck
3. Nose to each shoulder, elbow, hip and knee.
4. Range of motion in wrists and hocks
5. Down to stand, stand to down, stationary and moving
6. A few sprints and a some trotting
7. Cool down, 1-6 in reverse bringing Riley's heart rate down and cooling down muscles before crating in the car and heading home
Exercises 3 days a week, and then change it up.
1. Circling to the left around some cones
2. Pinwheel jumps to the left (also to the right)
3. Joint stabilization exercises using the balance disc, peanut and donuts (different levels of difficulty)
4. Lateral movement
5. Cavaletti training straight and in an arch in both directions (see photo below.
This is my current plan that will be put into action today. We are currently taking a break from agility in favor of herding. It is important to watch your dog move and determine where they might have weakness or where they are most likely in need of better coordination.
If your dog is properly conditioned it will reduce the chance of soft tissue injury in these types of situations. This is not to say that you shouldn’t do everything in your power to give your dog timely cues and continue to improve your handling skills and footwork. Keeping your dog strong and balanced will help a dog during the training process as well as during those times when you just can’t seem to get there.
FASTER: When a dog is propelling forward, turning, stopping and landing using their core muscles (the center of their movement) and using all four legs, they will get faster. When you teach your dog where their rear feet are, how to use their limbs properly and exercises to improve strength, they will move with greater precision. Faster might also mean, improved focus for the game. Engaging your dog in a regular conditioning program has improved focus in my student’s dogs over and over.
If your dog has previously been lame for any reason, the dog is likely not using the previously injured limb efficiently and this will slow your dog’s momentum and increase their chance of re-injury. Teaching this dog how to redistribute weight and increase muscle in the injured limb is key to participating in any K9 performance event.
STRONGER: It has been proven time and time again, that strength improves stability and lends to increased endurance in human athletes. This same concept can be applied to your K9 Athlete. Using a variety of exercises on a regular schedule is the key to success!! Exercise that strengthen the muscles above and below the joints, will improve stability and balance. For instance, improving quad muscle strength and flexibility, supports a dog’s knees during movement.
Improving your dog’s physical and mental endurance will only enhance performance. Designing a regular program for your dog is Key to SUCCESS!! In just 10 minutes every day, you can make a huge difference in improving your dog’s performance.
A little advertising:
Many think my classes are just about using the peanut, but it is much more than that. I teach a large variety of floor exercises to strengthen core muscles (included the psoas and spinal muscles), improve weight distribution, improve rear end awareness and stretching to improve flexibility. I cover warm ups to properly prepare your K9 Athlete’s joints for performance. This is a very well rounded program with lots of options.
Do you strive to be BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER?
Bobbie Lyons, Cert. CF
It is important, especially with a performance dog, to understand normal movement and what is not normal for your dog, so you can be proactive about keeping your dog strong and injury free. Many people can see differences in a dog’s gait when watching them move BUT many cannot or think these things are “normal for their dog”.
And then there is a group of us that can obsess over movement. 🙂 We don’t see dogs anymore, we see strides, and compensations of injury, pain or discomfort, good or poor muscle development and so much more than, “just a dog”. We see movement that is causes a dog to drop bars, pop out of weave poles, why a dog is refusing directional cues and simple things like why a dog sits with splayed rear legs or doesn’t want to sit at all.
Knowing when to pull your dog from competition before causing further injury is KEY. Catching an injury in the early stages generally means an easier and quicker recovery time depending on severity of injury. Many dogs will WORK through pain and discomfort and just keep on going.Some dogs will shut down form pain but the owner assumes it is behavioral. It is the human’s job to watch out for their dog’s best interest and make sure that their dog is sound before asking them to perform.
I often hear, “My dog limps when first coming out of a crate” or “My dog limps a little a day or two after a three day show”. A dog limps due to pain or discomfort. This could simply be due to tight muscles that need to be stretched out, or could be due to an underlying injury especially if this is occurring over and over. For instance, strained muscles often show as an intermittent lameness. A strained muscle requires a rest (NOT crate rest) for 4-6 week with regular icing, massage and anti-inflammatory medication to recover. If left untreated, this will cause your dog to have compensations in other parts of his body that will cause further discomfort and perhaps more injury.
Another issue I see often is a dog that stands with a roached back. I understand that many breeds have a slight rounding to their back that is normal for their structure. However, it is important to know what is normal for your breed or your dog and what isn’t. If a dog’s back is unnaturally roached, is a RED FLAG. This dog may not know how to use their core muscles and just need strengthening, may have digestive issues or might be VERY tight in the low or mid back. Dropping bars, refusing or popping out of weaves, or unable to turn tightly are all signs of tight muscles in a dog’s back or pelvic regions. Again, is important to know what is normal so you can be proactive in helping your dog strengthen and use their body appropriately.
Having said all this, watching your dog move can become an obsession. You can start to see things that aren’t there. It is human nature. Video-taping your dog’s movement is a great way to watch and keep track of differences throughout your dog’s life.
If you suspect your dog may have a soft tissue or any type of injury is it important to have your dog looked at by a “Qualified Veterinarian” that has experience with performance injury. Soft tissue injury is often very hard to diagnose.
In my online classes and private lessons, my goal is to watch your dog’s movement and point out things that you may not see. I get reports from students all the time letting me know that they can see things in their dog’s movement that they never saw before. Truly along with learning how to strengthen your dog and learn correct positions for each exercise, this is the added benefit of taking my classes. It is truly important to really SEE how your dog is moving so that you can take note of differences in their weight distribution or gait change. In a performance dog, a small change in gait can have a profound effect on performance.
Questions and comments are encouraged.
Bobbie Lyons, Cert. C.F.
Sustained trotting increases endurance, improves physical health, and keeps the lumbar area loose and your dog’s hips rotating independently. Trotting lengthens and strengthens the spine, strengthens core muscles and improves gait function. Trot work is great for dogs that are older than one year old, in good health and not over-weight.
Definition of a Balanced Trot: “This is a rhythmic two-beat gait in which diagonally opposite legs move together i.e., right hind with left front, left hind with right front. Because only two feet are on the ground at a time, the dog must rely on forward momentum for balance. A balanced trot shows an almost imperceptible delay in the diagonal rhythm as the forepaws land gently, minimizing impact as the front assembly absorbs drive from the rear”.
Reference: Dog Steps A New Look, by Rachael Page Elliot, Published by Doral Publishing, Inc. (2001) pg. 11 & 31
Definition of Sustained: “maintained at length without interruption or weakening”
Before starting any type of sustained trot work, I recommend warming up your dog’s major joints as well as feet and toes. See previous blog post about warming up and cooling down your dog before activity dated January 12, 2013. After warming up your dog's joints, I recommend a light trot for 3-5 minutes before starting sustained trot work. Light Trot = slowest trot you can achieve before walking, ambling or pacing. The recommendation is 20 minutes of sustained trotting three times a week. See schedule below for building up slowly over time.
Here are some ways you can trot your dog and a planned schedule to build endurance:
Human Jogs/Dog Trots: Unless you have a tiny dog, most humans will have to jog or walk really fast to get their dog to a trotting speed. I recommend using a leash with harness instead of any type of collar. I like this option as I subscribe to the “two birds with one stone” philosophy. Exercise for me and exercise for my dog. What could be better?
Biking: This typically means a slow bike ride for the human in order to keep the dog at a trot. I recommend purchasing a bike attachment to insure you and your dog’s safety while trotting. Most bike attachment have a lead that fixes to the dog harness and I truly recommend also attaching a lead to the dog’s collar or harness that you can hold onto.Teaching your dog directions cues (right and left) so that you can indicate a direction change before the turn is also very handy. This will keep the dog moving smoothly and eliminate any confusion.
Treadmill use: If purchasing treadmill manufactured for dogs, look for the right length of treadmill to accommodate your dog’s stride length. I have found that many manufacturers are recommending the medium size treadmill for the medium sized dog, but the tread length is not always long enough for many of these 40-70 lb. dogs. Please take into consideration your dog’s leg and stride length when ordering. I always recommend the longer tread length if there is any question about whether or not the tread is long enough. Make sure you are looking at the TREAD length or RUN SURFACE not the full length of the machine.
Most human treadmills are OK for dogs less than 30 lbs. depending on their stride length but are NOT long enough for a 40-50 lb. or bigger dog.
If using a treadmill you want to make sure it is long enough that it will not shorten your dog’s rear stride – this is bad for the lower back and hips and causes compensations that can lend to injury. Generally for a dog over 30 lbs., a treadmill’s running surface needs to be 6-7 feet long depending on the stride length of the dog. It is important to make sure your dog is not dog trotting near the back of the tread. With some treadmills you can easily fix a rope across the back of the treadmill so when the dog’s rear hits it; he knows to move forward on the tread. This should be set up well before the end of the treadmill so the dog’s rear stride is not affected. Another option is sitting at the front of the treadmill to encourage your dog to stay forward. I also know many people with a dog treadmill set up next to a human treadmill so both an exercises together.
Use the following schedule to increase trotting time to build up to 20 minutes 3 times a week. This schedule is very conservative. I put this schedule together for my K9 Conditioning clients who are also working on performance, strength training and improved weight distribution. This schedule will work for most healthy active dogs and was designed with all surfaces in mind (treadmill, pavement, dirt, etc). As with any exercise program, it is recommended to consult with your Veterinarian prior to starting endurance, strength or balance exercises.
Schedule: Start with 3-5 minute slow trot (slowest speed you can go and still get a trot) to warm up and cool down is needed with each trotting session. So when factoring in the warm up trot, your 5 minute sessions are really closer to 15 minutes, 10 minute sessions are close to 20 minutes etc.
a. Warm up exercises to warm up major joints, feet and toes, each time before trotting
b. 3-5 minute slow trot
c. 5 minutes sustained trotting
d. 3 times a week
e. 5 sessions before moving on to Step 2
f. Warm up exercises to warm up major joints, feet and toes, each time before trotting
g. 3-5 minute slow trot
h. 10 minutes sustained trotting
i. 3 times a week
j. 10 sessions before moving on to Step 3
Step 3: 15 minutes, 3 times a week, for 15 sessions
k. Warm up exercises to warm up major joints, feet and toes, each time before trotting
l. 3-5 minute slow trot
m. 15 minutes sustained trotting
n. 3 times a week
o. 15 sessions before moving on to 20 minute sessions
Work up to 20 minutes 3 times a week (it will take approximately 10 weeks). This schedule will acclimate your dog to the trot speed gradually and for sustained periods of time. It is OK to trot on pavement as long as the dog is over a year old, and you are not trotting longer than 20 min, 3x a week. For most dogs this is 1.5-2 miles.
The rule of thumb for puppies is to walk up 5 minutes for every month they are old until they are one year old. Before growth plates close, if you walk or trot a dog for sustained periods longer than recommended, you can cause stress fractures in their bones that will cripple them for life.
Do you practice doubles, triples and broad jumps regularly???
Often when I am teaching a workshop, I ask agility competitors – “How often do you practice doubles, triples or spread jumps”? I have to say many of them answer “only at a competition”. Sigh
Many instructors don’t set these jumps up due to time constraints. My advice, show up early and lend a hand. This could be the few minutes every week that will save your dog from injury. When you undertrain these jumps, a dog will often fling themselves over as a last ditch effort to clear the jump or will crash through it not realizing the need for extension. This is when injury can happen.
Question: nbsp; What does it take for a dog to go over a double, a triple or a broad jump?
Answer: EXTENSION, which stresses the lower back and hip flexor muscles (Iliopsoas
Doubles, triples and broad jumps are commonly the culprit for Iliopsoas muscle strains or tears when the dog has NOT been exposed to this type of extension work on a regular basis. This injury can be a three to six month recovery and some dogs have intermittent lameness or performance issues for months, even years after the handler thought their dog had recovered. Many competitors put their dog back in competition too soon and then the dog re-injures the muscles before they have had time to fully repair
Depending on the dog’s structure and jump style the dog will learn to take these jumps with nice extension but they do need practice. When a dog “over-extends” (rear comes up higher than lower back) the hip flexor muscles (Psoas) become over stretched causing injury. This can be painful for the dog. These types of soft tissue injuries are hard to diagnose and take a long time to heal
Injury of the Iliopsoas muscle will typically present with offloading of a hind limb or an intermittent limp that is exasperated by exercise or performance activities. Other less significant signs may be knocked bars in agility or a slowing in the weave poles.
Finding a Veterinarian that has experience diagnosing soft tissue injuries is key. X-rays will not show soft tissue injury and you need a Vet that knows how to palpate the dog correctly to diagnose without spending the dollars on an MRI. There are some great treatments available such as cold laser for pain management and shock wave therapy which also reduces pain and stimulates healing.
I hope this helps you understand the need to train double, triples and spread jumps regularly.
Any questions, comments or concerns? Please comment below or email me privately
Originally posted on Bobbie's Blog: