Athletes – person(s) trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; participants in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.
From school sports to professional sportsmen and women; when you are an athlete, it’s not just about playing the game.
As per the definition, even dogs that compete in sports are athletes.
Conditioning and fitness is a part of preparing for sports – both human and canine.
It prevents injury and helps athletes perform at their best.
Whether you train for fun or are a serious dog sport competitor, conditioning should be a part of your routine.
Athletes Need Solid Foundations
As a trainer, you must concern yourself by asking your dog to try something that their body is not physically prepared for. By continuing to ask this of your dog who has no foundation work, their body WILL fail sooner rather than later…
Not only does conditioning help your performance, but it also strengthens the bond between you and your dog too. Sport-specific conditioning programs offer an even greater benefit for you and your canine athlete.
However, just like any sport training, fitness work requires a solid foundation.
Just like in your chosen sport, you need to do your foundations first. The same applies to your fitness and conditioning training.
Regardless of your dog’s age or strength, the most important starting point is to build a great foundation.
As in all things we teach our dogs, some will progress quicker than others.
A quick dog that learns quickly may surpass his strength level in the training, and while he understands what you are asking, he won’t be capable of performing the task concisely.
Once a dog understands a fitness behaviour/movement, it takes 8 to 12 weeks for the muscles to adapt to the new exercise or style of exercise.
After this point, your dog will no longer gain any benefit from the exercise and it will be time to move on.
There are various ways to increase the difficulty of an exercise. The trick is to do so safely.
There is never a point where one can’t increase difficulty (especially if you remember to take breaks throughout the year!)
Gain Muscle Memory!
How you train the behaviours for conditioning are very important.
You can lure them or use previously-shaped behaviours to perform a required movement. Capture those movements and behaviours through reward so the dog offers them more freely and often. This way you start to build strong “muscle memory” or neuro-muscular pathways.
If you are simply going to place your dog on some equipment, the dog is not building any “muscle memory”. You are actually doing all the work for your dog.
Some dogs may not have any issues with this, but some dogs may find this very scary. The result is that dogs may become anxious around the equipment.
Luring with food may help get the results you want quickly, but it is argued that dogs are not thinking about their bodies and movements at this time.
Your aim is to achieve a deliberate movement. This is when your dog gets the most out of his conditioning. Muscle memory is built fastest when this happens, helping to prevent injury in the heat of competition!
From there, we progress each exercise correctly and safely. We also look at exactly what areas are being worked and how they fit into and enhance your sports training.