• Frankie Aston

Don't you just love how our dogs teach us so much? If you're anything like me, I find absolute delight in how dogs continually adapt and mould us to their needs. In a household where I have 4 highly active dogs in different life stages, the one thing I aim for is consistency. When it comes to their activity, I cannot compromise on consistency with warming up and stretching.

I have the opportunity to observe dogs in training and competition environments often, and have noticed a few quirks dogs have when starting a training session. The most entertaining one I've seen is the dogs that like to do a big back rub just before going out to do jumps and tunnels, or prior to an agility run. This often involves the dog lying prostrate on the ground, wriggling it's back to and fro, with a bunch of humans watching and laughing. While it's sports specific to Agility in most cases, this tells me that perhaps these dogs are pretty smart. In my understanding of dog behaviour, I believe they've figured out they're not quite warmed up enough to fully perform the twisting strength movements they're about to do - so they've taken their own method to get their spines warm enough. Clever!

Even at club training, or going out for cardio walks, warming up and stretching are the most important part of your dog's fitness program. There is a lot of human research into the effectiveness of warm up and stretching on performance, and many point to the results that low load gluteal muscle exercises enhance performance (Crow, J., 2012). Further studies support the fact that both active and passive stretching of warm muscle, tendon and ligament structures enhances recovery and builds to prevent injury. When I first added warm ups and stretching to my dog's training programs, I noticed an immediate difference to our sprint times. While learning handling and drilling skills added a lot, this additional layer of preparedness meant that my Papillon, Jaxon and I could be highly competitive against a field of Cocker Spaniels, Cavaliers and Shelties.

Engines on old 20th century cars had a "Choke button", which you had to pull out when the car started to ensure that the engine warmed up before driving. That was particularly true of racing cars of the era. Our dogs are the same - they need to warm up their muscles, tendons and ligaments before they're able to perform better, no matter the activity.

If you don't already have a good routine in place, I recommend getting one going. I've done the hard work for you! In the DogFit Conditioning & Performance Academy, you will find a free warm up and stretching guide to use as your foundation.

Know how to warm up your dog for your specific sport. My Monday Night Chats - Warm-ups Live is also available in the Academy or on the AgilityFit Facebook Page if you want to know more.

Learn more with the DogFit 30 Day Challenge or DogFit Foundations courses available on demand in the Academy.

Crow, Justin F; Buttifant, David; Kearny, Simon G;  Low load exercises targeting the gluteal muscle group acutely enhance explosive power output in elite athletes; Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(2):438-442, February 2012.

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When I first started out with canine fitness, I had nothing more than a balance board and that was it. I didn't know it at the time, but I didn't even need that to get started. Getting my first agility dog - Jaxon - fit  was a great learning experience. No doubt, it's an experience that most agility handlers will have as you progress with your love of this sport. No matter your dog sport, you can probably relate to my journey.

  About 6 months into our Agility career,  Jaxon 'decided' that he really wasn't interested in Agility anymore. I couldn't understand why a puppy who had loved going to training & playing on the equipment now had no interest whatsoever. At every occasion, he decided running off or sniffing would be a better option. I felt pretty sad for him, and guilty that I was trying to get him to do things he didn't want to do.  I wondered if he truly liked Agility at all.

  Jaxon's behaviour receded to a point where he wouldn't jump at all. It was then I finally I clicked something was wrong.

  A thorough check-over & watch-out for other symptoms turned up no nasty ticks or illnesses. My vet did find Jaxon was sore in the thoracic-lumbar area. She referred me to the Animal Referral Hospital in Sydney, and I was introduced to Dr. Helen Nicholson - a very talented animal (and human) physio who worked there at the time.

  It turned out that I learned so much that I already knew about human fitness, but never thought to apply for Jaxon. Thanks to Helen's expertise, I discovered Jaxon had weak "core" muscles, so every time he did agility, it was hurting him. In particular weaves, a-frame and jumping. Poor baby.

  I had great tools and a brilliant plan to build up Jaxon's "core" muscles through strength, balance, special stretch and movement exercises. Thanks to this foundation (with no initial equipment!) I got Jaxon fit and happy for Agility and have continued to learn and grow those skills.

  From that inspiration and passion for fitness in my own dog, I have now become an expert myself, following my passion to help other dogs be as fit as possible for their active lives and chosen sports. Building fitness from injury recovery and in prevention to injury has taught me so much, and I am so grateful to bring my skills and expertise to help you on your journey.

It can be hard to know exactly where you and your dog should start. I have put together a range of programs and classes targeted across the range of needs for active and sports dogs. Message or e-mail me today to see how I can help you and your dog reach your fitness and conditioning goals.

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