05 January 2012

Conditioning, revisited - Winter Edition

Because I feel that conditioning is a really important subject, and because there are a lot of uninformed or misinformed people out there, I am going to revisit it briefly today. The first rule is - don't jump your dog every day! I can't tell you how much it bothers me that people do agility every day. Jumping, contacts, and weaves are very hard on the dog's body. The landing impact from jumps is hard on certain core muscles, as well as the strain on the front legs and shoulders. Agility, especially jumping, should not be done 2 days in a row for training purposes. When your dog jumps, it should have at least 24-48 hours of "no jumping" time in between. The exception, of course, is for agility shows and seminars/camps when you don't really have a choice. And of course doing agility on a Saturday and a Sunday is not going to break your dog all by itself, however, you should understand that each progressive day tears down your dog's muscles a little bit more each time, without giving them sufficient time to recover and rebuild.

So I basically do agility 1 to 3 times a week. I do courses or sequences only once a week, with the other practice times being either jump grids or very short skill sequences or obstacle skills for contacts/weaves. Weaves are very tough on shoulders and wrists and spines, so I don't do a lot of repetition with those if I can help it, just some skill work when I feel the dogs need some polish..

What I usually try to do is pick 2 or 3 activities every day for my dogs. Right now we have set times for our swim appointments over the winter, so I am building around that. I try not to mix similar exercises on any given day. For example if I do a tight bounce grid with the jumps, which is a high impact and tough core exercise, I probably won't also work on the peanut inside. I may, however, swim them, take them for a short walk around our field, or go for a hike at the park. It's all about variety and building up muscle. Here is an example week. Keep in mind that I usually hike on-leash, and when I walk in my home fields, they are off leash BUT they are not allowed to "gallop" or "run like a greyhound" - they may walk, trot, canter/run slowly, and sniff, etc all they like, but they may not act like hooligans and run around like crazy things.

Example Week for my competition dogs:
Morning: 60 min hike at the park on leash
If we had a trial the previous weekend, I would stop at that, if not then I would do more:
Mid-day: contact practice
Afternoon: 10minutes of mixed core work on Peanut and on ground.

Late Morning: 20-25min of swimming
Afternoon: 20min walk in our field

Morning: 20min walk in our field
Afternoon: 15min of course/sequence work in agility
Evening: 10min of free movement in the agility indoor off leash

Late morning: 20-25min swimming
Afternoon: 15min walk in our home fields
Evening: 10min of mixed core work on peanut and with wrist weights

Morning: 60min walk at the park
if there is a trial on Saturday, I would stop at that. If not I would add more:
Afternoon: 10min jumping grids or skill work
Evening: 5min of strengthening exercises with no props

Saturday and Sunday would be non-agility days if there is no trial. I would probably go hiking at least one of the days, when the weather is nice. Maybe explore some new trails. And lots of walks in the field when it isn't too muddy or frozen. I really avoid allowing my dogs to run on frozen ground.

Please keep in mind this is an *example* of a week my dogs might have - it will vary from week to week depending on their fitness level and how busy I am.

A note about core work - I don't understand the popularity of doing high speed work with the peanuts and fit discs and Bosu balls. This generally looks really dangerous to me, as the dogs' legs go flying out sideways as they land. I'm sure it does build muscle, but to me, the dangers outweigh the benefit, especially when I find it relatively easy to tire my dogs out right in my living room with no speed necessary. To me, working with the balls, discs, and weights, and even without any props at all, is like a human going to a weight room. I am trying to build specific muscles and muscle groups, and strengthen my dogs. I am not working on cardio or endurance - I have other exercises for that. I am trying to make them literally stronger, with no danger of slipping or falling and no impact involved. I certainly don't care to mix jumping and core work - why would I waste a "jumping day" on core work, when I would rather use jumping to work on jumping or handling skills instead?

Here are some examples of core work I do in my house:
standing on Peanut, turning their head side to side and up and down (by moving a treat around for them to look at), sitting on it, laying down it, going from sit to down to stand and back again, I rock it very slightly side to side and front to back, and once they are comfy on it they can work on turning around. They are on it for about 2-3minutes at a time, and don't get off the entire time they're on it, generally.

Bosu ball - put the dog's front end on it and have them learn to walk their back end around it. Then put their back end and do the opposite - this is harder but is good shoulder work. Sitting on it. Sitting up to beg on it. I work on having them step onto it and off again, both forwards and backwards, with only front feet or rear feet at a time.

Wrist weights (pictured) - you must get these through a qualified professional. I am lucky to have them but I am very careful with them. They have 2 different weights, 2oz and 4oz. You can use them on front and rear legs, but you only use them a couple minutes at a time. You can simply walk the dog with them, or walk them through a ladder, or have them do some basic Bosu ball exercises with them, or my favorite - walking up and down the stairs on leash. This is quite tough and I do it 2x on front legs and 2x on back legs, only once or twice a week.

No props - well there are videos out there describing lots of fun things to do with your dog that work on muscles and proprioception as well. We work on crawling, begging, standing up, I hold their front legs up on me and walk them backwards (don't go forwards). We do sit-down-sit and sit-stand-sit and down-stand-down  a bunch of times in a row. Some simple spinning exercises. Backing up down a hallways (to keep them straight).

Also I try to stretch my dogs basic muscles out once or twice a week to keep an eye on them, and they sleep in their Back on Track mesh coats most of the time. If they curl up and look chilly for any reason I put a sweater on them. I would much rather be mocked for having spoiled dogs than have dogs with cold muscles that aggravate possible injuries. They are extremely well taken care of!

Oh and of course they all see a physical therapist once a month to keep track of how they're doing! I have learned tons from her and I believe that's why my dogs do so well physically.


judys said...

Great post!!! I have been telling people for ever that all the jumping is hard on dogs. The people I take bruni to say the same thing. Why else is my nearly 11 yo dog running (like a nut) all the core work and stretching..
Bad Judy

Lillian M. Russell said...

Thank you, thank you! It helps provide me with a structure! I know I have to condition my dogs as well as myself. For someone who has proprioception issues, I need more handling practice than 1 or 2 times a week. H
ave any thoughts about helping the two legged member of the team?

Unknown said...

I really appreciate that you shared this on your blog. Really good stuff here, and with your experience in trialing at a high level with several different dogs, I know it is good information.

Thank you!

Teri Callahan said...

Doing core work safely is very important and I cannot imagine that some people do "high speed" work on peantuts, disks, etc. Thanks for a great post.

Teri Callahan