Fitness or Fad?

by Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT
K9 Fitness Coach

Recently I have seen several social media comments that balance products and canine fitness training indoors is a fad.   Of course, I disagree and wanted to share my thoughts on this subject.

Physical activity is the cornerstone for keeping muscles and joints functioning and all systems working together for both human and canine athletes. Some say it is more useful to take their dog hiking or swimming but the majority of people don’t have access to large open spaces where their dog encounters different surfaces, elevation and footing challenges.  Even if they did this is typically not a balanced cross training fitness program.  Not everyone lives in the same climate and when it is too hot or too cold to be outside, having other means to mentally and physically challenge your dog is key to having a happy healthy dog.  This is where balance products and indoor DogTreadmills are useful tools and help canine fitness be more attainable.

Balance products, like those made by FitPAWS, are “tools” that can be used in a variety of different ways and with the guidance of a knowledgeable fitness trainer, you can learn how to properly use the equipment to benefit your dog.  

Most folks fall into two categories – they overdo it or they underdo it.    In an effort to understand the exercise and train their dog to do it, handlers often ask for too much repetition.  In addition, once trained to do the exercise they are not completing enough reps and sets to challenge their dog’s muscles to improve strength, coordination and limb awareness.   Often “fitness” training is thought of as “trick training” and once trained, the handler stops asking their dog to do the exercise.   If you look at fitness as a trick then you are more likely to overwork your dog due to the repetition involved in training.   This is such a shame because the training part is mental exercise and should be done in frequent short sessions.  Once the dog understands the movement desired, that is when it becomes an exercise and you add reps and sets to gain muscle activation, improve strength and balance in your dog.

I can’t speak for others who teach canine fitness but my students benefit from instruction on how to challenge their dogs in all planes of motion while activating targeted muscles. Balance props aid in the ability to create a well-balanced fitness program in a controlled environment.

Working as a team, the handler and I work together to accomplish the goals below:

  • How to teach and put new behaviors on cue
  • How to train safely
  • How to inspire the dog to offer specific movements or static positions
  • How to choose equipment that best suits the dog and each exercise
  • How to analyze their dog’s movement and posture
  • How to see and understand signs of fatigue
  • How to improve the efficiency of training sessions

Before FitPAWS existed, my students would search the web for equipment and end up with a mishmash of equipment that was different than what I had – not the same size or level of stability.  When this happens, the dog responds differently to the planned exercise due to the changes in stability and may not be activating the intended muscle groups.   Having products from the same manufacturer creates a more predictable level of consistency with each exercise.

I have been teaching strength and body awareness for a long time and I get testimonials from students weekly about how their dogs performance has improved.   That performance may be that their dog is able to hold a sit in obedience, jump further in dock diving, improved their times in agility, has better jump timing and form, or is simply striding better for conformation. 

The goal for a balanced program is to choose specific exercises, move your dogs in all planes of motion, complete reps and sets and watch for signs of fatigue.  If you don’t have the knowledge to design a balanced fitness program for your dog, seek advice from a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer or Rehabilitation Specialist who understands how to design a fitness program for your dog and the activities that you are involved in.

The tools that we use to complete a canine fitness program will vary depending on the dog’s needs and conditioning goals.  Fitness training and the tools that we use to mentally and physically challenge our dogs should never be considered a fad but it should be considered an integral part of your dog’s fitness training program. 

Original blog post at Pawsitive Performance