"There's no right way to do it, but you're doing it wrong."
Is there one right way to teach a fitness behavior? No. But more and more I'm hearing certain training techniques are bad or not appropriate for learning or for fitness.
And I'll be the first to admit that I use an amalgamation of different techniques to get the final behavior, then turn it into an exercise and finally include it into a workout. I think it's important to understand all the different techniques, know how they work best, and know when to use them individually and in combination.
My first consideration when training a new behavior:
Setting the environment:
My second consideration when training a new behavior:
Will luring help?
My third consideration when training a new behavior:
Can I use capturing and luring together to decrease frustration?
Examples of Lured Fitness Behaviors:
Down to Stand
Examples of Captured Fitness Behaviors:
Front Paw Target
Rear Paw Target
Examples of Exclusively Free Shaped Behaviors In Fitness
Stay tuned for how I teach dogs to lure to decrease frustration and food mania.
Working with June Bug to capture 3 new behaviors on a platform.
Five years ago, myself and Sarah Stremming developed an online class to help agility dogs jump better. The class was created around a program of fitness and jumping exercises for my dog Stig. The combination of fitness, jump grids, and training techniques is like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere. Now I use this program for all my agility dogs and for all the dogs that come to me for agility fitness training.
There are SO MANY different things you can learn in this class. It was a hard task to narrow this down to the top 5 concepts you will learn, but here they are:
1)The 5 Phases of Jumping – Approach, Take-off, Aerial, Landing, and Departure
The approach and departure are affected by the set up and handling. The dog depends on the information we give them to know how to approach the jump and where they are going after the jump. The Take-off, Aerial, and Landing phase can all be affected by strength and conditioning.
2)Correct Jumping Form – Not every dog jumps the same and that’s okay! Jump form will change with extension, collection, and different departures. Learn to analyze the dog’s jump arc, and how to manipulate the environment (including what parts of the body to strengthen) to improve it.
3)Use of Grids as Plyometric Exercise – plyometrics are a form of reactive exercise that usually takes the form of jumping. Specifically, the muscles are loaded and then quickly allowed to unload, like loading a spring and then allowing it to explode. Plyometric exercises are not only a great way to strengthen the muscles, but also to quickly build power.
4)Whole Body Conditioning – the whole body needs strength for powerful jumping, not just the core. All the muscles need strength and power and must fire the correct amount and in the correct order to create amazing jumping.
5)The Joy of Jumping – often we take jump training for granted. We expect the dog to figure it out with little help from us. Both you and the dog will learn to love jump training.
To learn more about jumping fitness, check out Jumping Gymnastics at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Class opens for registration on July 22, 2020 and starts August 1, 2020. The class runs for 6 weeks and has 3 levels of participation. Gold spots (12) have full participation, posting videos for feedback and asking questions for discussion. Silver spots (25) are allowed to ask question and post a very limited amount of video (2 x 1min) for feedback. Bronze spots (unlimited) are allowed access to all material and all student threads. The bonus for bronze students is the opportunity to join a Facebook group to get feedback from other students and our teaching assistant, Jenn Bennet. Every student has access to the material as long as you take one FDSA class or workshop a year. For more information, click on the link: https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/11652
Have you ever paid attention to how your dog sits? If you’re like me, I used to only focus on the end position. I never really cared how my dog got into the sit, just that the sit ended up symmetrical left to right and looked like a perfect right triangle from the side. While that end sit position works many parts of the body and is extremely important, how the dog gets into the position is just as important.
After working with thousands of dogs, I have come across three ways the dog moves into the sit and luckily they have been given names:
The Tuck Sit – front legs remain stationary and the rear legs move forward into the sit
The Rock Back Sit – rear paws remain stationary as the rear legs flex into position and the front legs step backwards
The Combo Sit – a combination of both of the above sits; front legs move backwards and rear legs move forward to get into the sit position
Let’s break down each of the movements.
The Tuck Sit is mostly a core exercise, especially as the rear legs move together into the sit position. It also engages the muscles that help attach the shoulder blades to the body. You get some pelvic limb involvement but the load on those muscles is very low.
The Rock Back Sit engages the muscles of the rear legs, similar to the muscle activation during the down portion of a squat. The quads are working eccentrically, while the hamstrings and gluteal muscles activate. There is also front leg activation of the supraspinatus, biceps, and triceps muscles. The front limb muscle activation is not more than walking backwards, so it is typically not the focus of this exercise.
The Combo Sit – works a combination of the above muscles, but less than the each individually. This is why I typically avoid this type of sit in fitness exercises.
Is one type of sit better than the other? NO!!!
They both are important because they work different muscles and are progress very differently. The Rock Back Sit becomes a squat. The Tuck Sit becomes a Hop. If your dog does any sport or job that includes jumping, both of these exercises are of utmost importance.
Learn more with Leslie!
Check out the Weekly Webinar: Battle of the Sits, Friday April 3, 2020 at 4pm Pacific time.
Take the FitPAWs Conditioning Challenge by The Total Canine: Veterinary Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine! And share with your friends! I have decided to post an exercise a week with a different piece of FitPAWs equipment each week. The video will have some of the dog's learning process and the final exercise done in good form. We will talk about what muscles you are strengthening and why you might do this exercise. Join me today by commenting below. Let's get our dogs in shape together! This blog will be updated each week with the new challenge!
Week 1 FitPAWS® Canine Conditioning Challenge
Ghost learns the Stand to Down to Stand on the 36" Wobble Board with Donut Holder Stabilizing.
Post videos of you and your dog doing the challenge in the comments!
Ghost and I are going to work on this everyday to keep improving form and strength!
Week 2 FitPAWS® Conditioning Challenge
Ghost learns how to pivot with her rear limbs using multiple K9 FITbones.
Post video of you and your dog doing the challenge in the comments!
Ghost and I are going to work on this everyday to keep improving form and strength! #powertothedog #trainbetterdomore #musclesneedtobechallenged
Week 3 is a blast! Join me in taking the FitPAWS® Conditioning Challenge.
Tuck Sit to Stand on the Giant Rocker Board. Have fun! Post videos in the comments and share with all your friends! #powertothedog#trainbetterdomore #musclesneedtobechallenged
Week 4 coming at ya! Join me in taking the FitPAWS® Conditioning Challenge.
All 4 on 2 with front limb lateral stepping.
Equipment used: a Donut with Holder and K9 FITbone. Have fun! Post videos in the comments and share with all your friends! #powertothedog #trainbetterdomore #musclesneedtobechallenged
Week 5 is now live! One of my favorite exercises, especially if you compete or play in any activity that requires jumping.
Equipment used: the Peanut. Check out the new Trax Peanut from FitPAWS.
I'm absolutely loving it and can see a lot more Trax 40cm Peanuts in my future. Awesome! #trainbetterdomore #powertothedog #musclesneedtobechallenged
Week 6, The FitPAWS® Hurdle Set! Used a lot for walking and trotting straight through, here's two more ways to try them out.
#trainbetterdomore #powertothedog #musclesneedtobechallenged
Week 7, The FitPAWS® Giant Disc and Paw Pods! Instead of posting a perfect, completed exercise, I am posting a mostly unedited training process. The exercise is back paws on the disc, front paws on the pods and side step front paws. Hope you enjoy seeing something a little different!
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?