Instructor: Lori Stevens
Short on time for fitness training? No worries, you only need five minutes!
In this class, you will learn specific fitness exercises for your dog(s). We will cover exercises to increase muscle strength as well as improve performance, confidence, flexibility, focus, body awareness, balance and much more. You’ll learn how to create a fitness program for your dog and we will focus on proper alignment while doing the exercises. You will also learn how to use fitness equipment and how to take advantage of opportunities outdoors for strengthening, e.g. rocks, logs, stumps, stairs, park benches, and hills.
We will focus on how to do canine fitness safely and effectively. And you’ll learn just how little time you need to set aside to strengthen your dog and maintain that strength. A five-minute fitness workout is plenty for most dogs and adds enrichment to your dog’s life.
‘Fitness in Five’ is for anyone involved in canine sports, including agility, obedience, barn hunt, freestyle, conformation, lure coursing, flyball, SAR, and more. My sport is canine fitness so I include myself in this program. But you certainly don’t have to be involved in a sport to participate in this course. Dogs who are not involved in a sport need fitness for their general health and well-being. And if you are spending a lot of time training and competing in your sport, this will be a nice addition for “off days” that could very well improve your dog’s performance.
This is an introductory course, meaning no prior experience with any of the topics covered is needed. For gold-level participants, I will provide feedback on your training and advise you on your dog’s alignment. I’ll give you tips and support for how and when to progress the exercises as well as how to be more successful with all of the exercises and concepts presented in this course. We will find joy in fitness!
Cassie on Paw Pods
Next session starts: February 1, 2018Registration starts: January 22, 2018Registration ends: February 15, 2018
Registration will begin at 10:30 AM Pacific Time.
For answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Enrollment limits: Gold: 10 students, Silver: 15 students, Bronze: unlimited.
Silver level for this class is offered as "Working Silver". In addition to asking GENERAL clarification questions about the class lecture materials, silver students will now have the opportunity to submit two short videos, one minute each, for critique and review. You may submit two questions. Each question MUST have a one minute video attached so the instructor can actually answer a question that they can see. The question must relate to a topic in the class and the video must be a demo of the question. Please see the discussion forum for a detailed explanation - feel free to sign up at bronze, read the explanation, and then come back here to upgrade to silver if that interests you, and if space is available.
If you are interested in a bronze level subscription, you can sign up at any time during the registration period.
Getting Fitness Behaviors
Fitness Foundation Behaviors
Fitness Exercises for Week 1
Benefits of Fitness Exercises
Balance On The Ground
Fitness Exercises for Week 2
Fitness exercises for Week 3
Fitness and Movement
Fitness Exercises for Week 4
Harnesses and Safety
Fitness Exercises for Week 5
Take it Outside
Fitness Exercises for Week 6
Pre-requisites and Supplies
- An understanding of how to teach specific behaviors to your dog. Good marker-based training using positive reinforcement will be very useful. I will happily give pointers and suggestions to gold and working silver students who need help with teaching specific behaviors that I cover in this class.
- Understanding the basics with respect to the science of behavior will help, e.g. I may use terminology such as counter-conditioning, operant learning, and/or desensitization when looking at videos that I’ll only cover briefly and as needed
- Good observation skills will help, though I will be very active with feedback
- Poles and cones (cavalettis) will be useful. See note 1 below on how to make or buy.
- Platform: (ideally 2-3” high to start). See note 2 below on how to make or buy.
- Two FitBones or one FitBone and a 14” balance disc will be useful to have. See note 3 for where to purchase. I prefer two FitBones, if given the option.
- Paw Pods will be useful but not a requirement.
If your dog is on the aging side of life, you might want to get a Balance Pad.
I will cover Peanuts a bit since i know so many people have them.
I will likely include a Klimb and a Rocker Board for certain behaviors or in some videos. You certainly don’t have to have either of these.
Note 1: If you don’t want to purchase a set of cavalettis, you can make them with mop and broom handles or agility-jump-poles and painters-tape. Rest them on top of cans at various heights (tuna cans are the lowest height and big cans of tomato sauce are the highest).
You can purchase a set from https://fitpawsusa.com/product/caninegym-agility-kit/ and get a 15% discount using code: “16A-AMBLS”. These are great for smaller areas.
Note 2: You can wrap a 2-3” high book in duct tape and then surround it with anti-slip material. Or you can use a human aerobics step (got mine at Amazon), a Klimb (4.5 inches high), or a platform you build (search online for ideas). Or you can purchase a platform via http://platformsplus.org/index.html You’ll eventually go up in height, depending on the dog.
Note 3: You can purchase FitBones, Paw Pods, and a 14” Balance Disc from fitpawsusa.com and get a 15% discount using code: “16A-AMBLS” or look on Amazon. I found a great deal on a balance pad, intended for humans, via Amazon--so couldn’t resist getting a third one. Balance pads are great, especially for older dogs (and people :) The FitBone is the most challenging of these pieces but is also the most versatile.
This class is for dogs of all ages. “Senior” dogs will benefit from taking ‘Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs’ first and then taking this course to continue with a fitness program.
Note also that puppies and young dogs should not do repetitive strength training until their growth plates are fully closed. But they can learn most of the fitness behaviors and experience the equipment. Handlers will need to keep sessions very short and when we are doing multiple repetitions, puppies and young dogs will do one or two repetitions. The Silver and Bronze levels are most appropriate for young dogs and puppies. The experience is a lovely way to start out familiarity with fitness for the dog's life.
If your dog is recovering from an injury you’ll need to work with your canine rehabilitation professional first. I’m a canine fitness trainer, so I will assume your dog is healthy enough to work on these exercises and that your veterinarian has given you the okay to do exercises for strengthening.
We will not be physically placing dogs on equipment or in position. We will be facilitating, encouraging, and reinforcing good choices.
Benefits of Fitness Exercises (Lecture excerpt from Week 2)
Now that we have started to train some foundation behaviors, let’s consider what exercise can do for your dog. There are so many benefits to fitness exercises. I will list them here and we can discuss these in the forum.
Exercise does all of the following:
- Strengthens muscles, including core muscles
- Builds better joint support through stronger muscles
- Improves flexibility
- Improves alignment and posture
- Improves balance and stability
- Helps prevent injury and disease
- Allows dogs to age without weak hind-ends and loss of proprioception
- Helps with weight reduction (lean dogs live an average of two years longer)
- Improves confidence and behavior
- Encourages thinking and problem solving
- Improves endurance
- Improves body awareness & focus
- Improves gait and movement
- Improves performance in sports
There is a set of foundation exercises that benefit all dogs. Fluency in these foundation behaviors sets our dogs up for success. The fitness exercises come more naturally with a strong foundation to build on. In addition, we are more likely to see good alignment as we advance in any fitness exercises if we start with a good foundation. My view is that our dogs always benefit from working on the foundation behaviors. I continue to work on them with my own dog and my client’s dogs even as they advance in the fitness exercises. We are always building on a strong foundation.
I’ll discuss these benefits in more detail throughout the course.
The Planes of Movement and Anatomical Terminology
Movement happens in three anatomic planes for quadrupeds. The three anatomic planes are Sagittal/Median, Transverse, and Frontal.
- The Sagittal (or Median) plane passes through the body front to back, so dividing it into left and right. Movements in this plane are the up and down movements of flexion and extension, e.g. elbow flexion.
- The Dorsal (or Frontal) plane divides the body into front and back. Movements in this plane are sideways movements, called abduction and adduction plus lateral flexion, eversion and inversion.
- The Transverse (or Horizontal) plane divides the body into top and bottom. Movements in this plane are rotational in nature, such as internal and external rotation and rotation to the left or right, e.g. rotating the spine.
Most joints allow for movement in more than one plane. Dogs have limited movement in both the transverse and dorsal planes. Healthy dogs and active dogs can move in all three planes. Movement can occur in any or a combination of the three planes.
Movements in all of the planes require joints in the body to move rotate, glide, or hinge (open or close). A subset of simple movement of the joints can be described as:
- Flexion closes the angle of the two bones involved. The two bones on either side of the joint are moving closer together.
- Extension increases or widens the angle of the two bones surrounding the joint. The bones are moving further apart.
- Abduction happens when the distal part of the limb is moving further away from the midline of the body.
- Adduction is when the distal part of the limb is moving closer to the midline of the body.
- Rotation is where the cranial aspect of the limb is rotating towards the midline of the body, i.e. internal rotation, or away from the midline of the body, i.e. external rotation.
More anatomical terminology I am likely to use are:
- Cranial is towards the head
- Caudal is towards the tail
- Lateral is away from the midline of the body
- Medial is toward the midline of the body
- Distal is away from the center of the body or attachment point
- Proximal is closer to the center of the body or attachment point
- Dorsal is relating to the upper side or back of the body
- Ventral is referring to the lower or underside of the body
Planks (A fitness exercise from Week 3)
Planks are great isometric exercises that build core and stabilization muscles. The focus is stabilization of the trunk. The legs remain stationary. A plank is a closed chain exercise. Closed chain exercises are exercises or movements where the paws (at least two front or two back paws) are fixed to an object that is stationary, i.e. the ground or a piece of equipment. Open chain exercises are exercises or movements where the distal aspect of the limbs, in this case the paws, are free to move in space. So cavaletti work is an open chain exercise, as is walking.
- A non-slip surface for your dog to work on.
- A treat bag or big pockets containing plenty of soft and small treats.
- A clicker if you are using one.
- A low distraction environment for your dog to learn in.
- Two pieces of equipment, initially stable, e.g. two platforms. Later you will change this to: one piece of stable equipment and one piece unstable, e.g. a platform and a small balance disc; or two pieces of unstable equipment, e.g. two FitBones or two balance discs.
- The two pieces of equipment should be close to the same height.
There are many variations of plank exercises that progress in difficulty.
Start plank exercises by using two pieces of stable equipment, e.g., two platforms. Place the platforms just far enough apart that the dog can be in an aligned standing position, i.e. the dog’s feet are under the shoulders and hips. With two platforms set up, I prompt the dog to put front feet on one platform and back feet on the other.
Mark when all four feet are on the two platforms. Reinforce off the platforms so you can move the platforms a bit further apart. Continue this until the dog is in a nice elongated plank position (see photo below).
Progressing for more of a challenge. Once your dog is comfortable you can start using unstable equipment. Now you will use either one stable (platform) piece of equipment and one unstable piece (FitBone) or two unstable pieces, e.g., two FitBones.
I start with the FitBones relatively close together and ask the dog to put front paws on one FitBone and back paws on the other. After some number of seconds, I reinforce off the FitBones in order to move them further apart. You can also use two discs or two peanuts. Whatever equipment you are using for your planks, you need to make sure that it is stable enough that the dog won’t get hurt. The items should not be on a slippery floor or able to slide out from under the dog. The dog needs to be strong enough to stand for some number of seconds with two paws on each piece of equipment. The two pieces of equipment do not have to be the exact same height but you wouldn’t want a big disparity, such as with a small balance disc and a peanut. A FitBone and Paw Pods or a small balance disc would be fine though.
Look for the hind legs to be further back than directly under the hips. The back and neck should be neutral.
Repetitions and Sets
Planks are an exercise where I look for duration and add small challenges over time. I will often do three sets of planks on unstable surfaces. Start with 15 seconds and work up to 30-second holds. Once your dog has mastered 30 seconds, you can start asking for nose-to-hand targeting to each side, while in plank, to shift weight and add difficulty.
Video and Photos
Photo courtesy of Sandra Tung (Photo by Leslie Eide)
Photo courtesy of Sandra Tung
Photo of Koji and courtesy of Sandra Tung
Video of Cassie doing an advanced plank exercise: