Monday was the third (of three) session of the conditioning class that Maisy and I have been attending. At this point, if you have been following the program, your dog should be fit, or close to it. If not, don’t worry- all dogs progress at different rates. Keep working on the exercises they struggle with until they’ve built up the necessary strength to do them with ease. Once your dog is fit, you have two options: you can either choose to maintain the level of fitness they’ve obtained, or you can work on further improving their abilities.
Maintenance exercises should be done about twice a week, and the exercises you do should be tailored to your dog’s needs. For example, since Maisy’s major weakness lies in her shoulders, we will do more exercises to work on maintaining and improving the strength in her front end. She also has a long back, so I’ll pay attention to exercises that target the core muscles. However, there are four main exercises that will benefit all dogs, no matter what their specific needs are. They are:
Stairs. If you do nothing else, this would be the exercise to do! It was first introduced during session 1. Since this exercise works both the rear and the front, it is an excellent way to maintain strength and range of motion. Continue to do five round trips on the stairs about twice a week, and definitely no more than three times a week. For the short leggers, you can walk up and down a hill (or secure a wide plank to your stairs) to simulate the same activity.
Side-line Sit-ups. Also introduced in session 1, this exercise will help your dog maintain her core muscles. Do 10 to 15 reps per side, twice a week. You can probably squeak by doing these only once a week if your dog gets a lot of aerobic exercise.
Down to Stand. Introduced in session 2, this exercise works the rear, front and helps your dog maintain her balance, so it’s a great maintenance exercise. Do 10-15 reps per leg, twice a week.
Aerobic Exercise. Your dog should get 20-30 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise at least three times a week. Going to agility class doesn’t count- while aerobic, the exercise is generally in short bursts. We’re looking for sustained activity.
Going Further: Ball Work
If you want to improve your dog’s fitness even more, our instructor recommended doing ball work. Although she doesn’t believe it will get your dog completely fit in and of itself, she does think it’s a great way to keep building on the exercises already introduced.
Our instructor said that if we are interested in ball work, the best thing to do is get the video Get on the Ball by Debbie Gross Saunders. Since working on the ball is very high intensity, she said it’s far better to do the program in the video instead of trying to do it on our own.
We discussed which type of ball would be best for each dog. In general, she prefers the peanut shaped balls because they provide a bit more stability, and have a bit more surface area for the dog to stand on. Size wise, she recommended that we get a size about four inches taller than our dog, although it’s more important that you be able to hold and control the ball. In the early stages, especially, you’ll need to be able to hold the ball still so as to control the level of difficulty for the dog.
She also showed us how shifting the ball slightly caused the dog’s muscles to contract, and cautioned us to keep the sessions very short at first, probably no more than two to three minutes. When the only short-haired dog in the class got up on the ball, you could see every single one of his muscles pop out. I can see how that would leave a dog very sore if you worked on the ball for too long.
All in all, it was a great class. I am very glad I got a chance to learn from someone with so much experience. It really gave me a new appreciation for the stresses we put our dogs’ bodies through, and how important it is to physically prepare them for the demands dog sports require. I know that I will be much more cautious about what I ask Maisy to do in the future, and work hard to condition her so I can prevent injuries.