Flyball is a sport that has many physical demands. These dogs need a regular routine of strength, body awareness, flexibility and coordination training to prepare their body for action. Some of the traits needed to compete in Flyball are listed below:
2. The ability to jump with extension
3. Good strength through the spine and ribcage
4. Turning power
5. Shoulder strength, stability and flexibility
In order to decrease the chance of injury, the dog needs to use the “right” muscles and have the proper flexibility. I often hear from handlers that their dog is well muscled. That may be true but is the dog engaging their stabilizer muscles around the joints or are they over using a muscle group that leaves another muscle group weaker? This is a common problem and lends to injury. Developing a warm up strategy for your dog will decrease the chance of injury and improve your dog’s performance. Paying close attention to
warming up all major joints starting with toes and feet is good practice. If a dog doesn’t use his feet and toes properly while absorbing the impact at the box, the energy will transfer to the shoulder. Soft tissue shoulder injuries are very difficult to diagnose and rehabilitate. If you are unaware of how to develop a proper warm up routine, seek guidance.
ACTIVE stretches are OK but NO static stretches until after activity. Stretching a muscle prior to activity DECREASES the power of the muscle. Best time for static stretches is at home, after a walk when your dog’s muscles are warm and your dog can relax into each stretch.
Active stretches = Range of motion but not held more than 1-2 seconds
Static Stretches = Slowing increasing range of motion while holding the stretch for 30 seconds.
For Flyball dogs, lengthening and strengthening through the spine and ribcage is so important due to the compression that happens when the dog hits the Flyball box. Strengthening the muscles along the spine, lower abdominal muscles and muscle that control the hips (Iliopsoas) will help the dog’s body manage that compression. I recommend cavaletti training to improve stride, lengthen and strengthen through the shoulders, spine, ribcage, core muscle group and hip flexors to many of my performance dog clients.
Getting some guidance on spacing between the poles and height of the poles is essential. Remember, you CAN do harm if you are not doing exercises correctly. Lack of body awareness or proper weight distribution is another area of concern. I see many performance dogs every week that have no idea that there is anything beyond their shoulders. Many have done a lot of rear foot targeting, which is GREAT in moderation but rear foot targeting teaches the dog to put 95% of their weight forward on their shoulders.
This may mean that your dog knows where his back feet are but it does NOT teach the dog to put weight on those feet. Instead it teaches them to rely solely on their shoulders. For a Flyball dog, this is not ideal.
Correctly using inflatable FitPAWS props or other rehab equipment can encourage the dog to shift their weight forward and backward as well as side to side to engage the proper muscle groups that lend to stability and improved performance.
Get some guidance from a canine fitness coach, rehabilitation expert or physical therapist to ensure you are encouraging proper muscle engagement and body position to maximize each exercise. Spending 10-15 minutes three times a week on a strength and stretching routine is all that is needed.
Remember, you are training an athlete not a couch potato.
A side note on weight:
By keeping your dog the ideal weight, the dog’s speed and accuracy in movement will be ideal. It is five times the dog’s weight on their shoulders every time they land a jump and I can’t begin to understand the force absorbed by the body at the Flyball box (depends on so many things). For the health of your dog’s joints, it is super important to keep your dog at an ideal performance weight.
Bobbie Lyons Cert CF
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT