Conditioning & Fitness

Canine Agility

A dog needs strong muscles for physical health and injury prevention. A strong musculature helps stabilise and protect the joints, bones and spine. Conditioning and fitness training is a workout for your dog that enlists exercises to improve muscle mass and strength; as well as build your dog's fitness level, flexibility and body awareness. Conditioning and fitness programmes focus on the maintenance, restoration and promotion of optimal physical function of a dog's body throughout it's life.

 

Conditioning and fitness exercises are specialised exercises customised to your pets individual physical needs and capabilities. The exercises will depend on the age, capabilities, structure, fitness level and health status of your dog. All dogs, regardless of age and health status benefit from conditioning exercises.

 

Although conditioning exercises are more focused on building strength, fitness and endurance in performance dogs that participate in dog sports programmes, it is also a valuable tool for helping older dogs and puppies build strong muscles and core strength, improve posture and balance, and increase their range of motion. It may also be used as part of a physical therapy programme (with veterinary approval) when a dog is recovering from injury or illness that has resulted in muscle atrophy and/or changes in gait.

Correct conditioning assists the body through enhanced circulation to the muscles which helps prevent muscles prematurely fatiguing, increasing power or endurance to targeted muscle groups, improving muscular balance and most importantly reducing the risk of injury.

At Suppawtive Health Solutions we combine conditioning and fitness training with hands-on bodywork treatments, e.g. Bowen therapy or massage to provide an encompassing, detailed physical treatment that is concerned with the prevention, management and treatment of movement and associated disorders. Programmes that involve hands-on therapy, along with dynamic exercises and strengthening techniques is an evolving therapy for pets that provides a holistic approach to physical health and healing.

Why does a performance dog need conditioning?

It is important to condition performance dogs as they perform very demanding activities, more intense than pet dogs usually do. These activities put strain and stress on the body and mind. Some breeds are specifically bred to perform particular activities, in Australia, the Cattle Dog and Kelpie are commonly bred to work on farms which have very demanding (hot and arid) environmental conditions. These breeds have stamina and endurance required for travelling long distances on a daily basis so need to be fit to meet the demands on their bodies and their metabolic needs. The goal of muscle conditioning is to prepare the dog’s body for what is being asked of it by promoting physiological changes in the body that will maximize performance, maintain soundness and develop neuromuscular coordination and mental discipline.

 

When it comes to performance sports, the demands on the body and mind are also great. Again, particular breeds are favoured for participation in specific sports, shorter fast dogs are popular in flyball (from my days in flyball) as the height of the shortest dog in the team determines the height of the jumps. Each sport places different stresses and demands on the body, with some resulting in more repetitive use of muscles than others, for example, flyball versus agility. As with human athletes, different disciplines in canine performance have distinct areas of repetitive stress or potential injury. As the level of performance increases, the stress and demands on the dog’s body also increase.

Every aspect of the dog’s body must be in peak performance to be successful in canine sports and prevent injury. This means that each body system must work efficiently alone as well as in junction with the other body systems. In other words, the body is only as strong as its weakest link, if any one system (link) is weak, performance will suffer. Conditioning helps to maximize each system including the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, nervous system etc. so the body has the nutrients, oxygen, and drive to participate. 

The four components of a complete conditioning program include exercises to improve:

  1. Strength – these exercises are used to gradually develop the strength and size of skeletal muscles and consist of resistance exercises that gradually and progressively increases the work done by the musculoskeletal system so that it gets stronger. Examples of strength building exercises are backing up stairs, crawling, stand/down/stand etc.

  2. Endurance – exercises that involve training the aerobic metabolic pathways for energy production, cardiovascular and respiratory capacity. The benefits of long term endurance training is that it decreases heart rate, improves oxygen consumption, strengthens the connections between neurons with enhanced firing frequency, spinal reflexes and improvements in learning and memory.

  3. Skills - training consists of specific training that teaches the dog to successfully compete in performance events, for example flyball or agility.

  4. Proprioception/balance – proprioception is an innate ability to sense the spatial orientation of various parts of the body and make movement adjustments accordingly. For example, if you hold your arm above your head, your arm is out of your eyesight but you know exactly where it is in relation to your body and space. There are specific nerve receptors for this form of perception called proprioceptors. Messages from these receptors are sent up the spinal cord to the brain, which allow the dog to make coordinated movements such as landing from a jump in agility or grasping an object in its jaw in flyball. The requirement for spatial awareness and proprioception is not just for stability but also general responsiveness to the surroundings. With practise and appropriate exercises dogs can improve their proprioceptive abilities which can enhance neuromuscular control and functional joint stability, thus decreasing the risk of injury.

 

The exercises in the conditioning program will depend on the age, structure, fitness level, energy level, medical conditions, health, and what events the dog will be participating.

What is proprioception and why is it important?

 

Proprioception is the ability to sense the spatial orientation of where the body is and to adjust movements accordingly. This includes the orientation and movement of the head, arms, legs and feet. Proprioceptive awareness is thought to be provided by information from the sensory neurons located in the inner ear and specific nerve receptors called proprioceptors found in striated muscle, joint supporting ligaments, tendons and fibrous capsules in joints.

 

The brain receives input/messages from these receptors up the spinal cord and from the vestibular system in the inner ear. The brain reads and interprets the messages allowing the dog to make coordinated movements such as landing from a jump or running up the A-frame without falling off. Spatial awareness is innate but sensory neurons can be trained. The connections can be developed and strengthened, and more synapses created improving proprioceptive abilities through exercises which work the body through different planes of movement. This helps to develop muscular stability through the stimulation of appropriate muscle patterning, neural stimulation and proprioceptive awareness of skeletal muscles, especially those involved in postural stability.

 

Spatial awareness and heightened proprioception are important survival tools and enables a dog to feel secure within its body. Proprioceptive and balance conditioning also helps prevent injuries and reduces stress when focusing on complex tasks for extended periods of time, especially during canine sports.

When can a formal conditioning program begin for a dog and why?

A formal conditioning program can begin for a dog once its finished growing and developing, when growth plates have closed. This is because young, growing dogs undergo significant physical changes, especially during the first 12-18 months of life. Young dogs have different capabilities for exercise and marked differences in coordination, strength and stamina to adult dogs. Puppies also have lower anaerobic capabilities and are less metabolically efficient, being less efficient at self-temperature control (thermoregulation). A puppy’s cardiovascular system is also undeveloped and not capable of achieving the benefits of endurance training.

 

This doesn’t mean that puppies should not exercise though but the exercises need to be designed for puppies. It is important to avoid intense and concussive training until the growth plates have closed. The growth plates of different bones close at different ages. Also, the larger the breed of dog, the later the growth plates close. Any exercise that may damage the growth plates in a puppy should be avoided until 14 months of age for up to a large breed. This increases to at least 24 months for a giant breed puppy. There is also evidence that growth plates close later for dogs spayed or neutered prior to puberty. Strenuous exercises like full-height jumping should be restricted. An injury to a growing dog can be more severe than the same injury in an adult dog. Activities that require many repetitions can also be problematic such as weaving. In addition, injuries might result from a puppy’s lack of coordination and undeveloped musculature.

 

We offer conditioning and fitness exercise training:

  • During a bodywork treatment

  • Individual conditioning and fitness classes

Contact us for more information or to book an appointment.

Image by Andrea Lightfoot
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