Sunday, October 10, 2010

Conditioning your performance dog.

Something I'm interested in, now that Luna has a 'weak' spot in the shape of her right hind knee. I'm just posting this here for future reference.

Conditioning your performance dog

There seems to be a lot of talk, methods and even confusion about how to condition your dog for performance events - especially agility. One popular method is running your dog, including on tread mills or even beside a bicycle for miles on end.

It seems to me that running a dog in a straight line is not the best 'agility' conditioning.  If you are trying to get an out of shape dog to lose weight and get fit, then this is probably a good start. However, if you are trying to get a dog in shape for running an agility course, you will probably need to do other exercises.

The reason I say this is because running slow and steady in a straight line uses different muscles than running an agility course. So your dog might look 'fit', however his 'agility' muscles may not be. Steady running in a straight line uses slow twitch muscles. It also does not build up the stablizing muscles/tendons/ligaments that will be needed to support the joint laterally during exercises like agility.

Weight lifters use free weights for several reasons versus the nautilus type of equipment. The nautilus equipment was developed to isolate a specific group of muscles and work them (specifically in exercise rehabilitation. They got popular in gyms though.) Free weights (when used correctly) work the main target muscle, however they also work the lateral muscles around a joint. The lateral muscles get worked because they are used to stablize the weight and support the joint (ie. not let the weight move side to side, but up and down.)

If your dog is in generally good doggie health (and you should probably consult with your vet before starting a conditioning program), then your dog could benefit from some fine tuning conditioning. Such as:

Ball throwing - Stand on porch, or even sit on your couch if your living room is big enough. Throw ball. Dog goes from stop to full speed very fast. This uses the dog's fast twitch muscle (and therefore will develop and condition them). This is good for fast starts at start line, or for regaining a fast pace after a call off or tight turn. Slow twitch muscles don't help here. Slow twitch muscles are endurance muscles. Fast twitch muscles are used for sudden bursts of speed (much like an agility course). So long distance running wouldn't benefit. (Note by me; I would only do this with the dog waiting until the ball stops moving before sending her to go get it. Sudden stops are no good.)

Dancing - Or actually standing on hind end. This helps strengthen the dog's hind end because all his weight is on it. I've heard of some people getting the dog to jump up and down on his hind end. I would work up to this slowly. This will help build the power (muscle bulk) needed to jump and push the dog up the A-frame. Also if you let the dog do this on his own, he will develop the lateral muscles needed to hold his balance on his own eventually.

Playing tug - Same effect as above. The dog is using his hind end to pull away from you. Less impact than jumping on hind end. However, tug with a big dog can have undesirable chiropractic effects on your back:)

Pulling (or taking owner for a walk) - I would recommend a harness (the kind that is like a V across his chest, not a straight strap). As the dog pulls against you, it helps build strength and power in the front end as well as hind. This will help a dog to climb the A-frame at less than full speed.

Begging - while sitting on haunches. This helps develop the muscles along the dog's back. It's not easy for a lot of dogs to sit like this at first. But it can help develop lateral muscles supporting his spine. I can't help but to wonder what all this weaving is doing to a dog's spine. However, if the spine is well muscled on either side, it will protect the spine more than if it is boney.

Playing with other dogs - This is really good exercise. My dogs run pretty darn fast for a while and then end up wrestling. They condition themselves (it helps to have aussies). But if you watch the way they run, they are making a lot of turns and cutting back and forth. This helps strengthen the lateral muscles around their joints (hopefully strong enough to ward off any ligament blow outs). It also gets them to blow off a lot of steam before I work with them.

The bottom line is that to avoid injuries and extend your dog's performance life, you need muscles that are strong enough to cushion and protect the various joints. If you are campaigning your dog for long distance running, then bike riding or a tread mill, would be appropriate. But for fast bursts of speed, sharp turns, climbing and jumping, you need to have a different conditioning program.

As always, go slow when starting and go at the dog's own pace. For some stoic or really driven dogs, you might have to tell them when it's time to quit because they won't until they are really hurt.

Don't forget to give your dog enough rest time and a massage to help them rebuild after a training session. You want your dog to be stronger in the end. Use your common sense. Constant pounding, jumping everyday, training over and over again, isn't good for your dog.

If you are still unsure about an appropriate pace, my recommendation is to do the same exercises as your dog is doing. If you wake up the next morning and you can't get out of bed, maybe you have over done it. If you condition your dog at a pace that your body is comfortable with, chances are, it won't be too fast for the dog.

About the picture; Luna at 13 months playing fetch by herself (ie. she whacks the ball with her paw and then goes after it to ‘stop’ it from running off) after swimming in the lake. Isn’t she gorgeous?! What a great use of all those photos I have of the lady!

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