That's okay! We can make it work!
Fitness can happen anywhere, but if I only had one piece of equipment to use, I would pick a K9FITbone™. I can work the rear, the front, the core. I can also get multiple planes - sagittal and frontal and possibly a little bit of transverse. I can also make sure I hit isometric, concentric and eccentric exercises. I can also make exercises more difficult by adding air to the K9FITbone™. As you add more and more air, it rocks more, engaging more of the stabilizer muscles and the core.
It's always nice to have more than one piece of equipment, but don't give up on conditioning just because you only have one thing.
This is a video of LaBlanca, a cocker spaniel that competes in agility. She was having some shoulder and back pain and has been in a conditioning program for the past 16 weeks. I love her enthusiasm and focus on maintaining good form. She demonstrates a total of 8 exercises done with the K9FITbone™.
Athlete - a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.
From childrens soccer teams to professional football players; its not just about playing the game, and according to the definition above, dogs that compete in agility are athletes. Conditioning is a part of preparing for sports. It prevents injury and helps athletes perform at their best. No matter what your goals are for you and your dog, conditioning should be a part of your routine. The great news is not only will it help your performance, it will better the bond between you and your dog. By developing a conditioning program specific to your sport, the benefit will be even greater for the both of you.
What you may not know is that fitness work requires a great foundation, just like agility training. You need to do your flatwork first before you start running courses! No matter your dogs age or strength, it is important to build off of a great foundation. As in all things we teach our dogs, some will progress quicker than others. A sharp dog that learns quickly may surpass his strength level in the training, and while he understands what you are asking, he wont be capable of performing the task. Once a dog understands a fitness behavior, it will take 8 to 12 weeks for the muscles to adapt to the new exercise. At this point, the dog no longer gains any benefit from the exercise, and it is time to move on. Increasing the difficulty of the exercise is easy. You can add repetitions, use more unstable equipment, or increase the height of the target. There is never a point that we cant increase difficulty, especially if you remember to take breaks throughout the year.
How you train the behaviors for conditioning is also very important. When using fitness equipment, you can place the dog on the equipment, lure them, or use previously-shaped/captured behaviors that can be generalized to the equipment. Shaping is breaking down the behavior into smaller steps and rewarding those small steps, until you get the behavior you want. Capturing is rewarding a behavior that already happens so that the dog offers that behavior more often. My philosophy is to use shaping or capturing, so that the dog learns what you are asking and builds strong neuro-muscular pathways. I use both methods to build my foundation behaviors for canine fitness. These neuro-muscular pathways are generally known as "muscle memory."
When you place your dog on the equipment, the dog is not building any neuro-muscular pathways. You are actually doing all the work for the dog. While some dogs may not have any issues with this, some dogs may find this very scary and become anxious around the equipment. Luring, especially with a very food motivated dog, may get the results you want quickly, but I would argue that dogs really have no idea what they are doing with their bodies. When you take the food out of the picture, you are left with much more deliberate movement. While shaping/capturing might take the longest, especially if you struggle with your click/treat timing, you and your dog will get the most out of it. The neuro-muscular pathways are built the fastest using this method and will provide the "muscle memory" needed to help prevent injury in the heat of competition.
Based on my philosophy for canine conditioning, Im introducing "Workout Wednesday." Every other Wednesday, I will break down an exercise into its basic foundation behaviors and how you can progress the exercise. This exercise will focus on the strength and core portion of a conditioning plan. To give you a little bit of a sneak peak, here are five of my foundation behaviors:
Front Paw Target
Rear Paw Target
All 4 Paws Targeted with neutral top line and neutral limb position.
Symmetrical with rear legs in full flexion. Pelvis should not be rocked over to either side.
Kickback Sit to Stand
Square sit to a stand by keeping front limbs stationary and pushing off the ground with rear limbs into a normal standing position.
I hope you will join me every other week to learn more about canine conditioning. It may be a workout, but it is still about having fun with your dog!
It all used to be so simple! If your dog had a problem you went to a veterinarian, which was easy to find based on the initials after their name: DVM or VMD (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or Veterinary Medical Doctor). Now a days, everyone has initials behind their name; but what do they all mean and how do I know that is the right person to go to?
Typically, letters behind a person's name indicate a level of education and where that education took place. I'd like this blog to serve as a reference guide for the animal rehabilitation/sports medicine/alternative medicine world; a place to learn what the letters mean, where the education possibly took place, and what those letters give the individual the right to do. These letter designations are mainly used in the United States. It is important to remember that not all certifications are created equal and just because some one is certified, it does not mean they are perfect.
"Certification refers to the confirmation of certain characteristics of an object, person, or organization. This confirmation is often, but not always, provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit. Accreditation is a specific organization's process of certification." - Wikipedia Definition
DVM - Doctor of Veterinary Medicine; Veterinary schools in the USA and Canada; A 4 year post-graduate degree; does not correlate to a license to practice veterinary medicine
VMD - Veterinary Medical Doctor; University of Pennsylvania;
A 4 year post-graduate degree; does not correlate to a license to practice veterinary medicine
CCRT - Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist; Canine Rehab Institute; Restricted to Veterinarians and Physical Therapists - Depending on State Practice Act both can diagnose and create treatment plans. http://www.caninerehabinstitute.com/CCRT.html
CCRA - Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant; Canine Rehab Institute; Restricted to PTAs and Veterinarian Technicians who currently work with a CCRT. Not allowed to diagnose or create treatment plans, allowed to carry out treatments prescribed by a veterinarian or physical therapist.
CCRP - Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner; Northeast Seminars (University of Tennessee); No differentiation between Veterinarians, PTs, Veterinary Technicians and PTAs. Veterinary Technicians and PTAs should not be diagnosing or creating treatment plans.
DACVSMR - Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation;
DACVS - Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons; A 3 year residency at a program approved by the ACVS, publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and passing of the board examination.
PT - Physical Therapist; 3 years at an accredited CAPTE program (doctor of physical therapy degree)
PTA - Physical Therapist Assistant; 2 years at an accredited CAPTE program (associates degree)
CVT/RVT/LVT - Certified/Registered/Licensed Veterinary Technician; 2 or 4 years at an accredited program (associates degree or bachelors degree) Designation depends on state practice act.
CVPP -Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner
CAC - Certified Animal Chiropractor
FABAA - Fellow of the American Board of Animal Acupuncturists
The ABAA has established two routes of eligibility for certification in Animal Acupuncture: Individuals may qualify to take the ABAA examinations by meeting all of the requirements specified under one of the following routes: If you are applying to sit for the examination, you must: 1. A. Be certified or licensed by a State acupuncture licensure board, and B. Have graduated from a program of instruction in Animal Acupuncture that meets the minimum competencies as listed below and is comprised of a minimum 120 hours of instruction with clinical training. Or 2. A. Be certified or licensed by a State acupuncture licensure board, and B. Have had tutorial instruction equivalent in nature to the minimum competencies and over 6 years of actual practice of animal acupuncture. In order to complete the process for certification in Animal Acupuncture, the following documentation is required: 1. Proof of Acupuncture License – a current copy must be submitted with the application. License must be verifiable and applicant must be in good standing with their state licensing board or agency. 2. a. - Proof of graduation from a certification program in Animal Acupuncture that meets the ABAA’s minimum requirements; or b. – Proof of tutorial instruction and 6 years of practice of animal acupuncture.
FAAVA - Fellow of the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncturists
The certification process involves completion of two phases a formal application and the examination. The application includes: curriculum vitae; a synopsis of clinical practice; peer evaluation forms; documentation of a minimum of 50 hours of AAVA approved acupuncture/TCM continuing education; and submission and acceptance of two acupuncture clinical case reports. The second step is the examination process. The exam currently consists of two three hours section, with 150 multiple choice questions per session.
CVA - Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist
At least once a month I will post a conditioning challenge for you to try. This will be a challenge that at least one of my dogs does not know, so I will continuously update the original post with videos of my dogs learning.
The first challenge is holding an object while in a 'sit pretty' position. I am going to break it down into 2 behaviors, the sit pretty and holding an object and then put them together. Here is a video from Silvia Trkman so you can see what the end behavior looks like.
Here's video of Brink working on the Sit Pretty behavior. I call it Beg. I find that luring this behavior provides better balance than free shaping, and because we need to build the duration of this exercise, the dogs must be able to balance and have a strong core. For the dogs that struggle with this, I have also found putting them on an elevated surface helps. So, for my young dog, I have been teaching her on an ottoman.
In the video, I am working on building duration by delaying the click.
With the announcement of the qualifications for the AKC National Agility Championships 2016, I began to wonder about what we are putting our dogs through to get to the 'big' events. Are dog sports unique? Should we push our dogs to go and go and go? Or should we start to treat them like human athletes? As a veterinarian solely practicing sports medicine, I worry about pushing our dogs to injuries and burn out.
Lets look at agility in general. Most agility organizations in the United States have some sort of national event. It is a yearly event and you have a year to qualify. From the onset, there is no set 'off season'. AKC holds their national event in March, with a qualifying period from December to December. USDAA holds their national event in October with a qualifying period from September to September (I know there are other organizations, but these are the two I'm most familiar with). In some areas of the country, there are months that local trials are not held, but more and more people will travel to continue to compete. Ideally if you compete in AKC and USDAA, having one nationals in the fall and one in the spring is perfect. Training builds up to each event, you compete, and then you take a break. A Break from Competing. Why doesn't this happen? Why do people feel it's necessary to continue to push their dog to compete weekend after weekend?
We have no research in competitive dogs and what pushing them to continuously compete does to their body and mind, all I can do is extrapolate from human sports.
I competed as a swimmer from the age of 7 to 21. I competed year round, one to two weekends a month. There were 2 championship events a year, followed by at least 2 weeks off after, followed by cross training to work back into the new season. No competing after the championship event for 1-2 months.
Sounds familiar, this could easily be an agility schedule.
When I was young, I swam every event possible, often 4-6 a day, similar to a daily USDAA schedule. As, I grew, I started to specialize, sometimes only swimming 5-6 events in a weekend, similar to an AKC schedule. When I became a college swimmer, that schedule got even shorter, the competitive season was Oct to February-5 months, with a total of 18-20 days of competition, only swimming 4-5 events at each meet. The 'off-season' was spent conditioning, cross-training, and maintain swimming fitness. All very similar to what we expect of our dogs competitive wise.
So, I thought, maybe swimmers are unique, lets look at professional athletes: football, basketball, and baseball.
The NFL plays 14 games over 15 weeks. Even with playoffs, we are looking at a 5 month season and a 7 month 'off-season'. The NBA teams play 82 games between October 28 and April 15, again a 6 month 'off-season'. And, Major League Baseball teams play 162 games in 180 days, again, a 6 month 'off-season'. In fact, every sport I looked into had an off season, and my sport of choice, swimming, had one of the shortest as a youngster, yet we ALWAYS had time off from competing.
Shouldn't we be giving our dogs an 'off-season'?
Ideally, the time off would happen after the national event. Conditioning should occur year round to keep our dogs in the best shape possible and prevent injury. Conditioning includes strength work, core work, and cardiac/endurance work. This can be done hiking, running, swimming, along with using special canine conditioning equipment to strengthen and work the core. I realize it's near to impossible to tell your dog we are not doing anything for a month. Time off means not competing, not pushing our dogs to do more than they should, not running our dogs into the ground. It means giving them the best foundation to be the best athlete they can be. Isn't it time we admit that our dogs are athletes and treat them that way?
The Total Canine is blossoming!
Slowly, but surely business ideas are coming together. I thank everyone who has trusted me to examine their four-legged best friends and give them my advice. The best learning comes from putting your hands on as many patients as possible. I realize canine sports medicine and rehabilitation is a growing field and I hope you realize that your regular family veterinarian may not know a lot about it. My goal is to work with you and your regular veterinarian to do the absolute best for your furry friend. I am also excited to share that I have been asked to be a teaching assistant for the Canine Rehab Institute!
So, now on to the news. The Total Canine is moving. I will still offer home visits, but will also be seeing clients at my new home office in Erie/Lafayette. This will allow me to see more clients during a day. Appointments start the first week of August.
I am also offering 2 new services, a yearly membership to The Total Canine and a Complete Fitness Plan.
Yearly Membership includes access to a monthly blog of canine sports medicine information, training tips and videos, and 10% discount on services and 5% discount on products.
Complete Fitness Plan includes everything in the yearly membership plus a complete evaluation and weekly sessions with me. This is an amazing deal! Like having your own personal trainer.
My usual services are still available as well. I also look forward to carrying FitPaws Equipment, Platinum Performance supplements, and Back on Track Canine products.
Thanks for continuing to be a part of The Total Canine!