What is Canine Fitness?
Fitness is controlled exercise that targets specific muscles or skeletal areas with the goal of strengthening the entire body over time. Fitness builds up and strengthens muscles and bones, achieving balance, increasing brain activity and overall health and reducing the number of injuries while performing in dog sports or playing in the backyard.
Proprioception -- or the awareness of one’s limbs, bones, and muscles and what they do -- is important not only for sport dogs but also for pets and weekend warriors. The more the animals know how to use their bodies, the better they can safeguard themselves from injury.
Fitness is not just a young dog’s game. It is important for all ages, from puppies to senior animals. Although the daily walk or romp outdoors remains an important part of an overall balanced life for the dog, it is not possible to challenge the body in the park in the same way it is on equipment designed to teach moves that lead to excellent fitness.
Fitness in performance dogs is especially crucial. For example, a dog competing in agility is required to move and bend its body in ways that it cannot learn while just walking or playing fetch. Agility dogs have to be hyper-aware of where all four of their feet are, how to use them, and how to twist, turn and adjust their bodies to avoid injury. Many of these positions are not natural movements for the dogs.
Using fitness equipment and movement to isolate bone and muscle groups and to trigger body awareness helps reduce injuries and increase overall performance.
How do I teach fitness?
Fitness is achieved by using proper equipment designed for this purpose, and proper technique taught by someone trained to teach fitness. I am certified in not only Canine Fitness but Canine massage as well. The education I received in anatomy during my massage schooling is an asset to my fitness training. The studio is fully equipped with Totofit, Fitpaws, and custom-made pieces. They range from balance balls, climbing tables, and ladders to a specially designed treadmill for dogs of all sizes.
The first thing I do is establish a fitness baseline with a new client, which simply is the fitness level where the dog begins its regimen. This is used to measure progress throughout the program. Weight-shifting methods are used to build strength, by raising one end of the dog higher than normal and therefore increasing the weight load. This instability engages the stabilizer muscles and the “core” muscles -- those that help the dog run and jump and move or sit still. Increasing instability also increases the load, which increases strength. Dogs are taught how to twist, turn and adjust themselves safely. Various surfaces are incorporated to encourage healthy feet.
In fitness, we use a lot of luring. It can eventually transfer to hand targets but the object of fitness is about proper movement not necessarily about behaviors on cue. We want slow and steady movements, that is what will help the dog build muscle. Behaviors on cue usually involve momentum and gravity, neither of which engage muscles properly for fitness.
Some of the benefits of fitness are: fewer injuries due to slipping or collisions with other dogs; more muscles targeted overall than other forms of the physical challenge; the dog’s brain benefits from interacting with the equipment; training for dog sports that require precision, such as obedience, stays fresher between competitions.
But one of the most important benefits is that fitness is another way to have fun with your dog!!