Many of us have been anxiously awaiting the return of flyball competitions! The first NAFA tournaments are just weeks away, so it’s the perfect time to look at some practical considerations for this new age of masked flyball. While the CDC is the best source for mask-wearing recommendations, below are some extra considerations, especially for flyball participants.
Practicing in the mask you plan on wearing at a tournament can help you identify potential issues. Keep in mind that, while any mask may be tolerable for a short-duration practice, it might become intolerable when worn for a whole day of racing.
Things to keep in mind:
Does the mask move a lot on your face when you yell?
Does the fabric suck into your mouth when you take a deep breath?
Does it move off your nose or mouth when you do regular flyball tasks like box loading, shagging balls, or holding your dog?
Does it muffle your voice so much no one can hear you?
Will the ear straps irritate you after wearing the mask all day?
If you wear glasses, will your glasses steam up and render you unable to see the lights for that perfect start or pass?
At first, our club entertained the idea of club logo masks, but not every mask fits every face comfortably. Make sure the mask fits your face well; even if that causes you to stare wistfully at the club logo ones and wonder why you have such a weird-shaped face!
So…you’ve found it: the BEST mask to fit your face at flyball. Now consider getting spares of your favorite mask! No one likes a damp, moist mask stuck to their face all day. Need I say more? If you are crating outside, or the tournament is not climate controlled, you might get really steamy under that mask.
Other things to consider:
A mask lanyard is a great way to avoid losing your favorite mask during the racing day;
Ear saver devices can drastically increase your comfort & mask fit when playing flyball;
You can be a hero by sharing clean, spare masks with your fellow flyballers: maybe pick up a box of 50 disposable masks and hand them out like candy!
The best source for info on mask-wearing is the CDC’s guidelines; however, do give some serious thought to the special considerations masks in a tournament setting will mean. I wear masks at work and out in public, but the masks I use for those do not withstand the rigors of an active sport like flyball.
Authors: Keri Evers-McQuiggan, Lisa DosPassos, Emma Mak
In the second part of this series of how to keep our flyball dogs fit during this time off, we’re looking at our last two (4 & 5) canine fitness topics: how to keep a veteran dog fit and healthy, and suggestions for exercises to help prevent injuries in the future. Check out our previous article (1 to 3) that looked at how to keep your dog fit when you have limited space, a weekly program for canine fitness, and how to teach behaviors geared specifically for puppy fitness.
Our contributors to this series are all NAFA competitors and have certifications in the canine fitness/rehab/conditioning field. The advice given here deals with general exercises, and should not be taken as specific medical advice for your dog.
4How do I keep my veteran dog fit and healthy?
Contributor: Keri Evers-McQuiggan, DVM, CCRP, Niagara Canine Conditioning Centre in Niagara, ON
Club and Region: Keri runs with SpringLoaded in Region 2
The good news is that even with this prolonged layoff from flyball, our dogs haven’t lost a lot of fitness . . . provided they have been maintaining a moderate level of activity. Veteran dogs certainly know the game, so missing out on practices and competitions is not a concern regarding loss of skills. The most important things are keeping them limber and ready for action so that they don’t hurt themselves when they return to full activity and sports.
If you haven’t been able to maintain some level of activity, now is the time to start EASING your way into more exercise. Start with walks on flat, even ground for 10-15 minutes. As you feel more comfortable, make walks longer and start adding in hills and rougher terrain, then add some spurts of jogging.
If your dog has had an injury in the past or has joint pain or stiffness, passive range of motion (PROM) is a great way to get those joints loosened up and feeling good again. To do this, put one hand on each side of the joint and slowly move through the full but comfortable PROM for 30 to 60 seconds. There’s no need to force or stretch anything. DO NOT “BICYCLE” A LIMB. Most dogs don’t like this and it’s not a natural movement; focus on one joint at at time.
Core strength and joint stability are the keys to minimizing injury. Isometric exercises, where muscles are contracted but not changing length, are low impact and very effective—for example, balancing on an unstable surface like an air mattress or other inflatable. Leg lifts are another easy exercise. Start by lifting one leg at a time. Don’t lift too high, and do keep the limb in the plane of the body. Hold each one long enough that your dog has to stabilize himself, but not so long that he starts to fall over. If very wobbly, keep a hand under the belly to steady your dog. Progressions are holding the limbs longer, doing diagonal limbs at the same time, then going to both limbs on the same side. ALWAYS make sure you exercise on non-slip footing, but you can progress from the flat to unstable surfaces.
5What are some exercises I can do with my dog to prevent future injury?
Contributor: Lisa DosPassos, Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner
Club and Region: Lisa is the captain of Revolution Flyball and runs in Region 15
Keeping your canine athlete fit and strong goes a long way in injury prevention. While the nature of many dog sports makes it impossible to prevent all injuries, we can take steps to reduce the likelihood of them occurring due to repetitive stress and compressive activities.
As we attempt to keep our dogs fit during this unexpected downtime, and as we prepare to start back up with training, the main goals are strength and mobility. Building and maintaining strength and mobility in three areas—your dog’s core, limbs and spine—are helpful for both optimal performance and prevention of injury.
Exercises and activities that focus on engaging the muscles of both the abdomen and spine of the dog are helpful for improving core strength.
Some exercises that are beneficial include:
Planking: Have your dog place both front feet on the floor, slightly forward of their natural stance, and reach their back feet to a surface just beyond their natural stance. Be careful not to over stretch your dog in this position, or the focus will be on limb stability rather than core engagement. Start with the dog targeting marks on flat ground (dots, tape, etc.) and progress to raised, stable surfaces (step, rubber bowl upside down) and then raised dynamic surfaces (inflatables or foam cushions). Be sure to stabilize any surface or material that the dog will be standing on. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Leg Lifts: With your dog in a stable standing stance, slowly lift one leg off the floor, being careful to not pull the limb away from the body. Start with one leg, and have the dog hold this for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat for each leg. To increase the challenge, lift one leg from the floor, and once the dog is stable, slowly lift the diagonal opposite leg, (example, right rear leg and front left leg). Hold the stance for 5 to 10 seconds. You can increase the challenge by having them standing on a dynamic surface such as an inflatable or on a large piece of foam matting. Be sure to keep the surface from shifting while your dog is standing and balancing.
Strengthening the limbs includes challenging both the large muscles as well as the smaller stabilizing muscles. Routinely performing range of motion exercises with your dog through all the joints of the legs, including the toes, will also alert you to any changes that may need attention.
Side Stepping: Guide your dog to step sideways:
Flat surface – side step in a heel position, or by guiding with a cookie or by using your body to guide. Add small poles such as agility jump poles, wrapping paper rolls or pool noodles for your dog to step over.
Raised surface – place your dog’s front feet or back feet onto a large rubber bowl, disc or a travel board, and guide them to step to one side and then the other.
Bows: Teach your dog to bow with their front end. Start on the floor, and to increase the challenge, progress to having the dog’s back feet on a surface a few inches in height. This is a great shoulder and front end exercise.
Sit to Stands: Position your dog in a corner and ask them to sit. Then ask them to break, stand, or get up (whichever command you normally use). Try to limit you dog from stepping forward while moving into the stand position. This will focus their effort on the hind end. Increase the challenge by having the dog stand with front feet up on a raised surface.
Range of Motion: Routinely take some time to move all of the joints of the limbs, from toes up to the body, through a full range of motion. Be sure to move each individual toe, bending and straightening each segment. A stiff or sore toe can create big problems either immediately or over time. If you notice any heat or reaction from your dog as you move any joint, compare it to the other side/limb and alert your rehab professional for further assessment.
Spinal mobility and strength are integral to your dog’s health and fitness throughout their lifetime. Plank exercises and swimming can strengthen both your dog’s spinal muscles and stabilizers. Try the following stretches and movement exercises to help facilitate mobility and detect any limitations or difficulties which may need to be addressed.
Cookie Stretches: Lure your dog with cookies for these three neck/upper spine exercises:
Head Turns – Stand over your dog and gently “anchor” them around the waist area with your legs. Lure them to bring their head back towards their hip on each side, and reward them with a treat. Go back to neutral, and then lure them again, this time moving their nose towards their knee on each side. Finally, lure their head toward the floor or their toes. Note any hesitancy or difficulty from one side to the other.
Head Up/Head Down – Lure your dog to raise his head upward toward the ceiling, and then bring the treat down towards their sternum, moving your hand under and through their front legs. Hold this position for a few seconds as the dog tries to get the treat from your hand.
Side-to-side Neck Movement – With your dog seated in front of you, move the cookie slightly toward the front of their shoulder on each side, to encourage them to turn and move the upper part of their spine/neck.
Figure 8 or Leg Weaving: Lure or guide your dog to move in a figure-8 pattern on the floor, or to weave between your legs. Repeat several times in each direction. This is a good exercise to incorporate as a pre-run warm-up.
Zipper: “Zip” down your dog’s spine before they run. Hold your thumb against the side of your index finger (like you would hold a key), and before your dog goes for a run (down the course, for a recall, etc.), gently “zip” your hand down along the spine. This can bring blood flow to the spinal muscles and can also alert you to any sore areas. This technique is especially good for adult and senior dogs.
This is the final article in the two-part series on canine fitness in the time of our hiatus from flyball. Thank you to all our contributors: Joy Adiletta, Keri Evers-McQuiggan, Lorraine Messier, April Pelletier and Lisa DosPassos for providing invaluable information about how to keep our dogs fit and ready to return to flyball.
Hopefully these two articles inspire you to enjoy some quality one-on-one time with your dog doing some fitness exercises. Although, like us, most dogs would love to be in the lanes right now, just being with us is what they crave most. Until we can all see each other in the lanes again, stay safe. Go flyball!
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!
Having a flyball dog is a lot like having a child on a
sports travel team: there are practices to attend, tournaments close to home
and farther away, and a whole lotta stuff you need to do (and have!) to be
I could write a dozen posts and still not exhaust the topic
of traveling with your flyball dog(s). With CanAm
2019 quickly approaching, I’ll limit this post to an overview—including helpful
links—to help keep your flyball adventures safe and happy.
Did someone say CanAm?
A couple notes before I go any further: if you’re not
already a member of the Dog Sport Vehicles
Ideas & Set-ups group on Facebook, I highly recommend joining. It is a
wealth of tremendously useful info from fellow competitors.
Also, I have no affiliation with any products/retailers I
mention or link to. Most of them I use or purchase from myself. The links are
just a starting point. Feel free to Google to find your best product or price.
For Your Dog
1. Take their vaccination records. In the event of an emergency, records will be tremendously helpful. Make sure you bring a copy of your dog’s Rabies Certificate (not just the record of the vaccination) with you. I keep copies for my dogs in my purse and have another copy in their travel pouch that goes with them whether they are traveling with me, or going to stay with friends.
2. What is a travel pouch, you ask? I keep zippered pencil cases for each dog with their rabies cert. Because they have grommets for putting in a 3-ring binder, they are easily attached to crates with a carabiner or zip tie. I can put emergency info cards, meds, and other items in there, too.
Another popular way to store all this is in a PVC Emergency Tube. You can make your own or buy them already made.
3. Speaking of emergencies, taking emergency cards or premade “LOST” posters is not overkill. Having info and photos prepped and ready to be shared can save precious time if your pet is loose in a strange place.
An example of an emergency card with space for info and photos printed front and back.
4. Make sure you have your dog’s tags. In addition to having ID on your dog away from home, you may be asked to provide proof of the dog being licensed.
5. Of course you’ll want to take your dogs’ food and any medications with you. I always pack meals for at least one additional day just in case.
6. I pack water for the dogs as well. It’s an extra precaution to help ensure no one gets the runs away from home!
If I’m going to be gone too long to take
enough water from home, I buy gallons of purified drinking water (not
spring water, not distilled water) from the supermarket. In a pinch, you can
usually find single-use bottled water that is purified and not spring water,
but I prefer not to use single-use bottles.
7. If you’re traveling out of the country, make sure you check the current requirements for taking dogs across the border, and for bringing them back again. These requirements can change, so it’s best to check well ahead of your trip, and then again shortly before you go. Also check if there are any restrictions on the food or medications you plan to take with you. For US info, click here. Traveling to Canada? Click here.
8. If you travel alone a lot (not including the dogs!) you might consider getting a Road ID or something similar. In the event of an accident, if you were unconscious and your phone went flying, it could provide first responders with critical information. My Road ID has my name and birth year, hometown and state, contact info for my sister and my landlords, contact info for a friend close by who could take charge of the dogs, and a note to PLS CHECK CAR FOR DOGS.
9. Hurray for technology that can tell us when and where to make the next turn! Navigation apps are great. Waze is one that allows you and your teammates to track each other’s progress. When I’m driving somewhere for the first time, I admit I take printed directions as a backup, just in case I run into areas where the GPS cuts out.
10. I always have a good flashlight with me for walking dogs in the dark.
schmark. Let’s go.
For Your Vehicle
11. The most important point to discuss about traveling with dogs is to keep your dog restrained/contained while traveling, both for the dog’s safety and yours! In most cases, dogs will have a much better chance of surviving an accident if they are not riding loose. Having them secured not only will prevent them from distracting you while you’re driving, it will prevent them from being thrown into you and possibly injuring both of you in case of an accident, being flung into the windshield, or being ejected from the car, which could result in them running into traffic in a panic. It will also make things easier for first responders if they don’t have to worry about your dogs.
My first “dogmobile” was a 2-door Pontiac GrandAm. My two dogs (40 lbs. and 63 lbs.) rode in the backseat in harnesses that were strapped to the seat belts. It wasn’t the best, but it was better than nothing.
The Dog Sport Vehicles
Ideas & Set-ups group has hundreds of photos and recommendations of
various types of crates and ways to arrange them in a multitude of vehicles,
from sedans to RVs. *Make sure to strap down your crates!
If you need convincing that your dog should
not ride loose, check
out this story (with a happy ending) about a dog that was ejected not only
from the vehicle after an accident, but off a bridge!
Snacks are actually the most important point to discuss about traveling.
12. I have a jump starter that has saved my bacon more than once. It’s incredibly easy to use and doesn’t require another vehicle. If you’ve ever drained your battery after leaving the lights on, you might want to take one with you.
13. If you’re traveling in warm weather, and especially if you’re working out of your vehicle, there are several things you can do to keep your dog comfortable:
Battery-powered fans. A lot of flyball people (including me) use Ryobi fans, but they certainly aren’t your only choice. Whatever you choose, make sure you get high-capacity batteries that will last the entire day.
Reflective/shade cloths. There’s a good explanation of the differences between reflective cloths and shade cloths here. Most of what you see at dog events is likely Aluminet from Clean Run or Solar Canopy from Pet Edge. If you cover your vehicle before the day heats up with either of these, it can make a remarkable difference in the interior temp.
This ingenious invention allows you to leave your door(s) open for ventilation,
but still have your vehicle securely locked.
14. Road tripping in cold weather? Cover your dogs’ crates with thick blankets (I use old wool blankets) to keep their body heat in and, if they need extra insulation, get them a good dog coat.
If you travel with dogs, chances are you’ve stayed in a hotel with them at least a few times. If you’ve always crashed with friends or taken your RV – lucky you! You can skip this part. 😊
15. Inspect the room before letting your dogs loose in it. There are countless stories of competitors finding unsavory—and sometimes dangerous—items left behind by previous occupants, particularly under beds.
16. Don’t leave your dog(s) loose in a hotel room if you’re not there! This is usually prohibited by hotels anyway, but these days most hotels have lever door handles that are easily opened from inside the room, even if you lock the door when you leave. Click here to read one harrowing story of a dog lost for nearly two months after letting itself out of a room. If you must leave your dog, make sure they are securely crated. And if they are going to bark when you leave/while you’re gone, definitely don’t leave them!
17. Be a considerate guest. Take sheets to cover the beds and other furniture if your dogs will be getting up on them at all, and plenty of “dog” towels from home to dry off wet dogs or clean up after them. In addition to picking up after your dogs, don’t let them pee on buildings, flowers, decorative plantings, trash cans, other guests’ cars . . . you get the idea.
Do you mind? I’m watching my show!
18. Leave a good tip for the housekeeper.
I miss your favorite travel tip or product? Feel free to comment below, we’d
love to hear about it!