A dog that is properly conditioned and has performance fitness for the sport that he partakes in or for the job that he has to do, performs better and is less likely to get injured.
When an injury occurs, they are generally less serious or severe and recovery is quicker.
Fit sporting and working dogs tend to suffer less stress. This means that have greater stamina and longevity as working and sporting dogs. What an awesome winning situation for both handler and dog – a longer working or sporting career and happier retirement.
EVALUATING CANINE FITNESS
Feel the size and tone of the core muscles (muscles parallel to the spine paraspinal and abdominal) and muscles of the back legs. This is a general but good way to evaluate fitness.
Core muscles are important. They assist with the coordination of spine and leg movements. A good core is critical for an immediate response of the legs e.g. for change of direction or deceleration.
The front legs carry almost two thirds (66%) of the dog‘s weight. The rear end only carries one-third of the weight (33%).
Jumping, cantering, galloping etc cause almost the full weight of the dog to move onto the shoulders and front limbs. Gravity adds even more weight. Therefore the front assembly gets much more exercise than the rear end of the dog. This means that with simple, normal activity, the front end gets more exercise in general than the rear end.
Handlers of canine athletes must be aware of placing emphasis on exercising the rear end of their dogs i.e. rear legs and core muscles must be strong and toned.
CRITICALLY ASSESSING CANINE ATHLETIC STRUCTURE
Dogs are varied in size and shape. It is very important to understand each dog‘s structure when considering a design for a conditioning program. Ideally, one wants to have a balanced program that will also take advantage of the dog‘s strengths and account for or improve on its weaknesses.
A good example is the German Shepherd Dog. Many have ample rear angulation. This provides them with the advantage of a very long stride, allowing them to jump high and long – a benefit for protection and police work. However, that same flexibility that gives them their rear angulation also means that they frequently experience hyperextension (over-stretching) of various joints, particularly the toes and the carpi (wrists). They also can experience injury to their hocks as they can hit the ground when running and jumping.
In contrast, Belgian Malinois tend to have straighter front and rear assemblies, i.e., reduced angles at the shoulder and elbow and at the knee and hock. This shortens their stride and means they have to use more energy to cover a running distance than the German Shepherd Dog. The straighter angles allow for tremendous agility and they are known for their rapid acceleration and ability to turn sharply but may incur more impact trauma on their joints.
AGE-APPROPRIATE CONDITIONING AND SPORTS TRAINING
Dogs under 6 months of age can be provided with simple obedience. Puppy exercises should involve skill training that is generally non-impact or extreme.
Strength training exercises, those designed to build muscle, may begin in moderation after 6 months of age.
Training that includes impact, particularly repetitive impact such as roadwork and jumping over obstacles that are elbow height or higher should wait until at least 14 – 18 months of age, at which point the growth plates have closed.
Because of the delayed closure of growth plates close between 8 weeks and 2 years (depending on the size and breed of the dog) and for dogs that have been spayed or neutered, high impact and endurance training should be delayed in these dogs until 20 months of age as the spay interferes with he closure rates of these growth plates.
For more information that is practical and easy to apply, contact me at The Biokinetic K-9
M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD, DACVP, DACVSMR Canine Sports Productions Ellicott City, MD