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“Off-Season” vs Training Season in Dog Sports?

Do Canine Athletes have an off-season while training for their sport?

Have you considered:

  • 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?
  • What about treating them like human athletes?
  • Consider taking time off of training?
  • If so, for how long?
  • And what can I do during that time?

Looking at many competitors of varying canine sports, there is a real concern about pushing our dogs to injuries to soft tissues, joints and even burn out.

In South Africa, most sporting events have one major annual National Competition or Event. As these happen, competitors generally have a year to qualify for entry.

Some sports do not have a set ‘off-season’. The qualifying period runs from the time of the last national event to the next national event.

Off-season may look a little like a reduction in trials or shows in some areas during warmer seasons, but people will travel to continue to compete and show their dogs.

Training schedules build-up to each event.

Some handlers compete and then take a small break for a few days and then train for competition again.  Some people continue to push their dog to compete almost every weekend. Why doesn’t this happen?


We have no research in competitive dogs on what pushing them to continuously compete does to their body and mind.

So let’s take a look at how human athletes handle their sports:

  • The National Football League in the USA 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 (Professional Basketball) teams play 82 games between October 28 and April 15. Again a 6-month ‘off-season’.
  • Major League Baseball teams play 162 games in 180 days – a 6-month ‘off-season’.

In fact, most sports have an off-season – time off from competing.


Shouldn’t we be giving our dogs an ‘off-season’?

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.

GSD running in water

Hiking, running, swimming, using special canine conditioning equipment to strengthen and work the core is included here.

As a sporting dog handler and trainer, I know it’s almost impossible to tell your dog we are not doing anything for a month.

Time off simply 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.


I think it’s time we admit that our dogs are athletes and treat them that way, don’t you?

Ideally, canine athletes should get an ‘off-season’ after their national event or highest level of competition.

Off-season conditioning should occur year-round. Include strength work, core work and cardiac/endurance work. Most importantly do not push your dogs to do more than they should or are presently capable of.


Some key takeaways from professional human athletes:


Typically human athletes have an ‘off-season’. They train, build themselves up, compete and get to their final event, and then take time off.

(Time off could be 1 – 2 months, but if you’re a professional athlete, then 6 – 7 months off).

This doesn’t happen in with most canine sports.

The ‘off-season’ for human athletes is often comprised of conditioning, cross-training, and maintaining fitness.


Some recommendations we should consider:

  • Take time to just ‘be’ with your dog instead of training, training, training. Go for a hike and let your dog be a dog.
  • Overtraining also has the potential to cause burnout, which can cause physical injuries as well as lacklustre performance.
  • Choose quality trials versus a number of trials (with the latter sometimes being the choice of those trying to pursue qualifications to attend national events.)
  • Choose quality food, quality care (including rehab and sport fitness professionals). Attend to your dogs’ mental health as well.


Some trending information on the web on this subject:

  • Top-level handlers will often take a couple of months off of training / competing (continuing with conditioning and letting dogs just be dogs). Sometimes the novice handlers do not take time away.
  • Handlers should consider getting more than one dog so that they can spread out the workload if they themselves are ‘addicted’ to the sport.
  • People mentioned taking 1 – 3 months off per year with 30 days being a minimum ‘off-season’. During this time cross training is performed and NO sport skills are practised.
  • Another person stated that her rehab person told her that a 6-week minimum is needed for muscle restoration.
  • Cross-training thoughts: swimming, frisbee, ball, games, nose-work, impulse control, heeling, new tricks, strength and conditioning work, crate games, jogging, hiking, contact work on a flat plank, start line stays, other sports such as dock diving or obedience, and just family time spent walking, hiking, camping, boating, or off-leash runs with friends.
  • Sometimes, if need be, don’t bring your dog to training classes. Perhaps ask if you could help and observe some of the training classes instead.


Tell me your thoughts on this subject in the comments below.  I would love to hear from you and what you do with your training during and after your main national competitions.

For your off-season fitness and conditioning program that remains sport-specific, contact me at The Biokinetic K-9.  We ensure that your dog re-enters his sporting season ready to go!




Excerpts taken from:

Does a dog have an “off-season” – Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt(Animal Physio),CAFCI, CCRT

How much is too much? – Leslie Eide, DVM, CCRT

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