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  • Posted Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Rusty is not just any competitor: he has earned the title of #1 Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever in Agility in North America!

Yes, that’s a pretty fine achievement!

I have been working with Rusty and his amazingly dedicated mom, Liz, since 2013, when I first started seeing him for regularChiropractic Adjustments. Later we began a program of Canine Cross Training when Rusty ranked sufficiently high in his agility scoring to be invited to participate in the 9th annual ‘American Kennel Club Agility Invitational,’ held in Florida in 2014. Rusty would be competing alongside other top agility dogs of his breed who were recognized nationally with the title of Master Agility Champion. And we knew the competition would be fierce!

In preparation for the contest, we started our work by creating a cross training program especially for Rusty. It was modeled after the program outlined in ‘Canine Cross Training: Building Balance, Strength, and Endurance’ by Sasha Foster, MSPT, CCRT at Colorado State University. I had the opportunity to learn from Sasha directly in my course work at the Canine Rehabilitation Institute as well as during a day of training with her while I was in Colorado so I was thrilled to be able to apply my new knowledge directly to assist Rusty.

We began the training program using four basic components of building a canine athlete and set up a weekly training schedule for home exercises for balance,strength, endurance and flexibility. I also added sprint training at intervals appropriate for the length of his agility course to increase his speed when competing, and devised a regimen of exercises that targeted specific muscles in the core of the body as well as the front and rear limbs to increase strength in these areas. Rusty and Liz also worked regularly on their agility skills during private training sessions with world-class coach Sandy Rogers, founder of Ace Dog Sports.

Once we’d tested Rusty to determine his starting level of difficulty we monitored and increased the challenges over time as he progressed in his skill level. During our training, Rusty was also competing in agility trials at the weekends so we practiced his targeted exercises only once to twice a week to avoid ‘day-after muscle soreness.’ Liz worked with Rusty for 12 weeks, faithfully perfecting his exercise routine at which point we retested him to be sure he was ready to progress to the next level.

Agility is a full body/mind, high-energy workout for a dog that requires an exceptional level of athletic conditioning. Building a strong core allows better movement and can help prevent injury. And augmenting strength in front and rear limbs increases speed at the starting line and as the dog moves through weave poles, and decreases risk for injury. In addition to this, short distance sprint-endurance training prepared Rusty for multiple runs – speed is crucial for completing faster runs with fewer run errors.

Any active dog can benefit from a cross-training/conditioning exercise program. Dogs who compete in conformation or other sporting events such as dock diving, fieldwork, fly ball, herding, or just plain weekend hiking all benefit from being fit for the activities. Ideal candidates include:

  • Dachshunds – to help as a foundation for preventative back health
  • Older dogs – to maintain function of daily life. Activities such as getting up and down off the floor independently or walking up and down stairs – baseline senior fitness – can be improved with these kinds of cross training exercises.
  • Puppies – to start preparing for active lifestyles early and help develop healthy muscles, bones, and nervous system.
  • Working service dogs/therapy dogs – dogs such as guide dogs for the blind, police dogs, or search and rescue dogs have vital tasks to perform and need special skills training. Given their importance to their handlers, they need the ability to continue their work for as long as possible and cross training can certainly help in that regard.

Think of cross training as an investment in long-term physical fitness – the benefit of ‘Pre-Hab’ instead of ‘Re-Hab’!