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Canine Fitness and Conditioning to Optimize Performance

A fit dog will be less likely to be injured and more likely to be
successful! By Marla Friedler-Cooper, MA CPDT


This article focuses on improving your dogs' abilities in performance events while keeping them fit, increasing physical strength, decreasing muscle recovery time, and raising your dogs' learning ability and focus.

First of all, I was a little hesitant to write this article since I am not a licensed rehab person. I do not like it myself when I see articles or books discussing something medical or physical written by people who are not licensed to do so.

That being said, I have been working with a licensed physical therapist for a while now with my own dogs and we have also been doing workshops together where she addresses the physical therapy portion of the seminar and I teach the participants how to turn these exercises into fun tricks using shaping. So, although I do not have a P.T. license myself, I have worked closely with a licensed P.T. to develop this canine fitness plan.

Many people still treat their dogs as weekend warriors, much to the detriment of the dogs' physical fitness. It is important to work on core strengthening, neuromuscular facilitation, sensory and perceptual stimulation, joint alignment, and balance control (the same things are
important for human athletes as well). [The level of fitness needed depends on the sport being pursued, however, most dogs will benefit from increased fitness. Contact your veterinarian to confirm that exercises suggested in this article will be appropriate for your dog.]

In addition to working with fitness equipment, it is extremely beneficial for both fitness and mental stimulation to work on specialized "tricks." This will maintain optimum physical and mental abilities and it's also a lot of fun.

Fitness is important for a number of reasons that will benefit the
canine athlete:

*Proprioception/Rear End Awareness
*Middle flexion
*Balance
*Power from rear
*Ability to judge distance and adjust stride
*Diminished fear of motion under foot

The first order of business when conditioning a canine athlete is weight control. Many dogs are overweight, even those who do dog sports. You should be able to easily feel your dog's ribs and he should have a "waist." If not, you may consider a diet and increased cardiovascular exercise to burn calories.

I have found that, with many of my clients, I can easily get some weight off of their dogs by substituting green beans in place of some of their normal food. I do think that weight control is the first step to fitness but please work with your veterinarian to determine your own dog's optimum weight.

The next order of business should be cardiovascular fitness. This means walks, walking through water, and swimming. You will take whatever level of cardio work you are doing now and then increase it by 20% every two weeks. So, if you are working 20 minutes now, in two
weeks, you can walk 24 minutes. You should do some sort of cardio exercise with your dog at least six days a week. This will be fun and beneficial for both of you!

Warm-ups and cool-downs are related to cardiovascular conditioning. So, no crate-to-ring, which I see all too often. You should warm your dog up with a brisk walk for about 10-15 minutes within half an hour of competition time. Conversely, no ring-to-crate either. You should give your dog at least a 10 minute walk to cool down before he goes back to his crate. [An extensive warm-up and cool-down routine may be reduced, but not eliminated, for dog sports that don't require lots of physical activity like running and jumping.]

What exercises can help your canine athlete get fit? These were chosen because they combine proprioception and

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