Thursday, May 6, 2010

Performance Dog Conditioning Class- Session 1

I mentioned that I took Maisy to a performance dog conditioning class the other day, but was so excited by how well she handled a stressful environment, that I neglected to share the details of her structural analysis, as well as the conditioning exercises we were given. And, both of those things were really interesting, so I definitely want to share that information!

First, and most exciting: There is nothing structurally wrong with Maisy, or at least, not wrong enough that doing agility would be bad for her. The instructor, Lin, actually had very little criticism of Maisy’s structure. She apparently has a nice angulation in the rear, which affects her ability to jump, overall balance, and endurance. She also has a fairly flat back, which is good. Maisy is slightly higher in the butt than the front, but that is apparently common in herding breeds. At any rate, it isn’t high enough to impact her movement. Maisy had surprisingly good core strength. People gasped when they saw it- I think that, with her having such a long back in relation to her legs, they expected her to be weaker in the core. Frankly, I did, too.

She does have more trouble in the front, which is unfortunate since more of the dog’s weight is carried in the front than the back (approximately 60%). Thus, the front acts as a shock absorber. I was already somewhat aware of this because of the Suzanne Clothier seminar, especially what she said about the short-leggers having altered structure. Anyway, Lin said that Maisy has pretty good shoulder extension, both forward and back, although Maisy was ouchy on the right shoulder when she did the backwards extension. She had that problem about a year ago, and then it improved, and then after the attack, she had problems with it again. I’m hoping that it heals up nicely. Maisy is also slightly shallow in the chest, which can result in poorly supported elbows.

But, none of it is seriously flawed, and with some good conditioning, she ought to be able to do agility with little risk. Although I’m not sure I will ever compete in agility with Maisy, we’d like to learn more about it. I think Maisy would enjoy it, and I’ve heard great things about it building confidence in fearful dogs.

Anyway, for the next two weeks, we have six exercises to work on, in addition to the regular exercise a dog needs anyway.

Heads up heeling. This forces the dog to be balanced and collected, and it’s even more effective if you do figure 8s, circles, etc. We are supposed to work on both the left and right sides, for a total of 10 minutes a day.

Kickback stands. This is moving from a sit to a stand with no forward motion from the front feet. This helps to build the quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors. We are supposed to do 20 reps twice a day.

Diagonal limb lifts. In this exercise, while the dog is standing still, the handler picks up one rear leg and then the diagonal fore leg, holding by the toes. This helps build core strength. You should do 10 reps for each set of limbs, holding the rep for the count of 10, twice a day.

Spins from a sit. This exercise is to have the dog do a complete spin, starting from a sitting position. Do it twice a day, ten times in each direction.

Sideline sit ups. In this exercise, you have the dog lie flat on her side, and using a treat lure, have the dog lift her head toward the hip. She should be bending up, not curling around. This helps improve core strength, which in turn will reduce the amount of stress on the front and rear. It will also help improve the dog’s ability to weave. This is a high intensity exercise, so we only do 10 reps per side every other day.

Stairs. I haven’t figured out how to do this one with Maisy yet: her legs are too short. What she’s supposed to do is go up and down stairs, using one step per leg. It helps build the quads, stifles, hips, knees, and hamstrings in the back, as well as the shoulders and biceps in the front. Because this is also a high intensity exercise, we’re supposed to do 5 round trips of a normal length stairway every other day. She suggested I find some way to make platforms to do this. I’ll have to see what I can jury rig up.

At our next class, in two weeks, we will keep some of these exercises, build on others, and drop others entirely. I can’t wait to see how it goes!


Dawn said...

Thanks for sharing these exercises. Magic and I will be adding a few.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

that is such great news!!! and thanks for sharing the exercises. you should make it a goal to have the diagonal lifts be a "trick" for Maisy so she can balance on her own!
I also find it ironic about the heads up heeling :)

Lindsay said...

You definitely need to take some video of you working with Maisy on the kick back stands! At least for my benefit.;o) Our obedience instructor talked a little about this with regards to the and the sit. I'd like to see how you go about it with Maisy!

Crystal said...

Laura, that's a great idea! I'm luring the spins, and have started naming them already (why not?) so it makes sense to get as much of the rest of this on cue as possible.

I, too, agree that the heads up heeling being good for her kind of ironic since I'd been concerned about doing it. But, like I decided, she said to only do it if you heel from both sides.

Lindsay, I'll try to get some video of the kick back stands. I've never taught them before, even though I've heard that it's a good idea for obedience, so it's taking some experimenting to figure out the best way to get them. I think we figured it out, though.

Bea said...

Hi Crystal. I've been following your blog for many months now and have to say that I've learned an amazing amount. Thank you ever so much for sharing what you learn and in such a lucid and interesting way. I admire your commitment to and relationship with Maisy and your philosophy on people/dog relationships. I feel like such a slacker when it comes to training my dog. I suspect that if you were a dog, you'd be a border collie: hard working, intelligent, detail-oriented and intense. While I'd be a golden retriever: eager to please, laid back, food loving and goofy. Thanks again for all the work you put into this blog.

Crystal said...

Hi, Bea! Thank you so much for your kind words! I've really enjoyed writing the blog, and it's nice to know that others enjoy reading it.

I have to laugh at your description of me as a border collie. I've never thought about it, but that's pretty spot on. For what it's worth, though, I'm kind of a lazy trainer. I don't really do many formal training sessions, and I never drill. I just sort of sneak training in here and there- on walks, mostly, although once or twice a week, we'll do something more purposeful. It seems to be working, though, and BF Skinner did say that the way reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount.

Bea said...

By the way...about training the kick back stands. When Patches and I were taking competitive obedience classes, our instructor started teaching these by putting the dogs behind a barrier (one of the slats from the broad jump) so that it was impossible for the dog to move forward. Once they get the idea, you can remove the barrier. Good luck.

elegy said...

This is all really interesting to me. I've never really paid that much attention specifically to conditioning- my pit bulls were always active and fit and I never asked that much of them athletically beyond what they chose to do.

Now I have the sport Border Collie, and he's doing agility and flyball. With the flyball, I've been paying more and more attention to conditioning, because the better conditioned he is, the safer he'll be, and the faster he'll be. I ran through all of these exercises with him, and was happy to see that he was comfortable doing all of them (he can be squirrelly and uncomfortable with certain kinds of handling), so I'll incorporate some of them into our routine.

Crystal said...

That's probably really smart, too. I've heard flyball can be hard on a dog's body. I imagine it would be very important to do anything that supports the front end- shoulders and elbows, especially.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the exercise descriptions! I'm planning to do some of these with Faith.