I had a question last week about what I do to keep my dogs in shape for competition. First of all, it is great that people are thinking about their dog’s fitness level. It doesn’t matter if you are a serious agility competitor or a weekend warrior, it is only fair to your dog to make sure he is in good shape for the activity level any agility demands of him.
When I lived in the city I used to have a routine with my then three dogs; my two Jack Russell Terriers Shelby and Twister and my Border Collie Stoni. I went to the park four days a week and stood on the top of a hill. I would have 2 of the dogs lay down while I would throw an aerobie for the other one.
Each dog would get 3 throws at the beginning of the “season” and 5 throws at the end of it (by “the season” I mean when the snow thawed until it came around again). Twister was the exception, I just couldn’t wear here out. She would get 5 throws in the spring and 10 in the fall of the year. I would do 3 rotations of this so that meant that each dog got 9-30 retrieves per session up and down the hill.
One at a time, each dog would run down and race back up to me with the aerobie. The little Jacks (Shelby at 9″ and Twister at 11″ tall) would flip the big aerobie over their shoulders in their mouths as to not trip on it. I sure wish I had a picture of that. The aerobie was perfect for this kind of fitness game because I could throw it about 100 yards (if that seems like a lot you should know the world record is over 400 yards). The ring would hover or float down to the ground so my dogs could get under it without jumping up for it, scrambling, losing their shoulder or braking from their rear as dogs often do when you throw a bouncing tennis ball. The drawback is that you can’t use this toy if your dog has a hard mouth as it affects it’s flight if they bite too hard. Doing this up and down the hill added even more of a workout for the dogs.
I am generally not a big fan of retrieve games where the dog dive bombs the ground to pick up their toy (like hitting or lauching a tennis ball for them). I just think that is way too much pounding on the front end and neck. When I used to do this my dogs ended up with the bottom jaw packed in dirt. I can’t imagine the impact on their head & necks when doing that. Plus the dog is often braking with their rear which puts stress on the pelvis (and puts many dogs out of adjustment). That potentially is the least of your worries, as I have seen some pretty horrific spills watching dogs at the park tear after the tennis ball.
The aerobie eliminated this as the disc floats to the ground so the dog was either waiting on it or running under it before it landed.
Should you choose to do retrieve games, be certain you watch that your dog’s responses. You do not want to be creating behaviours that will be incompatible to your agility training. For example; flanking, stalking you or the ball, flicking away before you throw and turning wide after the pick up. Try to get your dog at your side before you throw and ideally have him hold a sit until you release him to chase the ball.
If you have an issue with your dog knocking bars I don’t think I would play games where the dog just drives out on their front end and dive bombs a ball on the ground. A lot of bar knocking comes from dogs pulling with their front end and not using their back end properly. In my opinion, ball retrieve is just rehearsing the skills you want the dog to avoid in the ring and that just doesn’t make sense!
*Note: this is a dog we borrowed to do this video clip. I think the impact is much worst when the dog is used to being exercised this way.
When I do retrieves with my guys (which I don’t do many at any great distance) I mix it up. Sometimes the dog must hold a sit, sometimes she must sit before she gets near the pick up the toy and always she must turn tight upon pick up and run back hard in my direction.
Working retrieves that way I am building control into the game, plus making the dog rock back to their rear prior to the pick up and at the same time I am helping to preserve the dog’s body by not allowing him to dive recklessly at the toy. In addition I am building upon responses that will help me in agility (use your rear, turn tight and drive fast back to me). I will try to video this for my next update.
Next time I will post some of the things I do routinely with my own dogs today to keep them in good shape for sports. Meanwhile, let me hear from you guys.
What do you like to do to keep your dog from getting flabby?
Today I am grateful to all of the awesome people I taught in Colorado last week. Tons of enthusiasm, great questions and I just won’t go into the dirty dancing . . . oh my, PWD owners do . . . get jiggy with it!