Authors: Joy Adiletta, Emma Mak, Lorraine Messier, April Pelletier
How can we keep our flyball dogs fit during this time off from the sport we all love? With no tournaments, limited or no practice, not to mention restrictions on public spaces, it can be a real challenge. We approached some of our members that are professionals in the canine fitness and rehab field for some advice. The advice given here deals with general exercises, and should not be taken as specific medical advice for your dog.
We broke this topic down into six common questions and divided the content into two articles. This is Part 1 of 2 and deals with a weekly program for keeping your dog fit, activities/exercises for small spaces, and taught behaviors geared specifically for puppy fitness!
Thanks to our knowledgeable contributors for the great input! Is there a topic you would like to see addressed? Or maybe you’d like to be a guest author? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an idea for an article or would like to contribute.
1How do I keep my dog fit when I have limited space (indoors or in my backyard)?
Contributor: Joy Adiletta, CCFT in Seattle, WA
Club and Region: Joy runs with Engage Flyball in Region 7
Requirements: Indoor or outdoor 10′ x 10′ space; Equipment: Stool, padded surface.
It can be a challenge to keep your dog fit in small spaces, especially in the current COVID-19 situation where shared larger spaces may be inaccessible. You can do some simple exercises at home with minimal equipment that will help keep your dog fit. Make sure care is taken to ensure good form (not as easy with the busy, fast dogs!) Give these exercises a try, and see if you can think of other ones to add on once you’ve mastered them—or contact a certified canine fitness trainer (look for the CCFT or CPCFT certifications) for more help!
- Tuck Sit to Kickback Stand with Stool – Have the dog place their front paws up on the stool and then bring their rear to a tuck sit, hold for reward, then have them kick their hind feet back into a stand. This works the rear end and the core, as having the front paws up ensures weight-bearing in the rear, and the movements utilize the core muscles.
- Pivot with Stool – Have the dog place their front paws up on the stool and then pivot around the stool with their back legs (go in both directions!) For best results, the dog should move their rear feet independently, not just shuffle in reaction to your lure or body pressure. Advanced dogs can also step over stationary objects around the stool. This exercise is great for rear end strength and agility, as well as better body awareness.
- Roll Over on Padded Surface – The twisting motion that our dogs go through in a box turn is called transverse motion, and it’s one of the hardest ones to work outside of flyball. Teaching a slow and controlled Roll Over (on a padded surface for comfort—a rug or yoga mat is great) is the simplest way to work those muscles. Be sure to teach it in both directions, and keep it slow and controlled to get the most benefit out of the exercise.
- Spin/Turn & Leg Weaves – Spin/Turn is simply having the dog turn in a circle with a flat back, ideally slowly and on command, without a lure. Many dogs like to spin really fast, or spin and land in a sit, so take the time to train a slow movement that keeps the dog in a stand at the end. Remember to teach both directions! This exercise helps with spinal flexibility and body awareness. Once your dog does spin and turn well, you can progress to leg weaves. Leg weaves are great for warming up and focusing before going into the flyball ring, too, so will be helpful when we return to competition!
2What are some suggestions for fitness activities for puppies and young dogs (under than 15 months)?
Contributor: April Pelletier CVT, CCFT, FP-MT in Pembroke, MA
Club and Region: April runs with Mass Chaos in Region 13
Many of us have puppies right now (including myself!) and we are looking for ways to keep them active with age-appropriate activities. Fitness activities are a great way to work your puppy’s mind and body, and you don’t need much time or fancy equipment!
The most important thing you can do with your puppy fitness-wise is to teach them body awareness. This is a critical skill for all our flyball dogs, not only to help prevent injury, but also to improve performance. Simple activities like teaching your puppy to walk over poles (cavalettis), pivot work, backing up, and teaching them a rear foot target are just a few of the many body-awareness activities you can do to benefit your puppy.
For this article I’m going to provide instruction on how to begin teaching your puppy two important foundation behaviors: how to pivot and how to tuck sit!
For teaching the pivot you will need something stable and fairly low to the ground for your puppy to put their front feet on (try a rubber feed bowl, placed upside down.) It is important to make sure whatever prop you choose won’t move around on the ground while your puppy is stepping on it. It’s also crucial that your pup has a non-slip surface while pivoting. I recommend putting down a yoga mat (or two) on the ground, if needed. Check out this video:
We can also teach our puppies some foundation behaviors for fitness that will help them with more advanced fitness exercises as they get older. Taught behaviors such as tucks sits, folding downs, kickback stands and rockback sits are useful for this and also build body awareness.
For teaching your puppy a tuck sit you will need a low, stable, non-slip object that is large enough for your puppy to comfortably fit all four feet on (I recommend a balance pad which you get on Amazon, but you can also use a couch cushion or a memory foam dog bed). Again, we want to make sure the floor surface isn’t slippery, so put down some yoga mats if needed. Here is a video on teaching a puppy to tuck sit:
We have only just grazed the surface of the many fitness activities you can do with your puppy! If you are interested in learning more about canine fitness for your puppy or adult dog, please visit www.newenglandk9athlete.com or follow us on Facebook.
3What is a good weekly program for keeping my flyball dog fit during these times?
Contributor: Lorraine Messier, Owner/Trainer at Canine New England, Inc., in Walpole, MA
Club and Region: Lorraine runs with Patriot Flyball, Region 13
Fitness fundamentals start with very basic behaviors. This allows you and your dog to develop a system of understanding and identifying proper behavior, and how to use verbal cues and rewards effectively.
If we start back at the beginning . . . did you teach your dog to sit first? How did the dog sit? Most dogs learn by following a treat at the nose, following the treat upward and backward until the butt touches the ground and . . . BAM! we give them a cookie. By not identifying clearly the behavior we want, your dog may have ended up with a lazy sit to the side, each foot pointing east and west, with their knees up near their ribs! Let’s start at the beginning so we can train those muscles to support the hind end and core throughout your flyball dog’s lifetime.
If you and your dog are new to fitness fundamentals, here is a list of seven routines to teach—a new one for each day of the week! Typically we practice a routine of two reps, three to five times (2 rep., 3-5x) with a break in between.
Some dogs may already have many of these behaviors and should work towards practicing each of these three to five times (3-5x) within a single session every day. This would equate to roughly 20 minutes (including breaks in between). Given the drive of flyball dogs, this should be an easy place to start.
DAY 1: Tuck Sit
Work this exercise on the flat. Front feet should be stationary while bringing the rear feet forward. Butt/hips are to be square with the shoulders.
DAY 2: Kickback Stand
Once again, this is done on the flat. This exercise is great for building core, hind end and belly. Work on a tuck sit to kickback stand as part of your routine.
DAY 3: Play Bow into a Sphynx Lie-Down
This can be three exercises in one: ask for a play bow, unfold to a stand; play bow into a down (Sphynx position); and back to stand.
DAY 4: Backing Up
Get your dog stepping backwards in a straight line.
DAY 5: Pivot
This works best from a raised platform. Get your dog in a straight stance in front of you with front feet on a platform and work the pivot using your body pressure, stepping left and right; hind feet are stepping both clockwise and counterclockwise.
DAY 6: Full Body Stretch
Using a raised platform (for example, edge of the couch), get the dog’s front feet on the platform with their rear feet on the floor. Encourage stretching upward while ensuring the top line of the dog remains straight (do not let your dog arch their neck backward over the spine!)
DAY 7: Figure-8 Through Legs
Slow rotation is best to encourage each step.
This seven-day routine can be made more challenging by using a slant board to enable greater weight distribution to the hind end.
This concludes Part ONE of our TWO-part series.
Thank you to Joy, Lorraine and April for their contributions to this article! Part 2 of this series will be coming shortly and addresses two more areas of canine fitness in the time of our hiatus from flyball: how to keep your veteran dog fit and healthy, and suggestions for exercises to prevent injuries in the future.
While we are all missing flyball, may you and your canine athletes stay healthy and safe until we can get back in the lanes once again!