Canine conditioning is becoming more and more popular in the dog world. On a positive note, this means there are stronger and healthier dogs in our homes. However, with the positive there is often a negative and this certainly applies to canine conditioning. While my heart is happy for the improved strength and fitness of so many dogs, my heart and head often hurt when watching and viewing dogs on the internet and in real life who are improperly performing exercises and suffering the consequences.
Responsible owners and handlers need to be aware of the dangers inherent in canine conditioning, as well as the physical limitations of the dogs they are working with. The goal of canine conditioning is to improve a dog’s physical health, strength and condition, not to cause injury. Of course, causing an injury is never the intention, but in my clinic I am seeing more and more injuries as a result of improper canine conditioning. This may be due to a dog’s weakness, owner lack of knowledge, the dog’s lack of overall condition before beginning an exercise program, or an uneducated instructor/trainer.
The adage ‘no pain no gain’ does not apply to canine conditioning. I am sure everyone reading this can relate to a time they overdid it with intentional exercise or not so intentional exercise, such as raking the leaves, shoveling snow or cleaning. The recovery may have been as simple as a good night’s rest or it may have been longer with a pulled muscle in your back or neck. Some of the consequences of over exertion may unfortunately stay with you for the rest of your life and require medical attention. The same can happen with our dogs. And that is the last thing anyone wants.
Some key points to think about before beginning or continuing a canine conditioning class or seminar:
ALL-DAY CONDITIONING SEMINARS – Realistically, they may just be too much for your dog. Can you work out all day? All-day conditioning seminars appear to be a great way to gain a lot of hands-on experience in one day, but many dogs cannot tolerate all-day conditioning, even with frequent rests. The mental and physical strain is too much. If attending a conditioning seminar, opt for shorter ones. For example, a half day or a three-hour session. Most of them still allow time for exercises. A better goal would be a one-hour class one to three times per week.
INSTRUCTOR EXPERIENCE – Does the instructor work with dogs of all shapes and sizes? An instructor that travels and only demonstrates with their young agile Border Collie or similar dog may not understand the needs of your large or older dog in a conditioning class, whether online or live. Ask what their specific experience is with dogs of all shapes and sizes.
CONDITION YOUR DOG, NOT THE GENERIC PROGRAM DOG – What are your dog’s specific needs? It is easy to confuse a dog’s willingness to perform an exercise with their desire to please you, receive rewards, and/or food motivation. For a dog that is always hungry, when working for food they will often push their bodies past the comfort zone.
Is your dog a couch potato? If it is, then kudos to you for starting a canine exercise program. But you do not want to ask the dog to do too much too quickly. It is better to take it slow and opt for exercises without equipment to begin with. [Yes, we are a canine fitness product company telling you to start without canine fitness products!!!] As appealing as all the equipment is, begin with exercises on the floor. Trust me, you will quickly progress to the purple stuff!
See our blog on the 5 Basic Exercises.
LISTEN TO AND WATCH YOUR DOG – If your dog does not want to do an activity or is showing signs of reluctance, there is likely a reason. Injuries can occur if your dog does more than they are physically capable of. If they are avoiding, refusing, or acting differently with an exercise, trust them. You are always your dog’s advocate, and if you do not feel something is safe or if your dog appears uncomfortable, say something and discontinue the activity. This may be difficult in a workshop environment, but your dog will applaud you (and so will we!).
IN SUMMARY, the goal of canine fitness is to improve your dog’s strength, endurance, body condition and overall health. It is also a wonderful bonding time with your dog that can build on the relationship you already have. With some thoughtful care and a good foundation, your dogs should be able to safely progress through a canine conditioning program tailored to their needs. Safety is not always flashy – but I promise you – you and your dog can never go wrong with safety.
Keeping it Safe,