I started teaching K9Fitness and body awareness with dogs just under 13 years ago and I had no idea where it would take me. I didn’t have a path in mind, a goal or even an inkling that it would be my DREAM, my FOCUS and full time job. I am so thankful to be able to share what I love and continue to learn and grow as my clients and the industry pushes me to be a better fitness coach and a better dog trainer.
Independent cued behaviors will encourage proper movement, strength and mental focus.
When I first started training, much of it was done by luring and movement off body pressure. I quickly realized that shaping behaviors for fitness gives the dog time to think about their body and allow their muscles, joints, and limbs to respond to what is being asked. I still teach using luring, targeting and body pressure but my goal in fitness is always that the dog is able to offer the work with focus on the exercise at hand and not food in YOUR hand.
I want to “put it out there” that we can do better – we can be better teachers and better teammates to our dogs. After all, we are working with fully functioning healthy dogs that are mentally and physically capable of learning the process if we take the time to teach them. Shaping using a clicker is fun and it truly teaches your dog something that they will remember and be able to offer forever.
We can do better by teaching our dogs the foundation steps to every exercise with methods that encourage our dog to think about their body during the process.
Quite often dogs are asked to do a more challenging exercises than they are mentally and physically ready for based on the equipment the owner has and a video seen on Facebook or YouTube. This is done without any thought to what the dog should understand or the strength that needs to be established before proceeding with the movement or static position. Teaching each step and each movement prepares your dog mentally and physically for each exercise challenge presented.
Starting JUNE 1, 2017 - I am offering Shaping K9Fitness, a 3 mo long class June/July/Aug – my new Facebook class. This class will inspire you to shape some or all of the behaviors for a multifaceted exercise combination each month. I decided to offer this class in an effort to have REAL fitness and training discussion about strength and body awareness exercises. It is offered on Facebook to make the class and discussion easily accessible by mobile device and/or computer. Learn how much MORE you can accomplish with fitness by putting behaviors on cue and allowing your dog all the steps to gain the strength and knowledge for each exercise. Will everything be perfect and set in stone – NO. I want this class to be more of a discussion, a collaboration of sorts to find all the great ways to shape and capture behaviors. I have ideas and they are GREAT but they are not the only way. I am always learning from my students, they are great trainers.
Learn from me, teach me and let’s work together for our dogs.
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I often get asked what my “fitness and training” philosophy is. My standard response is:
“Using a variety of methods, I train strength and body awareness exercises that activate more muscles in the dog’s movement, while moving the dog equally on both sides and in all directions, which inspires efficient movement with less effort and decreases the chance of injury” Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, FP-MTI, Cert C.F
Just thought I would share my philosophy. I can’t speak to other philosophies, I can only tell you mine.
I use a variety of training methods: shaping, luring, targeting, molding, capturing – all methods that positively reward the dog with food or toys for the desired behavior. I have students that use one or many of the methods mentioned and I support them all in my classes. I may show a behavior using hand targeting, by showing the steps with shaping or by luring a behavior – but that does not mean that each student has to use the method I use. Again, I support the methods mentioned above and will do my best to help you achieve the desired position or exercise using the method that works best for you and your dog. That said, if you are willing, I may open your mind to other training methods such as the advantages of shaping, luring or targeting while helping to decrease the amount of food used so that your dog’s pays closer attention to their body and movement.
We all learn in different ways, have different goals, or training methods. Finding a method and trainer that works for you and your dog’s and/or your clients is important. Also, understand that there is always something to learn. Entertaining different perspectives can help you grow in your knowledge, give you more training tools, and give you food for thought.
NOTE: I strive to shape behaviors and movements, put the behaviors on a verbal cue and encourage independent movement. That said, not all fitness exercises can be trained as a "trick" because sometimes the position may be hard or impossible to obtain as an independent behavior, in the correct position, when targeting a specific muscle group.
I just thought I would share my philosophy, due to requests for this information:)
Here are a few options for learning more about K9 Fitness.
Online consult with Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, FP-MTI, CERT CF – via LIVE training via Skype/Facetime/Join.me or other service. During live lessons, I can guide you in real time, adjust your training to get the desired behavior and design a strength program specific to your dog. A written recap of the lesson will be sent to you along with a recording of the live lesson.
MT/CCFT program – designed to teach you to evaluate your own dog or client’s dogs for fitness activities and to design targeted exercises programs for your dog using FitPAWS equipment.
Take an online Class - of course I would love for you to take my classes but there are many out there to choose from. My NEW Fitness on the Flat (no equipment needed) and Warm UP/Cool Down/Flexibility class enrolls 2/1/2017
Equipment inflation has come up a lot lately in my online classes and even my private lesson clients. Some clients will bring their equipment to me so I can adjust the inflation appropriately for their dog and the exercises in their dog's current exercise program. Some folks don't know how to take air out and even some are unsure how to put air in. Let me clear that up for you.....
Rules of thumb for inflating and deflating
Depending on the size of the dog you are working with, the dog's level of strength/fitness and the exercise you are working on, taking air out or adding air in can increase or decrease the level of difficulty for your dog. This is NOT standardized but in general these two things "can" be true.
If your dog is struggling for balance and is unable to find balanced quickly - either equipment inflation needs to be adjusted or you have asked for an exercise that is above the dog's level of fitness. Equipment inflation is a little like "goldilocks", sometimes you have to "test" it out to see if the inflation is "just right" for your dog. If you put 5 Fitness Coaches in a room and you ask them "is more air or less air easier" - you will get a debate that won't end because the answer depends on the size of dog, the dogs level of fitness AND the specific exercise you are trying to perform.
If you are trying a new exercise and your dog is really struggling - don't be afraid to adjust the air in your equipment. I feel that that increasing or decreasing the air in equipment is an under utilized tool and I want to encourage you to use it.
Another option is to just buy more equipment and have a different amounts of air in each piece. For example:
Below are two photos to show you some different inflation options for the FitPAWS Giant Balance Disc and the FitPAWS K9FITbone. When looking at the bones - look at the "shadow" under and around the K9FITbones to help you determine what is different about the inflation.
Left - more inflated, Middle average and Right deflated
If you got my newsletter, then you have already read this but if not - ENJOY!
Recently, a person I respect a lot asked me for ONE THING that I would change or do better. For some reason this question was really floating around in my mind in the weeks that follow. Then a trainer told me that I often “skip steps” or “jump ahead” in my training. Now interestingly enough, these two instances were NOT related but in my mind they really got the wheels turning. If I were to train ONE movement or behavior one step at a time then the end behavior will be stronger AND my dog will better understand what is expected.
Hmmmm….Interestingly enough, I thought I was training each step until I really sat down and started dissecting each thing I was currently training Drama to do.
Drama is a very operant dog who is willing to try anything - good thing because I have skipped some steps here and there. After some reflection, I found that if there are five steps to training a behavior, I might do 1, 3, 5 instead of every single step, which creates grey area for my dog that supports a “sloppy” behavior or a behavior that needs to be supported. I get the behavior I want but it is not as polished as I would like it to be.
When I spend the time to train each step independently my dog truly understands what I am asking of him and there is no GREY area. WOW what a concept. I have always considered myself a good “trick and focus” trainer (after all, Drama is a Trick Dog Champion TDCH) but I believe that if I train each behavior or movement with all the steps in mind, it will make me a better trainer and help my dog to understand what I want. It might even take less time and effort to train the behavior even though there are more “steps”. My clients will benefit as well from this knowledge and encouragement to break each exercise down into steps that their dog can easily understand and follow.
Not that I didn’t take steps before but I feel that more steps can be taken to train each exercise in an effort to help the dog understand and engage more muscles in their movement. If I can help each person break down desired behaviors or movements into MORE steps, it will help to slow down the dog, engage the right muscles, encourage balance and coordination as well as encourage better defined body awareness.
This all got me thinking about how my clients “inspire” their dog to do specific behaviors or movements needed for each fitness exercise. I believe that people often reward many things while trying to get an exercise trained especially if luring the dog. If you are constantly feeding your dog, then your dog is not really “learning” – your dog is following the food. That said, even if you are luring, you can reward ONE behavior at a time to help your dog understand the “steps”. It is not necessary to be feeding your dog 100% of the time, and in fact it can be confusing to your dog as well as counter-productive in most situations especially when training canine fitness. I often tell my students to take the food away, reward less often, turn their lure hand backwards and to use a nose touch or nose touch hold instead of a food lure. These things all can work but I feel that if we start looking at “training ONE thing at a time or ONE step at a time”, it will work even better.
With all that said:
I hope this post inspires you to have a plan, break things down into steps for your dog, reward ONE thing at time, identify proper reward timing when chaining two or more trained behaviors together and to put each trained behavior on cue.
There are many approaches to K9FITNESS:
If you know me or have been following me, you know that I subscribe to progressive steps starting at the foundation level and moving slowly into more challenging exercises.
Why? I believe that if the dog understands how to use their body efficiently, understands where their body is in space, and how to engage their core, then strength training can be skill based while targeting specific muscle groups. Without a proper foundation of body awareness and muscle engagement, it leaves our dogs at risk.
So many dogs get tossed into the deep end of the pool because they are asked to perform exercises that are beyond their current level of fitness or capabilities. Taking the time in the beginning to train the foundation will save you time, frustration and possibly an injured dog in the future. It is important to assess where each dog is, what they already know and what needs to be taught to increase the efficiency of the exercise chosen for that dog.
Every dog I see, starts with foundation exercises - this is to protect the dog's muscles and joints and encourage injury prevention. Some dogs will progress quickly as their owner just needs to "refine" movements or behaviors they have already trained. Some dog's will start at the beginning and it may take a bit longer.
Fitness is not a sprint - it is a marathon.
Here is one foundation exercise shown in my class and also presented at the live lab for the CCFT/Master Trainer program:
To start your dog off on the right track join my online Foundation K9Fitness class available now for just $59 - two week self guided class with 14 movements or behaviors.
As an instructor for the CCFT program (Certified Canine Fitness Trainer/FitPAWS Master Trainer Program) I am proud of what we have put together, honored to be apart of it and humbled when the students achieve success. This program teaches how to assess the dog, when to refer to a veterinarian, how to choose exercises, what are signs of fatigue and how to increase the level of exercises based on the capabilities of the dog. Online and in person training required.
I get emails or messages on Facebook daily asking me, is this safe or that safe or what do "I" think about "this" or "that". Although I do have an opinion, my first question is always - "What is your goal and how will the exercise help you achieve it". What I am finding is that many folks don't really KNOW what their goal is, they just think the exercise might be fun to train or it is "flashy" and their ego would like their dog to do it. Step away from what is new and shiny for a few minutes and consider the information below. Always remember when watching a video or seeing a photo, that EVERY exercise has foundation steps required to "build up" to a harder level. If you don't understand the foundation steps required for an exercise, ask the person who posted it. Starting at the foundation level is your dog's best chance for staying free of injury and learning how to engage the proper muscles to support strength training activities.
When considering an exercise for your dog, be mindful of these things:
In addition to looking at your dog, the handler must know a thing or two:
All of these things should be considered before starting any exercise program or trying a new exercise with your dog. Our dogs are amazing creatures and a good number of them will do whatever we ask of them, even if they think we are crazy. If you ask for an exercise that is beyond your dog's current level of fitness pushing them to much or to fast, will lend to injury.
PLEASE NOTE: Not all exercises are right or intended for all dogs.
Always remember to train the foundation behaviors that prepare your dog for higher levels of fitness. It is important to understand your dog's signs of fatigue as well as signs that it is time to increase to the next level.
CCFT - Certification
The information available out there is abundant but as an instructor for the CCFT program, I can assure you that it will teach you exercises philosophy, how to design a progressive fitness program, proper posture and position, equipment combination, how to assess your dog and others, signs of fatigue and will give clear boundaries for "taking it to the next level". The FitPAWS Master Trainer LIVE Program, together with the University of Tennessee online course, will earn you the first university backed certificate of Canine Fitness - CCFT.
Bobbie Lyons Online Classes - These courses are designed to teach proper form and function of each exercise for strength, improved performance and injury prevention.
Jumping Power - Strength training and program design specific to jump training - Enrolling 4/12
K9X Training - Foundation skills, progression of exercise, equipment combos - Enrolling 4/12
Injury Prevention for Psoas and Shoulders - enrolling in the Summer
Walk the Way - DogTread Treadmill Class - trot work and strength training - Enrolling in the Summer
I have trained the nose touch for many years, however Drama is the first dog where my goal is a “sustained” nose touch. With my other dogs, the criteria was to just touch my hand, which resulted in varying degrees of “pecking” or “touch and go”. I used food in the hand I wanted touched for a period of time to obtain the behavior.
A sustained nose touch can be a benefit in many areas of K9 Fitness and general training.
Once a sustained nose touch is obtained, my goal is to be able to move my hand and have my dog “follow” without releasing the hold. We have this now after just a few sessions but need to build into many different training environments.
With the above list in mind, it is important to have a “soft” nose touch that is sustained rather than a “pushing” motion. A soft sustained nose touch will allow the handler to slowly shift the dog’s weight, ask for position changes and allows the dog to focus on their body and limbs vs a food reward.
What I have learned about teaching a sustained nose touch
Foundation do’s and don’ts
Building a HOLD
The trouble I had is getting the behavior to be sustained. Drama has always wanted to “peck and move away” instead of hold the behavior. I consulted a friend about this and she told me to move my hand toward Drama as noted above, which did improve the behavior but still wasn’t getting what I wanted. Then when in the UK at the FitPAWS Master Trainer Program, I noticed one of the volunteers had a lovely soft sustained nose touch, so I asked her how she trained it. Bingo – “wait him out“ - the real answer here is to have patients and wait for your dog to offer the touch and then build duration.
Often I get in a hurry and forget critical steps to building solid independent behavior and then later realize that refining a behavior or trick is needed. I feel very fortunate that I have wonderful friends, clients, and trainers available to me to remind me to slow down and offer suggestions to help improve my training.
Not every suggestion will result in what I am looking for but not every training tool works for every dog. These "tools" that are offered are just that, tools to add to your tool box of training methods that will result in being able to help many dogs, not just my own.
A new K9 Water Sports facility opened near me (Paws Aquatic Water Sports and Rehab) that offers self and assisted swimming for therapy and fitness. They also have a regulation deck for dock diving with a pool 41ft long. WOW! I am so excited to have something so close to home, that my dogs LOVE. We used to swim as much as we could but time and distance kept us from doing it with any regularity. To say that my "big" dogs (Stan, Force, Riley and Drama) love the water would be an understatement.
Swimming can be a GREAT addition to any K9 Conditioning plan as long as the dog enjoys swimming and they swim efficiently using all four limbs. "Continuous" swimming is where the cardio benefits are - 5 min of continuous swimming is said to be equal to a 5 mile run. If the dog is retrieving - out and back, start and stop - it is not the same type of workout. Not to say that it isn't beneficial but it depends on your goal.
It is also important that your dog turns in both directions as well as drives out straight. You want all four feet to assist in turns. Watch that your dog doesn't use just their front limbs. :) What is nice about this wonderful pool is that is it 41' long and 21' wide so there is a lot of room for most dogs to get big wide turns as well as long straight swims.
So how does swimming fit into my fitness plans??
I love trying new things and of course enjoy watching my dogs do something they love.
My oldest who is almost 14 yrs old, truly loves "water". He is a very natural swimmer and genuinely is so happy when in the pool. He is my slow methodical swimmer that swims for the joy of swimming. He does not need toys and will tread water. For his age he is doing pretty good and I want him to get to have the joy of swimming as much as he can! (no dock diving)
Crazy, 11.5 yrs old Force, loves to swim but it is all about the toys and not very calm. He is an erratic swimmer until the toy is in his mouth and then he smooths out on the return trip to the ramp. If he carries a toy into the water, he is much smoother and I find that when I am in the water with him, I can get him to calm down. Force's general comfort in daily life is better when on a regular swim schedule. (no dock diving)
At 9.5 years old Riley loves to swim, loves the toys, and is a very smooth swimmer who can tread water. Riley loves everything he does and he does it with a smile on his face. He has no issues jumping off the dock for dock diving but has a bit of a confidence issue doing it at speed. He runs all out to the end of the dock and stops, then "plops" in the water. We will keep working on it, just for fun. (no swimming for Riley for a couple week as he is still healing form abdominal surgery - and definitely no dock diving for a while)
Mr Motor boat (15mo old) - Drama has turned into a little fish who loves the water and more than anything loves to save the chickens (rubber chickens). He LOVES to jump off the dock and after just a couple weeks, consistently jumps about 13' or so. He is a strong swimmer and clearly enjoys it. It is really fun watching how excited he is to jump off the dock.
Little dogs: Kaos (5yrs old) and Jack (17mo old)
They can swim, but so far they both would really rather stay on land.
2015 has been a busy busy year.
Due to my other writing engagements - 12 articles for Clean Run Magazine (so if you missed those, go back and check them out) and the conditioning for jumping skills chapter in Linda Mechlenburg's new book (published by Clean Run - should be in print soon) I have not written a blog post in quite some time. I have tried to keep things updated by sharing videos and thoughts on Facebook but it is time to get back to my blog, sharing deeper thoughts about this wonderful job "I get to do" every day. I don't know many folks that get to do what they are passionate about. I feel very lucky.
What else have I been doing.....
Helping to create an awesome program
FitPAWS took a leap of faith, gathered dog trainers, veterinarians and physical physical therapists (human and dog) and embarked on a journey to create the FitPAWS Master Trainer Program - now merged with the University of Tennessee - CCFT program. Completing and passing both programs will earn you a certification backed by a university - how AWESOME is that. As one of the course instructors, I have taught at five MT programs and will be heading to the UK in December with FitPAWS to share the master trainer program to those abroad. Super excited for this opportunity ~ one step closer to K9Fitness WORLD DOMINATION. When you have goals - go big right???
Raising a puppy - DRAMA
Drama has certainly grown up over this year and many of you have watched him grow via Facebook . He is 33 lbs, almost 14 mo old and his growth plates are closed. So officially he is ready to start whatever training I have planned. You all know me to be super conservative, so you know that I don't take that as a license to start repetitive training just yet. Drama and I will ease into whatever we decide to do. I have plans, stay tuned to find out what we will be doing.
This year Drama and I have traveled to Colorado 7x, Connecticut, Washington 2x, California, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Oklahoma, and will finish off the year with Montana, another trip to California and the UK. It is too bad they don't give frequent flyer miles to dogs. Drama is a great traveler and we have had minimal issues. Our last trip was a bit scary for a few minutes but it all got sorted out and I love having him with me. It has been so great meeting my online students in person and so many folks that are interested in how to improve their relationship with their dogs while mentally and physically challenging them to use their body more efficiently.
Working along side the members of the FitPAWS MT Course Instructor team has been an awesome learning experience. The collective knowledge in this group offers a wide variety of experience that the whole team learns from.
I have had some great opportunities to shadow and learn from my local veterinarians as well as Drs Sherman and Deb Canapp at VOSM in MD (headed back there in 2016), Dr. Wendy Baltzer, DVM, PhD, DACVS, DACVSMR, CCRP at OSU and Sarah Ostrin, CCRP - OSU Rehab Dept. I finally met Debbie Gross of Wizard of Paws in person when she came to speak at the FitPAWS Master Trainer Program in April. After teaching with her online it was great to finally meet her in person.
I put some new classes up online at daisypeel.com - Injury Prevention for Shoulder and Psoas Injury, Walk this Way - DogTread treadmill strength activities and K9XTraining. In 2016 stay tuned for more new classes to help your dog understand how to move their body faster, with more precision and with less chance of injury.
And now for some thoughts -
When looking at designing a fitness plan for a client's dog, I always look at a gentle progression with milestones and challenges. I continually assess the dog so that the level of difficulty can be increased or decreased based solely on the dog's ability to maintain the proper posture and the muscle engagement intended for each activity. It is important to always be watching the dogs posture and foot placement as well as your reward position when training exercises. The handlers reward and/or hand position as well as their body posture can greatly affect the dog's ability to maintain proper position and weight distribution.
Some things can cause a temporary decline in performance:
Constant reassessment of your dog's abilities by you or by your K9 Fitness Coach is essential. If your dog has tight or sore muscles, participating in some active range of motion exercise and/or flexibility training can keep injury at bay. Catching a soft tissue injury early on with a referral to a qualified veterinarian, can make a huge difference in the recovery time and eventual return to activity. Having your K9Fitness coach assess your dog regularly, can truly help handlers work through their fitness plan "mindfully". Remember that just because your dog could do it yesterday does not mean they can do it today.
A good fitness plan will have progressive exercises that start at the foundation level and progress forward so that your dog builds the strength and skills needed to perform exercise without compensations or possible injury. Always, make sure that you are starting with the base layer or foundation level of an exercise if your dog has never performed the chosen exercise before or if your dog is new to strength activities. That said, some dogs that have been involved in a strength training program need to be re-evaluated for form and function to make sure that they are performing the exercises while engaging the proper muscles groups. Some times this has to do with reward/hand position or the handlers posture as mentioned above. Again, having another set of eyes on to help with what you can't see is so important and a K9 Fitness coach has many tools in their tool box to achieve your goals.
For example, if you aspire to have your dog stand on four FitPAWS paw pods, which increases limb awareness, core strength and balance, you must first build value for putting front feet on the pods, train an independent back up, then teach your dog to back up to the pods, then work on all four feet. Learning to first balance with front feet elevated, then gaining the rear end awareness to back up and elevate rear feet is the foundation training for learning to put 4 paws on 4 pods. To prepare your dog for each step, be mindful of your reward position and your dog's posture to make sure that you are encouraging proper muscle engagement and weight distribution.
Many of you have seen this video before but this is Drama's video about learning to find FitPAWS paw pods at about 3.5 mo old.
I just wanted to share what I have been doing this year along with some tips about progression of exercise, having a fitness coach to watch your dog's movement, and making sure that you give your dog the opportunity to learn how to efficiently engage the proper muscles for stability by teaching foundation level behaviors first. Using a progressive approach is key to reducing the chance of injury while improving muscle mass and tone over time.
I have been busy busy busy - which is why it has been since February that I have posted any blog posts. Writing articles for Clean Run each month and a K9 Conditioning Chapter for Linda Mechlenberg's new book on Jumping Skills, has kept me from writing blog posts. Look for Linda's new book in early Fall 2015.
I have been involved in teaching the FitPAWS Master Trainer program since February and am really enjoying the opportunity to share my expertise with so many people, each ready to soak in any knowledge that they can, ready to put that knowledge to work and really enjoy the learning process. The FitPAWS Master Trainer program is a great way to learn how to evaluate a dog, how to design a plan and the many different exercises that can be performed on FitPAWS equipment along with the foundation needed to properly train each position and the correct posture.
I just counted them up and Drama (now 10.5 mo old) has been to Montana, Eugene, California (2x), Washington (3x), Demo'd at the Rose City Classic Dog Show, Idaho, Colorado (4x, maybe 5 can't remember), Chicago, and Connecticut - 11 flying trips - Wow!! Wish I could get "frequent flyer miles" for my dog. Drama is a GREAT traveler - well except for barking when I am teaching but that will improve with age. He has learned so much even with my limited time to train, and his body awareness is fabulous. I can't wait to see how he grows and fills out. He really is the perfect puppy.
Drama and I get in a few minute here and there to train. He is super smart and a joy to work with. Below is his latest video.
I hope to get back to posting in my blog soon - please be patient and if there is a topic you would like me to write about, send me an email.
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, MTI
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