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Showing a dog in conformationrefers to being judged on the visible details of a dog's structure, appearance and movement as defined by the breed standard for each breed. When a judge is evaluating a dog, the dog’s muscular development and overall appearance will be looked at and scored.
Canine fitness training can improve how a dog moves by making him more aware of his feet and improving the overall use of each limb. A dog that knows how to move and has the strength to move fluidly will show in the conformation ring with stronger attributes.
Benefits of canine fitness for both handler and dog:
It is important to understand how to build a proper fitness plan for your dog that provides a full body workout. This will teach efficient use of each limb, activate the core muscle group to assist in movement and maintain and/or build overall muscle while improving muscle tone, size and strength. All of these things will improve the dog’s appearance and movement.
Exercises that I use regularly for my conformation clients include:
Completing a circuit of exercises with your dog on a regular basis is fun and rewarding for both dog and handler. Dog’s LOVE participating in canine fitness. Your goal should be to complete a strength training circuit three to five days a week. Each fitness plan should take about 15-25 min. It is important to give your dog TWO active rest days per week. Active rest means that you are not doing any organized fitness training, but you are still taking your dog for walks. Rest doesn’t mean that you want your dog to be a couch potato. You want to make sure that your dog is moving during their active rest.
There are many exercises to choose from, but it is important to get advice from a qualified canine fitness coach. I personally have 14+ yrs experience teaching canine fitness. Although I am based in Portland, OR, I teach online classes and online one on one lessons. If you would like more information about my lessons or classes, please emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are a variety of classes available online taught by very skilled fitness professionals. For the best instruction, search for classes or lessons offered by a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer, educated by the University of Tennessee, a veterinarian or rehabilitation professional who specializes in sports medicine.
Program design is by far one of the hardest concepts for students to master. Being consistent with a dog’s workouts is also hard for many handlers to do. Below are a few principles that will help you to identify what needs to be part of your strength and skill training program. The below information will also help you understand the importance of designing a balanced program, of being consistent with your dog’s workouts and taking small breaks but never taking long breaks from fitness.
Many of my students come into their fitness appointment and say “I didn’t do my homework”. I am not one of those instructors that shames my students when this happens but it does suggests that their canine athlete has not been consistently performing fitness exercises for several weeks. This puts their canine athlete at a disadvantage due to a decrease in strength, flexibility and endurance. As a fitness coach that is trained to look at each dog individually, I must find ways to challenge the dog without over stressing the muscles, joints and tissues while also satisfying the customer. It is my job to decipher if the homework wasn’t done due to time or schedule, focus of the handler or training challenges with the dog so that I can design a doable fitness plan to help the dog and handler be successful while also working toward their specific training goals.
Working toward each canine athlete’s goals can be very complex. Afterall, the handler has to be motivated to train each exercise and build time into their schedule to complete multiple exercise as part of a fitness and skill training program.
Let’s talk about principles. In the human world there are all these different principles designed to make strength training more efficient for human athletes depending on their goals. I would like to focus on the three listed below when working with our canine athletes.
The Balance Principle
This principle suggests that the right combination of diet, training activities and healthy lifestyle all play apart in having an optimal functioning body and mind. The human body thrives when in balanced or in homeostasis. Over training or extreme efforts can keep the body out of balance which is detrimental to ideal performance. For physiological and psychological reasons athlete's need breaks from the intensity of training and competition. Fitness programs should allow athletes to overload and recover over time.
Tips for success with the Balance Principle
The Overload Principle
In order to gain strength and improve performance, the muscles, ligaments and tendons need to adapt to the stress of exercise. The exercise and repetition chosen needs to push the tissue beyond what is normal. If the tissue is not properly overloaded, then no progress will be seen. No progress means, no improvement in strength, range of motion or performance.
Tips for success with the Overload Principle
The Principle of Reversibility
Detraining occurs within a short period of time after an athlete stops training. Decreased performance can be seen as quickly as two weeks or sooner. This principle is simply put - “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. Detraining causes strength, flexibility and endurance to be lost but the body’s coordination to execute a sport skill or movement remains. Precise timing may be a bit rusty and need practice to resume a previously mastered skill.
Tips to avoid the Principle of Reversibility
What this all suggests is that your canine athlete needs a balanced fitness plan designed that includes cross training activities, is training toward a goal, is consistent (no large breaks) and also identifies nutritional needs and other healthy activities as part of your fitness plan. Seek help from a qualified fitness trainer or educate yourself on designing a balanced plan for your dog.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT....
Lets say you got paid $10 for mowing the neighbors lawn and then the next THREE times you mowed the lawn, you only got paid $1. Would this inspire you to continue to mow the lawn? If this happened to me, I would simply find a better paying job with some consistency to the pay.
My take on Jackpots (giving a handful of treats instead of one treat after a click when shaping a behavior)
Many people click and jackpot their dog simply because they get excited that their dog is starting to understand what they are training. However, I think it is important to look at the information you are giving the dog. Does the dog know that the jackpotted behavior was better than any other behavior or movement? What if the very next repetition the dog offered was same behavior that got clicked and jackpotted but this time was only given one treat after a click? I suspect that this will decrease enthusiasm to continue the training session.
IMO, When a trainer gets excited and jackpots "after a click" and the behavior itself is still in the process of being trained (for instance you are at rep 3 of 5), it DEVALUES the 1 treat per click option. This inspires you to start giving many treats per click and then it becomes a handful and where does it end?
A handful of treats at the END of a session
After I am finished with the last click/treat for the training session, and I have given that last treat, I often toss a handful of treats on the floor or in a snuffle mat to allow the dog to scent and scavenge. This is done as a reward for an entire training session, NOT as a reward for the dog's brilliance of one behavior during a training session.
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT
When you realize that you have a training challenge in front of you, do you try to solve it right then or do you stop and formulate a plan? As a dog trainer I can admit that I have often reacted in the moment without thinking through the steps to a solid solution. Reacting in the moment can create poor communication between you and your dog.
I can come up with a million excuses why I have reacted in certain situations but honestly, my reactions were due to poor training habits. Now when I have a training challenge, I do the following:
OK so my most recent problem is that I have a puppy that gets over aroused specifically when Drama is loose in the yard. My first thoughts were “No way do I want to spend the Summer not being able to have all my dogs in the yard at once”. So, on went my thinking cap to come up with a solution.
Bravo is now 5.5 mo old and in need of learning impulse control and how to control his over arousal. Apparently, Drama is VERY exciting. Bravo is good outside with all the other dogs but when Drama is outside running around, Bravo loses his mind completely (barking, screaming, running at Drama, nipping Drama etc).
These were my immediate concerns:
Here is my plan (loosely described). Note that at any time that Bravo was unsuccessful we stopped, analyzed and changed things up or went back to the previous step.
Bravo sits and waits for a release word before coming out of a crate or being let out any door.
Bravo stays on the deck until he can respond to cues when arousal levels are high (ie, Drama is outside because yeh, that is all it takes). This will starts with low arousal situations, such as when Drama is NOT outside.
Bravo is in the yard but in a crate inside the doorway of my shed (after passing Step #2). Bravo is rewarded for calm behavior – if he is unable to offer calm behavior, go back to Step #2.
Bravo gets out of the crate, but on leash and is rewarded for responding to cues and checking in with me with Drama at a distance and not moving – if unable to respond to cues and check in, go back to Step #2.
Bravo responds to cues while on leash in the yard walking by the other dogs (other dogs are free to move) – if unable to offer respond to cues, then we move further away from the action and/or go back to Step #4.
While on leash or dragging the leash, Bravo is able to respond to cues while Drama is moving - if unable to respond to cues, go back to Step #5.
Bravo gets of leash in the yard.
The one thing I have really learned over the years is to analyze a training challenge, come up with a plan and implement it. Always be willing to toss the plan out the window if it doesn’t work or change the plan as necessary. Having a plan is so much better than reacting in the moment without a knowing the step by step process to fix the training challenge.
Success in the past few days:
We will keep working on this and set the stage for other situations of over arousal. I believe rewarding small steps towards a goal communicates what you want, allows for a high rate of reinforcement at each step and sets a good foundation to build on.
I hope this blog post inspires you to “stop, think, write things down, have a plan and train toward a goal”.
Recently I have found myself having many conversations with my clients about “nap time”. I hear things like:
Taking a nap sets your pup up for success and can improve all the things listed above with proper rest and training. Dog owners sometimes take 2-4 classes each week for several different performance sports and/or activities. I can only imagine the amount of time needed to complete the homework necessary to be successful in that many classes and activities. This much training can create pups that are over- weight from all the treats given, over tired from lack of sleep and have an inability to perform reliably.
“Bravo” my 5 month old MAS pup, naps for 2 hrs in the morning and 2 hrs in the afternoon. Some of the signs that he may be ready for a nap include:
I think most folks see the signs listed above and feel that their pup is “bored” and needs more activity. When you add more activity without proper rest, you can get an over stimulated, over trained and over aroused pup that won’t settle.
I strongly believe that nap time can have a positive effect on training, relationship building and over all behavior at any age. Imagine how much more focused and fun your pup will be after a nap.
Naps should be in a quiet place
Nap time should be uninterrupted and in a quiet environment. Just sleeping on the floor or on a dog bed is not the same as being able to “shut off the world”. Imagine you are napping on the couch with a movie on, you might doze in and out, hear parts of the movie and your house mates moving about but if you were to nap in your room with the door closed, your quality of sleep will improve with less noise and activity around you. It is the same for our pups. I generally recommend putting your pup in a room alone or in a covered crate.
Happy Napping ZzZzZz
It’s a dog, not a robot
A couple years ago, I had a booth at the Rose City Classic Dog show. My friend Danielle Hall came up from California to help me with the booth. During a time when activity at the booth was slow, Danielle decided to go get a sandwich while I was talking with a couple gals from a service dog organization. During the time we talked, their wonderfully behaved seasoned golden retriever service dog just laid next to them observing what was going on around him. We were having a really nice chat about how fitness can help service dogs when Danielle returned with her sandwich.
As I was finishing my conversation, Danielle sat down and started to take a bite.
All of a sudden, I see this flash of fur LAUNCH past me. I turned to see that this seasoned service dog had Danielle’s hand AND her sandwich in his mouth and he was not going to let go. The owners of this dog were HORRIFIED. Danielle didn’t want to let go because her sandwich was wrapped with plastic and she didn’t want the dog to eat the plastic. It all happened as if it was in slow motion but between the owner, myself and Danielle we got the dog to let go. Danielle and I were cleaning up the sandwich fixing that got all over the booth and the owners and dog, slipped away
Sometimes we forget that a dog is not a robot and that dogs have off days or lapses in behavior memory.
Maybe they are just hungry and that sandwich was just too good to pass up.
Recently I was setting up for a workshop and needed to put my drink in the refrigerator but there was a gate in my way and my brain was already on to the next task. There was someone on the other side of the gate, so I simply held my drink out in an effort to communicate that I wanted her to put in the fridge. Well, because I didn’t actually tell her what I wanted, she opened the can and handed it back to me. (she “guessed” what I wanted because I didn’t communicate) I then said “OH! I just needed it put in the fridge” and we got a good laugh out of it, but it really brings me to my point, communication is a KEY component to any interaction that we have with a human or a dog.
Today I want to talk about where our communication may break down and how we can be better communicators when working and training our dogs.
As I grow and learn as a dog trainer, I have been thinking a lot about communication or what information are we providing to our dog for the task we are trying to complete. There are many ways we can communicate with our dogs – verbal, hand signal, body language etc.
When we start each training session we need to consider a few things:
The number one communication issue I see is that dogs are not being given a “cue” that indicates what we want. Often performance handlers do not put all trained behaviors on cue or they only put their performance related behaviors on cue leaving other behaviors in a “not fully trained” or “grey” area for the dog.
If we create “grey” area in our training, it can cause frustration and is aversive to your dog. It doesn’t mean that your dog won’t keep trying as they are likely to get a reward but as the communication breaks down, it makes the training process less efficient and causes a lot of confusion. In the absence of communication, these dogs are guessing what we want and guessing during training has consequences. Confusion causes stress, displacement and lack of focus in our dogs.
Time and time again, I hear from people that they “don’t have time for fitness” and I am going to go out on a limb and say that part of the “time factor” has to do with poor communication between dog and handlers due to lack of fully trained and cued behaviors. For instance, when asking a dog to stand on 2 pieces of equipment, the behaviors needed might be:
Set your dog up for success by putting behaviors on cue and leave the “guessing game” behind.
Of course, I have come up with a solution. Train some target behaviors and put them on cue to help improve communication with your dog. Monday March 5th, 2018, I will launch my new online classroom website Bobbie Lyons Canine Campus. I will be offering the following TARGET TRAINING classes.
Rebel Soul Timeless Applause = "Bravo" is now 14 weeks old. He has lived at my house now for 7 weeks. I was in California for 2 of those weeks and gone for 2 long weekends sharing K9 Fitness with the masses. Yikes. I had this overwhelming feeling of being behind in the training processes until I started looking at what we have accomplished.
Mr Bravo has been working on LIFE skills. During the times when I am at home we have done the following:
I may have forgotten a couple things but I guess we aren't doing too bad. I believe that puppies should be allowed to be puppies. Life skills, fun skills and foundation performance skills (on the flat) are great things to teach a young pup but don't forget to play. Puppies need to have fun, they need to play and they need general life skills to become good doggy citizens.
I am starting Bravo off a bit different in hopes of improving communication from the start. Stay tuned for more training and fun with myself, Bravo and Drama as we all become a better team
Recently I have seen several social media comments that balance products and canine fitness training indoors is a fad. Of course, I disagree and wanted to share my thoughts on this subject.
Physical activity is the cornerstone for keeping muscles and joints functioning and all systems working together for both human and canine athletes. Some say it is more useful to take their dog hiking or swimming but the majority of people don’t have access to large open spaces where their dog encounters different surfaces, elevation and footing challenges. Even if they did this is typically not a balanced cross training fitness program. Not everyone lives in the same climate and when it is too hot or too cold to be outside, having other means to mentally and physically challenge your dog is key to having a happy healthy dog. This is where balance products and indoor DogTreadmills are useful tools and help canine fitness be more attainable.
Balance products, like those made by FitPAWS, are “tools” that can be used in a variety of different ways and with the guidance of a knowledgeable fitness trainer, you can learn how to properly use the equipment to benefit your dog.
Most folks fall into two categories – they overdo it or they underdo it. In an effort to understand the exercise and train their dog to do it, handlers often ask for too much repetition. In addition, once trained to do the exercise they are not completing enough reps and sets to challenge their dog’s muscles to improve strength, coordination and limb awareness. Often “fitness” training is thought of as “trick training” and once trained, the handler stops asking their dog to do the exercise. If you look at fitness as a trick then you are more likely to overwork your dog due to the repetition involved in training. This is such a shame because the training part is mental exercise and should be done in frequent short sessions. Once the dog understands the movement desired, that is when it becomes an exercise and you add reps and sets to gain muscle activation, improve strength and balance in your dog.
I can’t speak for others who teach canine fitness but my students benefit from instruction on how to challenge their dogs in all planes of motion while activating targeted muscles. Balance props aid in the ability to create a well-balanced fitness program in a controlled environment.
Working as a team, the handler and I work together to accomplish the goals below:
Before FitPAWS existed, my students would search the web for equipment and end up with a mishmash of equipment that was different than what I had – not the same size or level of stability. When this happens, the dog responds differently to the planned exercise due to the changes in stability and may not be activating the intended muscle groups. Having products from the same manufacturer creates a more predictable level of consistency with each exercise.
I have been teaching strength and body awareness for a long time and I get testimonials from students weekly about how their dogs performance has improved. That performance may be that their dog is able to hold a sit in obedience, jump further in dock diving, improved their times in agility, has better jump timing and form, or is simply striding better for conformation.
The goal for a balanced program is to choose specific exercises, move your dogs in all planes of motion, complete reps and sets and watch for signs of fatigue. If you don’t have the knowledge to design a balanced fitness program for your dog, seek advice from a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer or Rehabilitation Specialist who understands how to design a fitness program for your dog and the activities that you are involved in.
The tools that we use to complete a canine fitness program will vary depending on the dog’s needs and conditioning goals. Fitness training and the tools that we use to mentally and physically challenge our dogs should never be considered a fad but it should be considered an integral part of your dog’s fitness training program.
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT