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Canine Fitness Equipment Safety & Form

Hey Fitness Fanatics! So today I want to talk a little bit about form and safety in regards to using fitness equipment. Lately we have spoken a lot about the importance of groundwork, we know that we talk about it an awful lot, however once the dogs have got good foundations of each exercise at a groundwork level, we can then start progressing these exercises onto other equipment!

Some of the areas I wanted to talk about in regards to groundwork are:

  1. Form

  2. Suitable Equipment

  3. Correct Inflation

  4. Reps & Sets

  5. Unstable equipment and angles

  6. Other options for changing intensity

How is their form?

So the first thing I want to talk about is actually their form. Now we talk about form a whole lot when we talk about groundwork and, that doesn’t change when we start moving exercises onto equipment! We still talk so much about a dog’s form when we actually increase the difficulty of these exercises with equipment. Let’s be honest, we didn’t spend all that time correcting that form in the groundwork exercises for them to then be performing reps with poor form on the equipment. It’s crucial that we know what the correct form looks like for each exercise when moved onto Equipment. So some areas of form do look the same, for example, if you’re performing a stand that you’ve moved on to become the bridging exercise, and then you’ve moved that bridging from stable platforms onto something like to fit bones so their front and rear are at the same height that form in the stand should look exactly the same. It shouldn’t change, they should still have that forearm and rear pastern perpendicular to the ground the top line should still be nice and level the head should be in neutral, paws all facing forwards etc. However, if you have progressed a stand into a front paws on (FPO), which we actually class as its own exercise with its own areas of form, not everybody realises. As soon as you raise those front paws up it does change the exercise because you change the angle that the dog is working on, therefore the criteria of correct form changes. So we need to be really aware of what each exercise is, and then what the correct form looks like within each exercise. There are many things that you can change to make an exercise more difficult, but not every piece of equipment is the same, actually, some pieces of equipment are much harder than others. Being aware of which pieces of equipment are hardest for each exercise is important, and then actually knowing which pieces of equipment we can use as gradual steps to increase the difficulty so that we make sure that we do not jeopardise the dog’s form even when we increase the difficulty.

Is the equipment suitable?

Next I want to talk about whether the equipment is suitable for your dog. So as we’ve already mentioned each piece of equipment has its own properties and its own difficulty level. You need to make sure that whichever piece of equipment you are choosing is suitable for that specific exercise and also suitable for the dog you are working with. There are many things we need to take into account, such as the size of the dog. If we take, for example, a Border Collie and a Papillion, immediately we realise that the size of the two breeds is quite different, therefore the size of the equipment is going to greatly affect the exercise for each of those dogs. So if I wanted to perform the front paws on exercise with a fit bone for the border collie, I would be choosing the standard size fit bone, or potentially the giant fit bone bearing in mind that that will raise the height and increase the angle the dog is working on. However, when I’m working with a Papillion I would choose the mini fit bone for that front paws on position. The border collie could use the mini fit bone, however that would be more challenging because of the much smaller surface area in comparison to the size of the dog. We’ve also got to be aware of the shape of the dog versus the equipment that we are using so if I wanted to perform a stand lengthways along a fit bone, I’m going to have to take into account the length of the dog when choosing which fit bone I use. Also be aware that the giant fit bone will only allow up to a certain size of dog to stand lengthways along this fit bone while holding correct form. This is where it becomes slightly more of a challenge with large and giant breed dogs because we normally have to work onto bridging faster, rather than using a single platform for these dogs when it comes to balance Equipment. You can have custom made solid platforms for these large dogs but actually, there’s no balance equipment that would allow them to stand lengthways while holding correct form. The longest piece of equipment I’m aware of is the Flexiness® FitStage BigBar which is 125cm long. We may be able to ask them to stand on it, but if they’re too long for the length of that fit bone, even the giant fit bone, then likely negative changes in form that you’ll see are arching of the spine, the back legs being tucked further under the body, and potentially the front legs being tucked underneath the body as well where they have to collect the limbs to be able to actually stand on the equipment. This is not ideal if you’re aiming to improve their posture in a stand because we still want to see those forearms and rear pasterns perpendicular to the ground, and the top line nice and level, we don’t want the dog to have to compensate within that exercise. If you are specifically working on balance within collection then that’s okay but I would never recommend only doing this you need to also make sure you balance out their fitness plan to include holding correct form in a stand otherwise you may just encourage your dog to hold that incorrect form in a stand.

Is the inflation correct?

Something else to take into account is, actually is the inflation correct for that specific dog. How inflated or deflated the equipment is will affect the difficulty of that piece of equipment. Generally speaking for small dogs harder equipment is easier and softer equipment is therefore harder. Bigger dogs have a tendency to be the opposite of this, so the soft equipment is slightly easier in difficulty, whereas the harder equipment tends to be harder in difficulty. So for example, if I had a little Chihuahua, the harder equipment, or more inflated equipment, is likely to be easier than the softer, or less inflated equipment. Whereas if I had a Labrador, the softer the less inflated equipment is easier and the more inflated equipment is harder in difficulty. However this is only a general rule and we do have some exceptions to the rule, remember all dogs are different and you do have to experiment a little bit with the inflation level with each dog. We need to make sure that the inflation level is correct, as we don’t want to make an exercise too difficult too soon. Again here we want to be watching that form and if the dog loses form then we need to have a look at the inflation rate to see if that is okay for that dog and exercise, and if they lose form even after you’ve played around with the inflation rate then they aren’t ready for that piece of equipment.

Do we need to change the sets and repetitions?

Another thing to take into consideration when we move dogs onto Equipment is, do we need to change the number of sets and the number of reps The Dog is doing. Because we’re making the exercise more difficult by introducing that balance equipment, do we then need to maybe lower the number of sets and the number of reps to make sure The Dog holds good form throughout all reps and sets of this exercise. Introducing the fitness equipment makes the difficulty harder, so you’re increasing the intensity, therefore we find that we need to lower the number of sets and reps to make sure The Dog can perform this exercise successfully and safely throughout all reps.

Are we changing the angle when using equipment?

Next what I want you to think about is, are we maybe changing the angle the dog is working on when we are using the equipment? So what I mean by this is, are we asking the dog to just place front paws on for example, because if you are, suddenly that then changes the angle at which the dog is standing. So even though their front paws are the ones on the Equipment, actually you’ve shifted more weight into their back legs. The back legs are taking much more weight than they usually would, therefore they are having to work harder. Remember it’s not only the limbs of the dog that are on the equipment which are affected by the difficulty. So for example, if I took Aurora, my border collie, and asked for front paws up on a Fitbone, actually her back legs are working harder than her front legs. Those forelimbs are having to do some stabilising, but actually, because the back legs are taking most of the weight they are the ones that are primarily being worked. And because of that we also have to take into consideration that the dogs core is being engaged, so whenever they have to shift weight away from their normal distribution, for example when you change the angle they're standing on, they have to engage their core more than they normally would. However, coming back to my original point, if you were let’s say bridging between two Fitbones because you’re using fitbones that are of the same height there is no angle change. This is providing that you’re using two standard size Fitbones and the inflation level is the same. But if you then maybe placed your dog's front paws on a FitPAWS doughnut, and their back paws on a Fitbone, the Fitbone is lower than the donut, so again you’re still changing the angle even though their front paws and back paws are on pieces of equipment.

If balance equipment is too much of a challenge, what else can we do to alter the difficulty?

So let’s say that you have tried moving a specific exercise your dog is performing really well at a groundwork level onto some fitness equipment, but actually, they’re finding the equipment more difficult than you anticipated, we then maybe need to think about other things we can do to alter the difficulty of the exercise to progress them further before than trying that piece of equipment again. So obviously you could then try an easier piece of equipment if you’ve got an easier piece of equipment. However there are other things you can do without altering what equipment you’re using, so there are actually other things you can do at a groundwork level with each exercise. As we’ve already briefly mentioned you can change the angle of the exercise, remember you could change the angle without introducing balance equipment, so could use a solid platform to change the angle that a dog is working on. Your next option is then actually raising the height that your dog is working on, so rather than changing the angle or you could use a platform a solid platform to raise your dog off the ground slightly and this actually increases the balance element of the exercise. Similar to us when you stand higher off the ground you further engage your balance, to give you an example let’s say I placed a plank of wood on the ground that was just 8 inches wide maybe and asked you to walk across it, most people likely aren’t going to struggle with that, however, if I prop that plank up so that it’s then raised a few inches off the floor, it actually becomes harder to balance on that plank, even though the plank itself hasn’t changed. So raising the height is another way you can change the intensity and increase the difficulty of the exercise. Another few ways you could change the difficulty would be to change the duration of each rep, or you could change the number of reps or you could change the number of sets they’re doing within each exercise. So There are lots of ways in which you can alter the difficulty of an exercise without introducing equipment to better prepare them for the equipment.

Hopefully you found this blog post valuable, and this will help you a little bit when you’re thinking about the safety side of working with any kind of fitness equipment. Whether it’s raised platforms, or whether it is balance equipment, we still always have to take that form into account. If you take away one thing from today I really want it to be, look at your dog's form, is their form good? Or do they lose form when you try to change the exercise in a specific way? If so we need to look for a different way to alter the exercise to make sure that they are not losing form. I still see lots of poor form being posted up on social media and in fitness groups, often because the exercise has progressed before the dog is ready, and this is something that I want to bring more awareness to. I don’t think people do it intentionally, I honestly think it’s just a lack of awareness, so this is something I really want to do, building more awareness of just how important that form is, and making sure that we aren’t rushing or dogs to harder exercises and harder equipment too soon. Any shares of this post to help raise more awareness would be greatly appreciated!

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