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Fido Fitness

Posted on 08/24/09 29 Comments

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 DSC_0137games where the dog dive bombs the ground to pick up their toy (like hitting or launching 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!

Way entertaining!


  1. Maureen Doyle says:
    Monday, January 25, 2010 at 12:25am

    I have a 4 month old Border Collie pup, full of energy and ready to go all the time. My plan is to take him running with me when he is old enough.
    I run 5km to 10km 5 times a week and one day of 10km to 20km depending on what race I am training for. I am not sure at this point if he will come with me every day but definitely not on my longer run.
    Its hard to judge how much is too much exercise for him even right now because he will go and go and go I am not taking him running what so ever now but we go to the park everyday for about 20min and throw ball and another walk every evening for about 20/30min, is this too much ?
    I have asked vet about when I can start him running and she said one year, but I know in the British Isles they start working the dogs before that.
    Any comments opinions ???


  2. Michele says:
    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 12:56pm

    I have a hill in my backyard and I like to throw the ball up the hill. But I know what you mean about the stop and dive to get the ball on the ground. As my dogs have tremendous drives to get the ball, I usually throw it while they are on a “down” and watch it land, then I send them. They rocket out and because dogs always mark a little short they must slow down and start searching for the ball. This way they are not diving and breaking like the maniacs they are.


  3. Elise says:
    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 8:47am

    I 100% agree that aerobic exercise as well as strength training is super important for dogs. My Malinois get a lot of free running, fetching, eggball work and swimming when it’s not frozen out. My ACD who has elbow dysplasia gets free running, swimming (I bought a 3′ tall pool for the basement) and eggball work.

    But what about the phycho jumpers (like both my Malinois) who will jump 6-8′ high for a disc or flying object? Options are (1) hold the dog back so they are wayyyy behind and then the same facial smash will occur as a ball, but usually its worse since the disc is flat to the ground or (2) they jump to get it or (3) you happen to time your throw with your dog and the wind cooperates perfectly and the dog catches just right (obviously ideal but not something that happens a lot).



  4. Sue Zgol says:
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 11:35pm

    Susan, PWD owner-husband Mike, says he requests a ‘pole’ at your next seminar here in Colorado!! LOL

    Thanks so much, seminar, you, were awesome. PWD is now weaving straightline 6 weaves poles, multiple locations and we quickly shaped that ‘back up’ I desired so much.


  5. Dorothy Jones says:
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 4:31pm

    Hi there,
    I exercise my border collie at the park with a sort of sheep handling style. She will run the whole perimeter of the soccer park clockwise or anti clockwise and be running towards me to retrieve the ball. This way I hope to avoid the hard stop on the front legs and the sharp turn on the hips and back. She only needs about 3 runs to be well exercised for the day. I alternate directional commands and will put in some lie downs or waits every now and then. I love being able to watch her run perpendicularly to me and not just away and towards me, and she has learned to stop the ball with her chest and catch it without crashing her muzzle into the ground, and she is already slowing down by the time I throw it and she then brings it strait to me.


  6. Linda G. says:
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 4:22pm

    This chasing and pounding the ball with the front feet was the typical pattern of my Lab when he would retrieve anything. Probably explains a lot of the physical problems he has had, in addition to lack of knowledge on my part in the proper way to condition a dog for agility.

    He was my first agility dog, and has paid the price for everything I have learned (the hard way). He is now retired from agility, but the time we did have on the course was awesome.

    Thank you, Susan, for all you do to educate the newbies coming into the sport, and to enhance the performance of those not-so-new competitors.


  7. Lisa says:
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 3:51pm

    I have two collie roughs, one that has the skill of a ballet dancer when it comes to timing his pick up for the ball and the other has the skill of a rugby player in diving on the ball.
    So much so that we are now getting them to run together, no ball, and then I have a game where we play ‘catch it’ and then put the ball back in my hands.
    It is not ideal but I haven’t felt happy watching my high speed lunatic crash onto the ball.
    Luckily, they love to run together at the park and have a huski friend who plays ‘sheep’ to their ‘sheep dog’ – lots of fun to watch and they are great mates.


  8. Pat Steer (Gaelen) says:
    Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 3:08pm

    Susan, I think this is an outstanding focus point for people who train their dogs in performance, whether they show every week or once a year. When my dogs were city dogs, we did the stairs at a local park — now, in the suburbs, they work the hill on the soccer fields amphitheatre in the park next door.

    I’d like to link it to a post I’m working on — how those of us on the other end of the leash stay in shape to run our dogs (tentatively titled ‘How to run agility without a knee brace, ankle wrap or splints!)


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 3:16pm

      Hey the article sounds great, go ahead and link it, can’t wait to see it!


  9. Trudie says:
    Monday, August 31, 2009 at 11:42am

    Thanks very much for this enlightening post.


  10. Michele A says:
    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 3:45pm

    Wow am I glad I read this, I have been playing retrieve with my 4 month old Border Terrier puppy….I am not going to do that any longer, I can’t believe the torque the dogs do put on there bodies when they fetch a ball off the ground….I will have to resort to finding something else that keeps him exercised without hurting him.


  11. Fiona says:
    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 9:00pm

    I bought a treadmill for my dogs a couple of years ago, and have my bike on a windtrainer beside it – good for both of us to exercise in bad weather. I have hip issues at present, and am relying on the treadmill to retain basic fitness with my dogs. I normally walk them running free daily, but find that my younger dogs self exercise a lot more – once they get to 5 or so, they cruise around more unless they flush a rabbit. I get up at 5am to do this on work days, and then generally do a bit of training at night – sometimes flatwork, sometimes jump grids, weaves etc mixing it up from day to day. I also have been doing more work on balance cushions over the last 6 months, and my dogs are a lot stronger from doing that


  12. Val says:
    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 2:49pm

    I try to take my dogs out for a walk 3-5x/week. The other days we train agility :). Our walks are about 2.5 miles with the dogs on harnesses. The 2 little ones can pull pretty hard on them which I consider to be a muscle building activity. Since they only weigh 14 lbs a piece, it’s not too much for me to handle. The bigger dog (40lbs, does not pull). Actually she’s a bit of a boat anchor sometimes, but she’s 11 and blind, so I have to cut her some slack. A couple of days a week, I leave the boat anchor at home so we can jog.

    We also do core exercises on the ball 3 days/week. All 4 of us! I watch tv while we’re doing the exercises. It helps pass the time. Each dog does about 12-15 minutes on the ball, then I do my exercises. That fills up a 1 hr program.

    I’m trying to work in some other muscle building activities during the week, but I haven’t quite got a routine down for that.


  13. Lynnda L says:
    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 1:39am

    So exactly which aerobie item are you using with your dogs? The large ring (13″)? The small ring (10″)? The Dogbi? The Squidgie Disc? The boomerang?
    The rings are not made for dogs, are they? Soooo many choices….


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 12:42pm

      I use both the big and small circle aerobie with my dogs.


  14. Sally says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 8:56pm

    Thanks for this post – guilty of using the ball way to much to exercise my 16 month old youngster as she gets very little dog play as my older girl just won’t play with her on a regular basis.

    Having said that my ball play has always been strictly regulated for the most part. She will get restrained retrieves, mixed in with circling me (so I will do a 360 with her and throw the ball when she is racing off in the correct direction) or being sent around objects – trees/traffic cones/goal posts at ovals. I have also never encouraged wide pick ups. She has nice tight pick ups and races back to me.

    I was taking both of them to the dog pool at least once a week but thats on hold as wet dogs take forever to dry in winter.

    We do try and go on a bush track for a long walk a few times a week as well but over winter I have become a bit lazy and find it easier to go to the park with the ball thrower for half an hour in between the rain breaks.


  15. Sarah says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 4:22pm

    I am going to go get my dogs an aerobie! So far we do lots of hiking and swimming in the summer, and in the winter I let them romp through the chest-deep snow and work on proprioception and balance tricks indoors. When we do play fetch games they are always very structured wth impulse control and handling exercises. Thanks so much for visiting the “secluded mountain folk,” I’m now saving up for Skills Camp in Canada…


  16. Lynda Orton-Hill says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 1:55pm

    Kathryn… half the entertainment is…to buy the round one with the thin edge as Susan said it flys a long way and then floats down and the dogs catch it while its floating – mine both flip it over their heads and bring it back with their heads through it like a picture frame – it makes me laugh everytime my sheltie comes back with it like that!


    • Shelley says:
      Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 2:15pm

      I just bought one for Zach (never heard of them before the webinar! ) but I got 13inch and I think it’s a little big – but Zach has done what your guys have and flips it over his head and onto his shoulders and brings it back that way! Going to have to teach him to pick up GENTLY though as we have a bent disk from over enthusiasm! Great fun though! Only frisbee I’ve been able to actually throw too! Thanks for the recommendation Susan!


  17. Ami says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 1:49pm

    Great post! In the summer, when ticks are bad, my guys go for a 40 minute walk around my neighborhood every morning. This is not just a casual stroll around the ‘hood….. we are on a mission! Power walking! We also swim in a nearby lake, and that is their favorite! After the first frost, I love to take my crew out hiking. I normally do a nice hour-long hike with lots of hills and tall prairie grass so they can bound around! Plus, I get a great workout climbing hills, despite gasping for air! I have a nice hill by the house, and I put the dogs in sit-stays, I climb my sorry butt to the top, and release them to come join me! We all sleep well at night! :o)


  18. Ami says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 1:07pm

    Great post! In the summer, when ticks are bad, my guys go for a 40 minute walk around my neighborhood every morning. This is not just a casual stroll around the ‘hood….. we are on a mission! Power walking! We also swim in a nearby lake, and that is their favorite! After the first frost, I love to take my crew out hiking. I normally do a nice hour-long hike with lots of hills and tall prairie grass so they can bound around! Plus, I get a great workout climbing hills, despite gasping for air! I have a nice hill by the house, and I put the dogs in sit-stays, I climb my sorry butt to the top, and release them to come join me! We all sleep well at night! :o)


  19. Jan V says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 1:07pm

    Because Brio and I primarily compete in agility, I spend more time on strengthening and proprioception than endurance activities. We do go for 20-30 minute trots about 3 times per week at the local park which has a great tobogganing hill, or at a nearby farm/woods. We switch to the treadmill with varying grades and speeds in the winter. She loves to swim, but not much access close to home.

    Strengthening: Salo jump chutes, frisbee retrieve, hill work (up, down, and zig-zag), tricks. The wheelbarrow is a good front end strengthener.

    Proprioception: Ladder/cavaletti, retro walking, side stepping, balance board, dyna-disc…

    Need to make my retrieve games more focused to avoid the inadvertent flick, stalk, flank, etc. So thanks for that tip. Looking forward to more suggestions and ideas from all the blog followers.


  20. Katherine says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 12:55pm

    I’ll be ordering some of the aerobie products immediately and see whether I can wean my sheltie “retriever” off of the tennis ball. Thanks so much for this topic. Has anyone tried the boomerang with their dog(s) ?


    • Susan says:
      Monday, August 24, 2009 at 12:58pm

      I tried the boomerang and couldn’t get it to fly straight. I had deadly accuracy with the aerobie and could sometimes get the large one to go over 200 yards!


  21. Linda says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 12:54pm

    Hi Susan,

    And we are grateful you made the trip to Colorado. I came home motivated, both on conditioning and a plan for training. Enough so I got up early this morning and actually exercised both the dog and myself. Baby steps…

    Looking forward to the next blog on conditioning.

    Thanks again.


  22. Taryn says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 12:31pm

    Hi Susan!
    My dogs are my fitness partners, so if they aren’t getting enough exercise, it means I am not getting enough exercise! I try to get in a 3 mile walk/run each morning before work, a couple of swim sessions each week (for the dogs that is, season permitting), I do let them retrieve balls (I didn’t realize it rehearsed bad behaviors), and they get the zoomies in the yard most days. I monitor their weight very closely and cut back when needed. I always measure the food to be sure I am not overfeeding. This seems to be enough to keep them calm around the house and at a good weight. Being Cardigan Corgis,i.e. long backed dogs, fitness and weight control are very important to keeping their backs safe from injury.


  23. Patty Worthington says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 12:27pm

    Great post, Susan!!! I work really hard to keep all my dogs fit–and not just the agility dogs. I think keeping dogs fit will help extend their lives and keep them feeling happy. The biggest chunk of fitness training for my dogs is getting to run free on a large farm. There are fields, woods, a huge pond and a creek. We also have to go up and down hills as well. I take my dogs just about every day for at least 45 minutes though I will admit to some shorter ones during these last few nasty August weeks. It’s the highlight of their day as well as mine!

    The effects of unregulated retrieving has been brought to light for me by Rival who was doing crazy things with his body to get a ball. So now all retrieving (outside of using toys in training) for my dogs happens in the pond. Luckily, here in VA, we have a really long swimming season. I put up an above ground pool for the dogs this summer for additional conditioning.

    I also use tricks as strengthening and stretching exercises and train all of my dogs on the treadmill in case of bad weather. Most recently, I have been working on a mini freestyle routine as a warm up for Rival and it’s been really fun.

    I’ve also been working hard on my fitness as it’s just as important as my dogs!! For a while there I was taking way better care of my dogs than I was myself and that’s not good!! Okay, off to take the dog that came to work with me today on a nice long walk!


  24. mike says:
    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 12:15pm

    This is so wonderful, I have always wanted to get my dog involved in sports, I just didnt know how.


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