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Conditioning Pt 3 – Making the Plan

A conditioning plan should include “skill training”, strength training, and endurance exercises. Zink defines skill training as “training the specific skills that are required in competition.” This is what most of us think of as dog training and it’s probably 99% of our focus. The problem is that training does little to prepare the dog for physical performance! Sure, it develops the muscles used in specific movements, but usually dog training is more about conditioning the mind than the body. That’s where strength training and endurance exercises come in. Just like a well-balanced human athlete, the dog who practices both strength and endurance exercises will have power, speed, and stamina. He’ll also be less prone to injury (more important for sports like agility or flyball).

All good fitness programs account for intensity, duration, and frequency. As Wally’s personal trainer I have to balance these three factors, so an intense workout should be short and include lots of breaks. Frequency depends on how soon he needs to be ready, similar to horse trainers or marathon runners preparing for a big event: you want to peak on game day. Zink goes on to discuss these factors in relation to skill training, but all I care about right now is the conditioning aspect.

The fastest way to improve fitness is with interval training. People do this by sprinting hard for 15sec followed by jogging at a moderate pace for 45sec, repeating 10 times. Or you might jump on the rowing machine for 1min before you kit the squat rack for a set of squats. Basically it’s a short, intense burst of energy followed by a moderate, longer “recovery” period. Notice that you are never truly resting. Wally wouldn’t be sprinting since he’s a puppy; instead he would be at a relaxed lope.

Intervals are tough, man

Strength Training
Quickly moving an object over a distance (the object can be the dog)
Fetching weighted objects
Wrestling
Jumping
Chasing/being chased
Running and and out of water
Pulling a sled
A-frame (works rear)
Weaves (works back and neck)

Endurance
Maintaining a moderate pace for 20min on land or 10min in water
Roadwork (he trots alongside while you jog, bike, skate, etc; treadmill): include hillwork
Swimming

Balance & Coordination
Dogwalk
Teeter
Weaves

Core
Standing on balance discs (back legs, front legs, front on one disc & back on a second disc)
Standing on BOSU balls (same moves as balance discs)
Stand on peanut ball (all four legs)
Stand on four independent pods (like mini-BOSU, one per foot)
Tug games
Begging trick

Up Next… Wally’s Workout!

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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Other Stuff

 

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Conditioning Pt 2 – Warm-ups & Cool-downs

According to Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete, a human study showed that “70% of people who exercised without a warm-up developed abnormalities in the electrical signals to their hearts.” Yowza! Aside from all the normal reasons to warm-up (stretch muscles/tendons/ligaments, dilate blood vessels, align bones, distribute synovial fluid over joints) this one was a surprise, and quite compelling. It also stated that “in a study of Olympic athletes running the 100m race, those who did not warm up ran 7% slower. This is the difference between winning and finishing dead last.”

This is a good point for gaiting in the ring, too. While the conformation ring doesn’t require complex movements like jumping or weaving, it does require fluid and relaxed movement. A dog just pulled from his crate won’t move with the same ease as a dog who has jogged a few minutes and stretched his legs. In my experience Wally is a lot more relaxed both mentally and physically if he’s had a little bit of a workout.

Warm-Up
Duration: 90 seconds
Goal: flex and extend the spine and legs, increase heart rate and blood flow, focusing exercises
– Give him a good rubdown to increase body awareness. Move from nose to tail and “activate” every body part.
– Have the dog stretch his spine (like a cat stretch)
– Lure the dog to stretch his spine from side to side
– Trot down and back about 50ft to get the blood pumping
– Have him focus on you

A cool-down is important to prevent a sudden drop in blood pressure, which could cause dizziness. [I admit, even as I wrote that I thought it sounded silly. Who knows, they can’t talk!] It also allows the dog to downshift a few gears from competition to “just hanging out”.

Even NFL players take a few moments to decompress

Cool-Down
Duration: 5 minutes
Goal: physical recovery, decompress mentally
– Walk at a moderate pace and in a relaxed manner

I’ll admit, I don’t do warm-ups when I personally workout — no stretching, no arm circles, I just start slow for a few minutes and then increase the pace. Apparently fitness experts agree with me and most give the thumbs down on pre-workout stretches. The above isn’t so much stretching as it is truly warming things up, though, so focus more on moving than on stretching.

Up Next…Making the Plan

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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Other Stuff

 

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Conditioning Pt 1 – Before You Begin

In her book, Zink frequently points out that you are your dog’s coach. Just like an NFL coach you have to know your athlete before you can create the optimum fitness plan for him.

#1 Evaluate his structure: is he ectomorphic (slender with long legs, such as a Saluki), mesomorphic (medium size with strong bones and well-muscled, such as a Blue Heeler), or endomorphic (heavyset for their size and builds muscle easily, such as a Clumber)? Does he have proper angulation in front and rear? If not you’ll be dealing with interference, gait oddities, and possibly stress injuries. Does he have any structural faults that should be accounted for, such as cow hocks or a long back? A long back may not be considered a fault in Dachshunds, but it still needs to be accounted for when developing a conditioning program (such as doing back strengthening exercises).

Wally is mesomorphic (hey, me too!), which means he’s suited to a variety of sporting events. He has proper angulation and no structural faults, so I don’t have to build up specific areas to prevent lameness or injury.

Wally's a big pile of awesome

#2 What is his current level of fitness? He’s fit if he does not have any excess fat and has good muscle size and tone. Muscles should feel firm and have indentations between muscle bundles. Muscle development should be symmetrical on either side of the body. If it’s not the dog may be favoring one side due to weakness or may just be dominant on the stronger side. Dogs are right or left handed just like people! When your dog takes off into a canter, what front leg does he lead with? That’s his favored side.

Wally is fit, he has Ahnold thighs! He’s also symmetrical, like Amanda Heard and Denzel Washington. I always remember a photo of Denzel that was in one of my high school math books; he was an example of symmetry.

#3 Is he otherwise healthy and sound?

Yes indeed. Wally is wired up, fired up, and ready to go!

#4 Does your dog have any special needs, such as previous injuries, chronic problems like arthritis, or is he very young/very old?

Wally gets special consideration because he’s a puppy. Puppies shouldn’t do serious roadwork or full-height jumping as it can damage the growth plates, and for large breeds growth plates close at 14 months.

I couldn’t find much, but according to one person their Border Collie’s plates closed at 11 months (confirmed by X-ray) and another source said small breed growth plates close at 10 months. Neither of these sources are medical professionals, but it does make a lot of sense that the growth plates close earlier in smaller dogs. At any rate Wally isn’t going to be running miles a day simply because I’m not going to be running miles a day. I’m much too lazy for that. We’ll find something else to build up endurance in a Wally-adjusted manner.

 

Up next… Warm-ups & Cool-downs
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Posted by on December 26, 2011 in Other Stuff

 

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Wally’s new name is Rocky (or, all about conditioning)

I’ve felt as though a post about conditioning was long overdue, but I wanted to really do it justice since this is a topic that fascinates me. I’ve always had an interest in fitness (though athlete I am not) and when it comes to canine fitness I was doubly interested. I’ve read plenty about building up the athleticism of horses but it was surprisingly hard to find anything on dogs. Over the last few months I gathered up three sources: Today’s Breeder, Dogs Naturally, and Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete.

We're studying hard to be the best!

The catalyst for all of this was the article Conditioning the Complete Dog in Purina’s magazine Today’s Breeder. It came in the BTCA Specialty grab-bag and, while the article didn’t have a ton of detailed information or instruction, it was interesting to learn what the pros do. I would call it more inspiration than education. It made me realize that if I want Wally to be a rockstar we need to approach shows like the pros. Just like a supermodel, Wally’s face and body is his career in conformation and just like Irina Shayk, it’s his “job” to keep his body in Cover-of-Sports-Illustrated-Swimsuit-Issue condition.

A couple months after reading the Purina rag I was waiting in line at Naturally 4 Paws and noticed the Dec issue of Dogs Naturally. I had picked up and loved the previous month’s issue so I flipped through this one and discovered that the Winter Fitness article was actually about conditioning. Score! That article is where the idea for BOSU balls and peanut balls came from (I got the balance disc idea from Susan Garrett months ago). They also detailed a treadmill workout and tips for working your dog on the treadmill (like don’t use decline and keep it at 2-3mph).
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After all these teasers I finally caved in and bought Zink’s book Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete. Originally I wanted a hard copy but since they’re insanely overpriced I went for the Kindle edition, which ended up being just fine (books with charts or photos don’t always Kindle well). This book is by far my best resource and is a must read for anyone who wants a dog for a specific sport, particularly sports like agility or obedience. I would have never considered that a shorter-backed Corgi would be more successful than a longer-backed one, they’re just all long-backed to me! Anyway, this book is excellent for figuring what your dog’s body type is and two to best maximize his abilities while working with his handicaps.
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This is destined to be a four part series covering everything from planning to actually doing it. And there will be a fifth, related post about using gymnastics to improve gait. In this case gymnastics would be ground lines and low jumps similar to what horse trainers use to train jumpers about collection and extension of the stride.

Up next…Before You Begin
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Other Stuff

 

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Tour de Y

Sandi and I toured the Y this afternoon, these were my thoughts.

Smaller than expected, I must have been spoiled at WSU.

Already saw someone I don’t want to, oh well. At some point I’ll see more people I like!

Tons of people but not that crowded. Be careful when large classes end, it’s a stampede.

Don’t go in the poop pool, stick to the lazy river and lap pool.

Rock wall has classes, that’s cool.

Indoor track isn’t what I expected, but again WSU spoiled me.

Most hilarious Asian guy teaches kickboxing, I want to take his class.

By a large margin I would not be the worst looking person in the pool.

My conclusion? I’m gonna do it. It would definitely be more fun if Sandi joined too, I hope she does. I might wait until after Canada just to make sure I have no excuses, but I’ll be in there signing up soon.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Other Stuff

 

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