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Fit, Focused and Having Fun AWAY From Organized Dog Sports

Posted on 12/21/14 30 Comments

IMG_4560Earlier in the month we hosted the Canine Fitness and Body Awareness Symposium here at Say Yes Dog Training. It was everything I had hoped it would be. Three days PACKED with amazing insight and research from Dr. Leslie Woodcock, Robby Porter and myself.

The focus was how to keep our dogs fit and healthy…both for performance sports, longevity and good long healthy life!

In short it was AMAZING!

Inspired by some of the work we did on the treadmill with Robby Porter I put together this short video of a new routine I have been working on with my dogs. Lots and lots of great information was shared at our Symposium…and the treadmill work was just one part of it all.

Featuring MY Fab-Five

During the Symposium I shared my five favourite body awareness exercises. Basically these are variations of; Back up, Sit-to-Stand-Squats, Sit Pretty, Targeting Individual Paws & FitPAWS type balance type inflated disc/pods/peanuts etc work.  Over the next month I will be sharing more details about these “Fab Five” body awareness exercises. They are all “non treadmill” fitness exercises for my dog and you can get the low-down on them through my newsletter. If you would like to receive this information, subscribe to our Newsletter  through the form to the right… here on my blog.

twister flyball box

It was not a random choice to have our Symposium early in December…you

see every year somewhere between October and February I take between 8 -12 weeks away from agility. I have done this my entire career in canine sports…way back to my “flyball days.” During this time I do “cross fit” with my dogs. Allowing their mind and body a break from one sport.

It isn’t just because I am an “elite” competitor and my dogs may endure more stress than the average agility dog…actually I compete a heck of a lot less than the “average” agility competitor.

I think this time off is critical. For less motivated dogs it gives them a mental break and for over-the-top-dogs it gives them both that mental break and a chance to heal any hidden soft tissue insults that may be brewing below the surface.

It really is a period of physical and mental rejuvenation. It could include learning new “tricks” or doing obedience…but lately it is FitPAWS & Treadmill fun , swimming, and of course hiking/snow shoeing. I didn’t arbitrarily pick “8 weeks off”…I did it in consult with Veterinary Rehab specialists. I was told anything short of 6 weeks is like no break at all for the dog’s muscles and that 8-10 weeks would be ideal.

IMG_4967During this time my dogs do no agility…not even a single obstacle.

Near the end of the time I start them back with low straight jump grids. From 8-10 weeks I work them back on short sequences and individual obstacle performances. So it is generally 12 weeks or more away from any agility competition of any kind. I have to tell you it can sometimes be hard with all of the “temptations” of “qualifier events”…but it is a process I believe in whole heartedly. Not only to giving any unknown soft tissue insults or injuries (that we may not know about) a chance to heal…but most importantly to give my dogs (and I) a mental break from the sport to come back fresh for the next 9 months of the year!

Today I am grateful for all of the OTHER things that we can do with our dogs to keep them fit, focused and having fun that are AWAY from our performance sports.



  1. jackie keywood says:
    Thursday, January 1, 2015 at 4:54pm

    Facinating treadmill work, will be trying out something similair with my stair stepper and ladder


  2. Annie W says:
    Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 1:05am

    I no longer compete in any formal dog work but do keep up training my boys in all sorts of obediance, scent work, and all sorts of games, we all love training, it’s the actual trialling I don’t feel so good about.
    Nowadays since Clancy has become 3/4 blind and just this last year managed to do a cruciate as well as damage the nerves in that same back leg I have had to find different ways I can keep him fit and healthy without hurting his leg as well…
    and yet I have to say I enjoy my Whippet boys more now than I did when I was trialling…annie


  3. Ralph says:
    Friday, December 26, 2014 at 11:45am

    Is the research you mentioned published anywhere? I would be very interested in reading it. Perhaps you could point me in the right direction? Thanks.


    • Susan says:
      Saturday, December 27, 2014 at 9:12pm

      What research are you referring to Ralph?


      • Ralph says:
        Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 12:59pm

        In your first paragraph you refer to “research by Dr Leslie Woodcock, Robby Porter and myself”.

      • Susan says:
        Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 10:45pm

        That is what we are sharing during the symposium Ralph.

  4. Marjorie says:
    Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 3:27pm

    Well I cannot afford a treadmill but I see you had a stair stepper back there. I had picked one up at a thrift store and thought it would be good to use for fronts and touches. Now cannot wait to see what clever uses you have devised.


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, December 25, 2014 at 1:29am

      Yep use that stepper for lots of fun things on the flat Marjorie.


  5. Di Rose says:
    Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 12:24am

    Thanks for sharing, I’m a firm believer in giving my dogs a good break (over Christmas), besides it’s way too hot to work them in Australia!

    Would you please tell what speed the treadmill is set at? My youngster started naturally doing the rear ones with his front legs up on the motor section (human Treadmill), so might be able to expand on this. I’m keeping him gently exercised, (no agility yet @9 months), he has a fracture of proximal physis of (L) femur, which happened at 3 months. Don’t want to hurt him (although he will jump to 720mm bench without effort). (he is 50cm HAW).


  6. Erin Hildahl says:
    Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 9:18pm

    With my Siberian’s I take July & August off, because it’s just too hot. They have a pool to work in, & we go walk upstream in local rivers, & go for hikes. Also, we work with Bobbie Lyons (Positive Performance) & use our FITpaws equipment all year, & are recently doing some of the exercises on the Dogtread Treadmill that you were showing in the video.


    • Marti says:
      Thursday, December 25, 2014 at 1:15pm

      Hi Erin,
      I have admired how you work with your dogs for years! I also avoid agility during the hot months. My Sibe just wilts during the hot months. If they would have night time agility or early morning agility in the summer, we could be game.

      Hope to see you someday soon, maybe at my local agility trial.


  7. Cindy Gray says:
    Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 7:57pm

    Thank you so much Susan. I’ve always thought that Joyful needed a break from intensive agility competition, (especially after Cynosport), but now I have reasons to back it up. I can’t wait to see more and to try the treadmill sequences with her.


  8. Shelly says:
    Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 4:12pm

    This has me rethinking my winter training plans 🙂


  9. Jen Kolasa says:
    Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 2:37pm

    Hi Susan,

    Sorry if these are ignorant questions! 🙂

    You make the comment that, “Not only to giving any unknown soft tissue insults or injuries (that we may not know about) a chance to heal…”
    – I am assuming since you’re doing the cross fit exercises that you’re not worried about them affecting a soft tissue injury / preventing it from healing – but I am curious why the exercises wouldn’t aggravate an injury. Is it just because the cross fit exercises are more controlled than agility / less pressure / less twisting on the body?

    Along the same lines, “I was told anything short of 6 weeks is like no break at all for the dog’s muscles and that 8-10 weeks would be ideal.”
    – is this also because it is not high impact like agility?

    Thanks for any further explanation(s)!!


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 5:05pm

      Jen none of us knows what our dogs may or may not be straining during agility. But I do know that a muscle is actually a big bundle of fibres…these tiny fibres break and mend on going…but if you constantly break and break and break….then eventually you have a complete break down. What I am doing here may in fact be using similar muscle groups but my dogs are not running full tilt and not repeatedly using the same ones a few days a week like they would if I was practicing and competing in agility. During these exercises my dogs will spend 10-20 seconds at one movement of incredibly low impact and then transition to another. Each session I focus on a different set of movements for the dog. Rather than constant similar motion of weave poles, jumping, driving into position on contact etc.

      So for a super low estimate if our dogs did 50 jumps and 3 sets of weaves per day I trained or competed and lets say I did that 3 times a week (including competitions) that would be 150 jumps (where the dog pushes from his rear and lands on his front…let alone any twisting or turning for backsides or pull through) and 108 weave poles a week…so by giving my dog 10 weeks away from this they get a minim of 1500 less jumps and 1000 less weave poles over the year. Say we compete for 8 years that is 8000 less weave poles and 12,000 less jumps over my dog’s career. Not only am I helping to keep them healthy during their career I can’t help but think I am helping to preserve them into their old age as well!

      As for why not 6 weeks rather than 8 or 10…I spoke to several re-hab specialists that that was their recommendation. I have been doing this for almost 20 years and I like it!


      • Jen Kolasa says:
        Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 5:15pm

        Thanks so much Susan for the detailed explanation! Makes a lot of sense!!

  10. Barbara Hunter says:
    Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 2:29pm

    Is there any possibility of getting the ebook ON BEING A GOOD STUDENT!
    I love you and anything I can get to help me from you is so beneficial!
    Somehow I missed out on this!
    It would be really great.
    I was in Recallers 5 and now in Handlers 360!
    Thank you


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 5:08pm

      Barbara it should be available to you when you join our newsletter list. You will see the sign up to the right of this post.


  11. Lori says:
    Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 12:42pm

    What brand/model treadmill are you using in the video?


    • Jen Kolasa says:
      Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 2:39pm

      It’s a DogTread treadmill. http://dogtread.com/


      • Susan says:
        Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 5:09pm

        Yes that is correct it is a DogTread treadmill…the large size…my dogs dont’ need the large size if I was just having them trot on it but for all of this cross fit type work I much prefer the large size model.

  12. Laura W. says:
    Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:13am

    That side-stepping certainly looks like it would work muscles that aren’t normally worked very much! And I betcha if the treadmill was wider, you could have him crossing over front and rear on the side stepping in place!


  13. Robby Porter says:
    Monday, December 22, 2014 at 9:28am

    Well said, and wonderfully executed and creative exercises. It’s great to see you playing and having fun!
    I can’t wait to see your fav five too:)


  14. Barb says:
    Monday, December 22, 2014 at 7:13am

    Love watching Swagger do the side steps on the treadmill…..something I sure couldn’t do 🙂


  15. Hannah says:
    Monday, December 22, 2014 at 1:20am

    Very cool watching back legs on treadmill in slow motion: his back legs are working so independently of the rest of him… He’s really not thinking hard or worrying about his rear end; more focused on mom and trying to earn his reward. Could really see how that would be beneficial to leaving bars up on course!


  16. Tamara says:
    Monday, December 22, 2014 at 12:15am

    loved the Conditioning Seminar!
    May I ask that as you continue to share more details of your Fab 5 that you also include details about what specifically you include in your journal in their progress. I understand this to be very important but am not clear about what should be tracked….



    • Susan says:
      Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:40am

      Will do Tamara!


  17. Lisa says:
    Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 11:37pm

    Out of interest, does Swagger find it easier to work one side in particular on the tread mill?


    • Susan says:
      Monday, December 22, 2014 at 9:11am

      Yes Lisa, Swagger was completely awkward at first when I had his right side to the front of the treadmill, but now he is pretty well balanced going either direction.


  18. debra n Snap says:
    Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 10:25pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed the 3 day Canine Fit and Body Awareness, Susan! It is helping me make daily routines of fun fitness and body awareness for Snap. Really helps us with SAR. I so wish I had a nice building to set up fitness equipment, but I’m blessed with what I do have. I’m planning on setting up an outside SAR Agility field for my SAR team and others who want to learn some stretches, warm ups and body awareness with their K9s this coming Spring/Summer. Your symposium was awesome as it has really giving me ideas and equipment to purchase.

    I agree that it is very important to give dogs a rest from strenuous sports. You have a great regiment and thank you for sharing with us. You have helped my Snap and I be an awesome team! 🙂


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