chiropractic care.

Chiropractic care is a natural, holistic approach to treating skeletal and joint dysfunctions in both dogs and humans alike. I know there are some individuals that are involved in dog sports that use it on a regular, consistent basis and others who do not believe in it at all; but, I am one of those individuals that uses it regularly not only for my dogs, but also for myself. Chiropractic care can improve the function and mobility of not only your spinal column, but also your lower and upper extremity joints. By using manual manipulation, these medical professionals can not only fix subluxations, but also alleviate muscle strains, herniations, and physical stress which can allow the body to naturally heal itself.

When I am not training for dog sports and focusing on OCA, I work for an orthopedic spine doctor and his physicians assistant here in Columbia a few days a week. I see first hand, week-in and week-out, how important it is to take care of your spine and seek preventative care when issues arise. I have personally struggled with spine and joint pain for as long as I can remember, so I go in and receive regular adjustments once or twice a week. With regular chiropractic adjustments, I tend to feel less pain during my workouts, recover quicker, and even sleep better each night. With mild scoliosis and early-onset systemic arthritis, it is extremely important for me as an athlete to submerse myself in preventative care - as I see what happens to my patients when they do not. I conveniently have a current running membership at an establishment called ‘The Joint’ - it allows me to pop in whenever is most convenient, scan my tag, and receive treatment as regularly as I need it. I can even use my HSA account to pay for it each month, which is a huge bonus. I highly recommend all handlers involved in agility seek and partake in some sort of chiropractic care at least once every 6-8 weeks to keep their body moving fluidly without restrictions - as long as there are no underlying health ailments or reoccurring injuries - then, you may want to seek care more frequently like I do for myself.

When it comes to my dogs, they are usually adjusted on a 6-8 week basis as preventative care in between breaks from training and events. Katie Newton DC is who we use here in Columbia, as she makes house calls and does a wonderful job with each of my boys! Unless a serious injury arises, which would call for more frequent visits, my boys stay on an adjustment regimen based around their current competition schedule. I do not like to have them adjusted too close to before a large event; so, I normally try to schedule it at least a week or so before. The reason for this is so that once they are adjusted, it allows their bodies to have time to heal. The first 24 hours after any adjustment, my dogs are rested and given unlimited amounts of fluids. I even add extra water to their meals and have them drink extra electrolyte drinks to flush out all of the toxins in their systems. I slowly start to add back activities over the next few days and allow for them to adjust adequately before introducing any type of agility equipment training. Unless they appear to hurt themselves during a run at an event, I try to keep to this regimen and have them adjusted again at the end of the event in its entirety. My boys receive lots of massage and stretching in between runs over the course of the events, as I feel this is more beneficial to keep them loose and moving at their very best without experiencing any discomfort that could lead to injury.

Always make sure you and your dogs are being treated by board certified/licensed professionals. Chiropractic treatment can be beneficial for both preventative care and for those battling chronic & acute injuries/health conditions. Both myself and all my dogs utilize it regularly and I highly recommend it for all individuals and their dogs involved in any type of dog sports particularly.

HCV tunnels.

Back in the spring, I made the cognitive decision to start upgrading all of my current dog agility equipment in the best interest of not only my own dogs, but also my business & my clients. One of those major decisions I needed to make was in regards to what type of agility tunnels I was going to purchase - but, where do you even start? Believe it or not, trying to find accurate, non-biased reviews of all the current tunnel options that are available IS more difficult than you can imagine. I reached out on social media and got many mixed reviews on current popular options, but there was one option that seemed to have primarily wonderful testimonials; the main downfalls to this option however, were the overall accessibility and cost. Looking at the big picture, I was least concerned with cost - don’t get me wrong, I am always trying to get a good deal - and more concerned with the overall functionality and safety of the tunnel. I was looking for a truly non-slip tunnel that had good substance weight and that was made of a heavy-duty material that could withstand my current competition dogs’ overwhelming enthusiasm as they whip through them at an alarming rate of speed.

HCV is a premier dog agility tunnel manufacture located all the way across the pond in the Czech Republic. They pride themselves not only on the quality of their tunnels, but also on their line of tunnel bags that accompany them. Having access to both a solid quality line of tunnels and appropriate supportive tunnel bags gives your dog the best possibility to navigate the obstacle adequately without obtaining an injury. These tunnels are made of a very durable PVC material that is reinforced by spring steel wires, incased in soft piping for safety, that are 60cm in diameter. HCV tunnels also have a smooth inner seam -along with their undeniable super grip traction coating - so, you will have no worry about your dog slipping, falling, or rolling inside of these! You can order tunnels in 4 different sizes from 3m (approximately 10 feet) to 6m (approximately 20 feet) and they come in a wide variety of color combinations; you can even pick out your tunnel’s base color and pick several different stripe colors to either match - or stand out!

When ordering here in the states, there is only one distributor for ordering from HCV and that is through Mary Ellen Barry who owns KineticDog out of Pennsylvania. She was wonderful to work with and answered all of my questions in a timely and professional manner; she made the ordering process easy and let me know when my order was placed and when the order had officially shipped from the Czech Republic as well. A few times a year she usually participates in a group order for further consumer discounts - if you can get in on those orders, there is your main way to save money - but, you are then responsible for pick-up or finding a way to obtain your order from her facility. I, however, just chose to partake in my own separate order and had them shipped directly to my house here in South Carolina. When my order arrived, all of my tunnels were individually packaged in their own boxes. They were sealed and had zero damage - coming all the way from Europe I anticipated there might be an issue with shipping, but truly it was seamless and my order arrived with zero damage in a timely manner.

My order consisted of 3 total tunnels, one 3 meter and two 5 meter, and 4 new sets of the HCV ‘Jenny’ tunnel bags. I opted for my 5 meter tunnels to be the grey/white base combo (for higher visibility) with red and blue stripes, and my 3 meter tunnel is made from the blue/blue base with red and white stripes. There are several options for the ‘Jenny’ bags - these were developed in cooperation with Jenny Damm from Sweden, hence the name - but mainly they consist of 2 separated bags that connect by one uniform stripe of very high quality velcro. These bags are also produced from the same high quality PVC material that the tunnels are made from and they shape to the form of the tunnel to stabilize it properly. I opted to have 3 rubber stripes added to the underside of my bags as well, for even better stabilization when used with the tunnels outdoors on grass. I have tested these tunnels in several different configurations since I received them and have been blown away by both their functionality and durability. All of my dogs blast through tunnels and I have yet to have one move undesirably that is supported appropriately with the ‘Jenny’ bags or remotely show signs of the dogs slipping or rolling during their entrance or exits. If you’re in the market for new tunnels and tunnel bags, I HIGHLY recommend HCV. I am more than thrilled with the overall quality and the peace of mind I now have knowing that my dogs are not subjected to a higher susceptibility of injury. I have even noticed a new found confidence and speed with all of my dogs since training with these tunnels regularly, which makes me even more happy as a consumer. Safer obstacle performance, faster times - my dogs love them, I love them - HCV gets a 10/10 from us!

Let me know of any other positive experiences you’ve had with these tunnels - I would love to hear about them. Happy training!

changing seasons.

Fall is absolutely my most favorite time of the year; do not get me wrong, I am all about summer time - cookouts, pool parties, boat rides, tanning, and all sorts of outdoor activities. Nonetheless, Fall marks the start of some really exciting adventures for myself and my dogs each year. Living here in South Carolina, the summer is at times so brutally hot that you can barely walk outside - let alone workout yourself or work your dogs. Personally, I love the heat and super hot weather as it helps me dramatically with my arthritis, but it is a slow progression when trying to move forward training wise with dog agility. We typically end up having to travel to cooler spots in the northern states or even go up as far as Canada to train during the mid-summer months; or try to find surrounding indoor climate-controlled buildings to work in instead. There are not many close though - down here in the south it is not like the upper mid-west. Typically in the southeast region, we are subjected to mostly outdoor training spaces and outdoor trials. No matter how much time you spend acclimating to this climate though, I do not think there will ever be a truly safe way that is fair to my dogs to get them ‘used to the heat’. We make do and train really early or really late, but to say that there is an actual way to adjust them to it effectively - I would rather just agree to disagree and not subject my dogs to the blistering southeastern sun, escalating temperatures, and oppressing humidity.

Fall marks the start of my favorite time of year to go hiking with my dogs as well. Once the temps start to cool, it is the perfect time to submerse yourself into the environment and just be at peace with your surroundings. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, and the dogs are able to run freely without me worrying about them falling into pure heat exhaustion. I try to leave most of my weekends open starting in September, so we can go on more adventures in between cooking chili, watching football, and drinking PSLs. Yes, I am super basic - essentially the definition - let me raise my hand super proudly for just one second! Here in mid-September this year though, it is still in the upper 90’s, so we have had to trade in our intense mountain hikes for cool morning walks in the park, and I’ve had to trade in my hot PSLs for pumpkin cream cold brews - it’s not all that bad, but we are still waiting on the weather to break here so we can get out there! I think it is so important to be able to incorporate consistent hikes into your fitness regimen for your canine athletes - you can read my earlier blog post on low-intensity steady-state cardio for more on that.

That brings me next to my thoughts on agility training this time of year. Not necessarily pertaining to training in the heat, but essentially more about what we are working towards. We are less than 2 months out from our national championship event in November, so I have to be strategic on what I am training my dogs from now until we compete at the biggest event we will see all year. I have to keep my dogs ramped up with all of their fitness work and cardio routines on top of working on tightening up and polishing off skills that we will need for the event. Difficult weave entries, independent contact performances, and reliable directional verbals are at the top of my list heading into this years event. All of the dogs need weekly stretching and body work in between all this by the way - lets not forget how important it all is! Without a well-rounded fitness regimen in addition to a strategically planned training schedule, you are limiting your overall success before you even attend an event of that magnitude. I still remember to keep my training sessions short, super positive, and always focus on ending on a high note. I even switch up my personal fitness routine - keeping things strategic and working on keeping myself in the best physical shape possible without subjecting myself to an injury. No matter what though, just being able to run and compete at an event of this caliber each year with happy and healthy dogs is what matters to me most.

It’s hard for me not to think about Oakley this time of year. We were getting ready for his first national championship trip when he fell ill in October of 2016. We were working on jumping skills just a few days before he went blind over the course of a night. That dream was ripped away in an instant. As he was fighting for his life the remainder of that year, that was the only thing that mattered anymore. Perspective. So, no matter what, even though my dogs and I are working towards doing well and competing to the best of our abilities at the biggest event of the year for us - I will always be thankful to be able to step to the line each and every time with all 3 of my boys. I am forever grateful for all that they give me and how much they truly love to play the game. So, as the seasons change, I hope you are spending more time with your canine athletes outside in the cooler weather. I hope you are prepping for your big event and doing everything you can to plan appropriately for the excitement. I hope you cherish every moment when you step to the line with them - you never know when it could be their last. I hope that you also enjoy your quiet nights at home watching football with them curled up next to you on the couch; or when they are trying to steal your bowel of chili, so you let them lick the remnants after you’re full; or when you get them a pup-a-chino to go with your PSL at the local drive-thru. Those are the moments that really matter this time of year - the ones that stick in your heart long after they are gone.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall.

upper body strength & mobility.

Upper body strength and mobility are critical for humans and canines alike, especially when participating in any degree of dog sports. There are multiple key exercises that I like to incorporate into my own and into my dogs’ weekly workouts, but I want to demonstrate and explain some super fun ones for both biped and quadruped athletes this week. Pertaining to human athletes, upper body exercises are critical to your overall body balance, posture, and functional abilities. Strengthening your shoulders, chest, upper spine, and arms can contribute to you not only having a more balanced look than just participating in “leg day” each week, but it will give your body a better overall stability when focusing on sports related activities. When is comes to forelimb strengthening exercises for our canines however, it is much more difficult to target specific individual muscles such as the triceps brachii or the biceps brachii. Their forelimb range of motion is substantially different compared to their human counterparts; it is drastically more difficult to obtain voluntary individual muscle movements from canine athletes that target one specific muscle. So, forelimb exercises that are comparable to humans are essentially more dynamic movements that work multiple muscles within each muscle group to obtain the same desirable outcomes.

Push-ups

Simple enough right? Push-ups have been used in workouts for centuries and continue to be one of the most widely used and modified exercises on the planet. Nonetheless, it is very common for individuals to be performing push-ups incorrectly and inefficiently, which can lead to compensation injuries. A basic push-up is not complicated per say, but it does require total body engagement to execute effectively and efficiently. in humans, a standard push-up will incorporate the triceps, shoulder group muscles, and pecs - all working together with your core strength. Essentially, a proper push-up is an upper body targeted moving plank [go back and look at “core work” for some helpful tips on that, as it should give you a good starting visual]. It is essential that you keep your core engaged and your back flat; do not let your hips sag or roach your shoulders inward. With that being said, keep your hands about shoulder width apart and your fingers splayed out to give you a wide base; you will then bend at your elbows to lower yourself to the ground. Lower yourself to where your elbows are in line with your shoulders at approximately a 45 degree angle, then push back up! Start slow and concentrate on your form with these - proper form is much more important than the amount of reps. Start with 3 sets of 5 reps and work your way up!

As for your canines, you can have them perform a “Down to Sit” - this exercise is as close as you will get to a “doggy push-up”. The dog is reliant upon primarily using their forearms to rise from the down position to the sit position. You will obviously want to start the dog in a squared down position, hips tucked squarely in and their forelimbs straight out in front of them. You will then ask the dog to rise slowly up into a sit; ideally taking smaller individual steps, not using one giant motion. This exercise focuses on using the triceps and shoulder muscle group strength of the dog to pull their front limbs backwards towards their body to get into the final sit position. You can progress this exercise and make it more difficult by having the dog on a decline slope (facing downhill) or by placing their hind end on a small inflatable. Do 5 repetitions in 3 separate sets to begin and then progress in reps as your dog proceeds to build up their forelimb strength.

Bilateral Shoulder Extension/Flexion & High Five’s

Whether you are reaching behind your body to connect with your dog after a blind cross or pushing your arm forward to show a forward-motion-send to a tunnel, it is critical that you have healthy shoulder extension and flexion. Poor mobility in your shoulders can limit your overall performance and eventually lead to injury, especially if your cues are not timely. By adding some exercises into your weekly routine, you can lengthen and strengthen the muscles that contribute to your shoulders’ flexion and extension, which will ultimately enable you to be a better handler. There are two separate exercises that humans can do to achieve this, one involves using a simple resistance band and the other a set of dumbbell weights.

The first exercise isolates shoulder extension and just requires a simple resistance band that should be looped around pole or a similar stationary object at hip height. You will stand facing the pole with each end of the resistance band in your hands; with your hands resting at your sides, palms rotated up. Position yourself far enough away from the pole that there is tension on the band; but, make sure you are still able to keep your hands at your sides. Now, extend your arms simultaneously behind you, while keeping your arms straight - essentially feeling your shoulder blades pull together to the center of your back. Hold, and then return to the starting position. Start with one set of 10 reps and work towards 2-3 sets of 20 reps over time.

The second exercise for your shoulders isolates your shoulder flexion by using dumbbell weights. A ‘front dumbbell raise’ can be done by simply holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of you with the palms of your hands facing your body; your arms should be loose and relaxed for your starting position. While maintaining a solid core, lift one of your arms up in front of you until your arm is slightly above parallel to the floor. Hold, and then as you lower the one arm back down to starting position, start to lift the opposite arm up. Repeat this exercise 10-20 reps for 1-3 sets as you progress. You can also progress by adding more weight over time with this one as well!

As for our canine counterparts, both the shoulder flexion and extension exercises can be performed in one traditional movement - the high five. This particular exercise works on strengthening the muscles of the shoulder involved in extension (the suraspinatus and biceps brachii) and abduction, as well as working on the dog’s forelimb advancement abilities. You will start by having the dog sit squarely in front of you in a controlled position. Ask for the dog to give you one front foot at a time, targeting to your hand - extending up past their head/neck region. Repeat this exercise for 3-5 reps with each front leg for 1-2 sets.

The Wheelbarrow

Lastly this week, I wanted to end on a super fun exercise that you can do with a partner! Wheelbarrowing just requires the use of your body weight and one additional workout partner; it will work not only your entire shoulder group, but also your biceps, chest, back, and obliques. Partner one will start in the proper push-up position (you know how to do this from earlier in the post), while partner 2 stands behind your feet. Partner two will lift partner one’s legs and secure them up at their hips. Partner one will start to walk forward with their hands; while partner two walks forward supporting partner one’s legs until the designated end spot. Switch! Remember to keep your core engaged, look forward, and keep your back flat to avoid injury on this one. Trust me, this one is more difficult than it looks! Have fun and do as many reps as you both feel you can handle without being too fatigued. I recommend starting with 3 sets of wheelbarrows for 10-30 yards; working up to 10 walks of 50 yards each.

The best part about this exercise is that you can then be the partner for your pup! For this exercise you will start with your dog in a stand in front of you. Slowly lift both the dog’s hind-limbs, approximately 2 inches off of the ground, and ask the dog to walk forward. You can ask the dog to move forward towards a target that is already placed ahead of them on the ground; or just freely have the dog take approximately 5-6 steps. This will work on strengthening the dog’s forelimbs (biceps, triceps, and pectorals) as well as strengthening their core. Repeat this 2-3 times. This exercise should be super fun and light, focusing on fun and building your trust/relationship with your dog as you build the complexity and endurance on this one.

Forelimb and upper body strength is equally important for both canine athletes and their handlers. Making sure to focus weekly on both of your upper body mobility and shoulder group flexibility will help you be so much more efficient during intense physical activity. Keep your sessions fun and short; focusing more on your form before increasing in repetitions and weight. Even just by adding a few of these reps to your weekly routine, you’ll be on your way to having a more well-rounded workout program and become a stronger overall individual. Happy Labor Day!

Thanks to Lauren Blackson DVM, CCRP of Peak Performance for her contribution to this week’s focused fitness on upper body strength and mobility!

the bounce back.

Life is all about how you rebound. How you take undesirable situations and turn them around. Turn a negative into a positive and come out better than you started. There are so many factors during each day that are within your control; while inevitably, there are just as many which you will also have zero control over. You can sit around and contemplate the ‘what ifs’ after every situation that do not go as planned - or you can be proactive and adjust given the unforeseen circumstances to your intended new path ahead. There are times where we are completely blindsided by a turn of events - I personally have experienced this way too many times - but, given all that I have been through, it has enabled me to rebound quicker and more effectively for the next turn of events. This is what I like to refer to as ‘the bounce back’.

You can try everything in your power to prevent a physical injury, yet still end up injured. You can unemotionally detach yourself from certain situations, yet still end up hurt. You can only control so much, so when situations do not go as planned, you need to come up with a new plan that fits that path. You have to try again and keep pushing. I personally always try to maintain a positive outlook given most situations that arise, but there are times where there is very little positivity to be found. That is just the sad truth; especially when there is a loss of life involved - I do not feel there is ever a ‘positive side’ to look towards when that occurs. Losing someone you love is just unfair. Nonetheless, a majority of these feelings pertaining to this post came up after having one of the worst competition weekends I can remember - maybe it actually was the worst. I will in no way, shape or form compare this to the detriment I felt after losing Oakley’s life to circumstances way beyond my control; however, in the view of it all, I struggled hard this weekend.

Mentally, I was not prepared to compete. It had been over six weeks since our last competition and I was struggling coming back from a much needed vacation and getting back into the swing of training consistently. My list is a mile long with the things I need to work on, which is nothing new, but I went into this particular weekend knowing I needed certain qualifiers to obtain ‘stuff’. Now, I have not done this in a very long time - putting that type of pressure on myself, as I am not someone who chases qualifiers. I personally love to go and compete for the thrill of it all - and I let the results be what they are. I go to competitive events to BE competitive. So essentially, I messed with my own mental game before I even left the house that morning, which figuratively started the ball rolling on a less than stellar weekend.

I was not the half of the team my dogs needed me to be - the half that they deserve - and I know that now. I knew after the first day of competing concluded that given my handling, my reactions, my expectations, my results - I let myself down before I even took to the line each time - which in turn, let my teammates down. Thankfully my dogs are very forgiving and allowed me to regroup for day 2. I thought about that evening how the results did not go my way and sadly, I realized this was the first competition I was having very little fun at. BOUNCE BACK. I was determined day 2 to go back out there and run like the teammate my dogs know and love! The teammate they deserve.

Here we are, day 2 just before our first run, and the unthinkable happens. Perspective.

I look back now after the incident and reflect on how scared I was for my dog - that moment I remembered the feeling ‘agility does not matter anymore - it was keeping him alive’. Oakley, the dog that gave me his all until the very end and who originally ignited that feeling in my soul, resonated again. None of that shit pertaining to competing really matters in the end. It’s about the journey we take with our teammates and the experiences we share together doing something we both love. Yes, I am very competitive and yes, my dogs love to compete, but I need to never lose sight of that feeling again. Just the joy of having them with me - to share my life with them. As when I saw what was happening and I felt completely helpless again within the blink of an eye, I knew the immediate outcome was out of my control. The damage was done. You cannot plan for that - you do not plan for bad things to happen. However, when they do, you do the absolute best you can to adjust to the given circumstances and get to work.

As I sit here writing this, I am thankful. I am amazed that my dog was able to walk away from the situation. He is so strong, both mentally and physically, and I know he will bounce back to be able to compete again in the near future. I, on the other hand, needed some time to really process my feelings and decide how I needed to move forward. I cried a lot - but, I ultimately know that I cannot let fear dictate my happiness however, so I will bounce back and move forward as well. Will I do my best to be more socially aware and be a better advocate for my teammates at future events? You bet your ass - I learned that lesson the hard way. Nonetheless, I’ll be dammed if I do not feel some type of responsibility moving forward to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

As competitors we are responsible not only for our own safety, but for everyone else’s as well.

So, the next time we step to the line to compete, I will have a much clearer objective. A clear mind and an open heart, ready to run the only way we know how - fast. The results will be what they will be, but I will never take my teammates well being or safety for granted again. Situations are all about how you react to them - so for now, we will continue to learn lessons that make us stronger and more resilient for our future. We will continue to be thankful. We will continue to bounce back.

supplementation.

If you have ever contemplated whether or not you or your dog should be taking supplements, I think it is most important to start by looking at the complete picture. By understanding truly what it means to supplement, you can truly appreciate the benefits of adding them to your diet. Supplements are designed to enhance or complete, in this case a diet, when they are used as additives in conjunction with a healthy base. In this particular case especially, nutritional supplements are designed to be added to your current diet choices to increase the quality value of your overall health. Personally, I feel that it is extremely beneficial for you to add quality supplementation to both you and your dog’s diets, every single day, to be able to achieve your fullest potential competing in any sport activities.

Food sources, for both humans and canines, are not anywhere near as nutritional as they used to be. Even when eating a whole food or plant based diet, humans are not able to achieve the same benefits with food sources as they could even 10 years ago. Paying attention every single meal to what you are eating is also quite a bit of work; consistently making sure that throughout the day, every day, you are always getting the proper vitamins and minerals you need is actually more difficult to do than one would think. So, due to this, humans require more supplementation to achieve all of their nutritional requirements each day. I recommend at minimum taking a multivitamin (designed specifically for men or women), omega-3 fatty acids, a probiotic, vitamin C, vitamin D, and a magnesium/zinc additive. These base supplements typically cover the gaps missing from your every day nutrition and help to keep your muscles and joints functioning properly for activity.

Depending on what you currently feed and the sports that they currently participate in, you may need to supplement your canine athlete as well. Supplements usually contribute to increased energy, lower instance of physical injury, a strengthened immune system, and a healthier overall athlete. I use quite a few supplements for my canine athletes to make sure they are not missing any critical nutrients in their raw based diet that could contribute to illness or injury. For my dogs, I use a ‘complete’ formula that encompasses a full source of vitamins and minerals, probiotics, and a healthy muscle and joint blueprint; an immune system booster (normally just during high rates of travel or if I believe they have been exposed to an illness); electrolyte powder or paste (especially critical on competition days or high volume training days); omega-3 supplement (typically some type of fish oil); a cranberry supplement (aids in a healthy urinary tract and adds extra natural vitamin C in a form dogs can process adequately); taurine (for a healthy heart, brain and retinas); & a rotation/multiple ligament and tendon strengthening/repair supplements.

Keeping you and your canine athlete in an overall healthy state starts with proper nutrition and adequate supplementation. Staying healthy by consistently boosting you and your canine’s immune systems, keeping your hormones appropriately balanced, and keeping your skin (the body’s largest organ) hydrated and nourished will give you both the best possible course of not falling ill or injured. By incorporating a base supplement regimen into your diet each day, you are enabling your body to focus more on your actual performance, without depleting other sources within your body for the needed energy, during intense training or competition. This is why I highly recommend, if you do not already do so, to start taking a base supplement regimen and also incorporate nutritional supplementation into your dog’s diet as well.

core work.

Have you and your dog worked on your core muscles this week? If not, then get ready, because this one is a must try!

The muscles encompassing your major abdominal region through your pelvis area are considered your body’s core muscles. These particular muscles allow the body to stay stabilized, either upright or horizontally, and move harmoniously with your lower back, while also supporting your appendages. Core exercises are some of the most underutilized movements by human and canine athletes alike. They are by far one of the most important muscle groups and contribute to a well-rounded individual physically. By strengthening and toning your underlying abdominal muscles, you can also improve your overall balance. This is super important for the handler when trying to rotate into position for a front cross; but also just as important for your dog when they are running full force across the top of a dog walk.

Without a strong core, you and your canine athlete are more susceptible to all types of injuries. Weak cores also contribute to poor posture such as slouching or roaching, increased muscle fatigue during or after exercise, and chronic lower back pain. Spinal issues and instability do not only plague human athletes, but also their canine teammates as well. When trying to navigate an obstacle such as the weave poles, dogs need to have an extremely strong core to be able to maneuver through them effectively and efficiently without becoming injured. By strengthening both of your cores, you are essentially making it easier for you both to excel in all other types of physical activities. Thus, by adding some of these simple exercises to your current workout regimen, you can drastically improve you and your canine’s overall physical fitness.

Planks

Essentially, the plank is a major core strengthening exercise that improves your posture by strengthening your spine and abdominal muscles. It also contributes to strengthening some of your accessory muscles and tendons in your shoulders and hips, but primarily this exercise targets the trunk of your body. This is also one of those exercises, that when done properly, reduces back pain by engaging the abdominal muscles to support your spinal muscles as well. Thus, leading to better posture and reduced spinal injuries over time. Proper planks are demonstrated by posturing on your toes and forearms for stability with a flat back and engaged abdominal region. The longer you engage these muscles the more you will benefit; shooting for around 2 minutes for an individual plank is ideal.

Canines can also benefit substantially from plank work even though they do not carry themselves upright. Dogs use their core muscles to maintain their balance and move freely with a horizontally level spine. If you notice your dog roaching up in the back or sagging down towards their abdominal region, this could indicate that they need some desperate work on their core. You can start this on an even, stationary surface and gradually increase to surfaces that are more uneven and require more core engagement. Standing on any uneven surface will enable your dog to engage their core muscles to maintain their balance. Dogs can ideally be worked on planks 1-2 times a week, building to 4 reps of 30 seconds on different types of uneven surfaces each session.

Opposite Arm and Leg Extensions/Stands

For human athletes, this particular exercise is both challenging and fun! It is a simple exercise that can be done a few times during an intense yoga session or done during your regular core workout routine. This exercise works both the upper and lower abdominal muscles, while also toning your spine stabilizers. It will also increase flexibility in both your shoulder rotator cuff and hip flexors by strengthening those supportive tissues that allow you to experience the full range of motion in those joints. Start by stabilizing yourself on your knees and palms in a tabletop position. After choosing one arm and the opposite leg, stretch your arm forward in front of you and your leg behind you until both extremities are in full extension. Hold this position for close to 30 seconds each rep, alternate sides for 4-10 reps and work towards 2-4 sets.

As for your dog, these exercises are also known as ‘cross legged stands’ in the canine conditioning world. Oddly enough, this particular type of exercise involves the handler for assistance to obtain the desired effectiveness. On an even surface to start, you are going to lift up your dog’s opposite front and rear legs (ex. right front leg and left back leg). You are going to repeat this on the opposite side as well for 3x on each side, holding each stand for 20-30 seconds. Once you can achieve this on solid ground, you can start moving to more uneven surfaces such as a Fitbone or on a Peanut. Be careful with this one when first starting out however, as even the most fit dogs can struggle; so, if you see fatigue setting in, back off on the amount of reps or the ultimate amount of time for each rep.

Leg Raises and Front-End Elevated Sit-To-Stands

For human athletes, leg raises are a contrasting comparison exercise to the front-end elevated sit-to-stands you will be doing with your canine counterparts. Nonetheless, this is a stability and strength exercise that allows you to work your vertical spine similar to how they will work their spine horizontally. Leg raises are not only great at working the main core stabilizers, but they are also great at targeting your hip flexors, which will help with your overall flexibility. Attempting to engage your lower abdominal muscles can sometimes be tricky as it is a somewhat difficult area to target adequately, but this particular exercise is dead on for working them properly. You will want to start by laying face up with your back flat on the floor and your hands tucked along your sides. With you legs straight and positioned together, slowly raise them up until the bottom of your feet are positioned facing the ceiling. As you lower your legs back down, pay special attention that you keep your legs elevated just above the floor to finish your rep. You can do this core exercise as tolerated for ideally 4-12 reps during 2-4 sets. Remember to keep this exercise slow and controlled as that is what is going to engage your core most effectively.

In comparison, your canine athlete is going to be participating in front-end elevated sit-to-stands to achieve the same desired outcome. Start by asking your dog to place their front feet on a stable perch, you can ideally start around 3 inches off the ground and progress higher, as the dog is in the standing position. When their front feet are resting comfortably on the perch, ask your dog to go into a ‘sit’ position. Since your dog’s front feet are elevated, it enables them to engage their hip flexor muscles and lower abdominal muscles to balance themselves while sitting. Finally, ask the dog to stand; watch to make sure they are stepping back with both feet into an extended stand once again; this is 1 rep. You can increase the difficulty by asking your dog to do this exercise with their front feet elevated on an unstable surface once they have the basic mechanics down. Repeat this exercise for 5-10 reps, 1-3 sets.

Elite core fitness is essential for handlers and canine athletes. Most strains and sprains we experience, especially when dealing with canine athletes, are primarily due to a lack of core stability - so, remember that. It is so critical for both teammates to maintain a proper spine alignment and to have stable abdominal muscles to achieve at agility and similar dog sports at the highest competitive levels. Remember that over time, by slowly stabilizing your core, it will lead to increased flexibility, stability, and even overall injury prevention for you and your dog during your times of physical activity. Core fitness exercises are easy to fit into your current exercise routine and are essential for human and canine athletes when seeking to prevent injuries and increase mobility and stability for physical competition.

Special thanks to Lauren Blackson DVM, CCRP of Peak Performance for her contribution to this week’s focused fitness on core exercises! Let us know how your new core workouts go - we would love to hear from you!

being competitive.

competition n. 1: the activity or condition of competing < there is fierce competition between dogs > 2: an event or contest in which people compete < an agility competition > 3: the person or people with whom one is competing, especially in a commercial or sporting arena; the opposition < I strolled around to check out the competition > .

How competitive are you?

Recently, if you’re a part of any online community groups when it comes to the sport of dog agility, there seems to be two distinct camps - camp 1 “I’m just here to have fun” <insert unicorns, rainbows and stripper glitter raining from the heavens while you run> and camp 2 “I’m here to win” <labeled as competitive bitches who just want to make the world team>. Maybe you fall somewhere in between these two camps; or inevitably you’re standing smack dab in the middle of a figurative game of ‘Red Rover’ waiting for one of them to call your name. This of course depends on multiple factors including your current competition dog, how long you’ve been a part of the sport as a whole, your current feelings on each venue, etc. This seems to be the norm these days however - animosity between competitors depending on their outcome goals and their venue preferences that drive these particular goals. Inevitably, when you are competing in any venue of dog sports though, it is understood that there will always be some sort of incentive to actually win.

Any competition that I currently enter or compete at, I am there to run courses to the best of my and my own dog’s individual abilities and win as many rounds as possible. Plain and simple; at every event. My personal feeling of being competitive at these events falls on my ability to have the empowered confidence to be the best version of ourselves as a team on that given day. By exhibiting the confidence to be the best version of ourselves as a team, I have found that I personally have way more fun <funny how that worked out right?> and believe it or not, so do my dogs! I absolutely LOVE to compete; that is why I spend the money to enter the events that I choose to and dedicate my time and effort into attending said events. However, depending on my individual dog, I always go into these events having set realistic goals and expectations that reflect accurately upon their current skill set.

How do you find and produce your competitive edge?

The answer to this question is definitely not concrete for even myself, nor is it ever going to be the same for any two teams in this entire sport. We all stem from different backgrounds, live different lifestyles, train with different individuals week-to-week, have completely different dogs <“we walk the same path, but got on different shoes” comes to mind here> but collectively we all wind up at the same events vying for essentially the same outcomes. Expressing that desire to win as you pull it from whatever internal crevice you choose to stash it in, while also being humble enough to know you share that space with another living being <that truly has zero concept of this socially> is a view unlike any other competitively. The sport of dog agility is so unique in this regard compared to other professional competitive sports. You really have to find what place that competitive energy comes from, harness it, and let it fuel your competitive drive all while reminding yourself that you are only one half of your team.

In conjunction, ironically, the other half of your team is essentially reliant completely on you. Your training, your emotions, your physical abilities, and your mental game all play roles on a consistent run-to-run basis. These individual capacities are what sets each and every team apart; yet, when it is all put together correctly, you can ultimately make your team the one to beat. That team that everyone is watching or talking about. No one likes to lose; but in the end, this sport ends up being reliant upon another living, breathing individual who essentially has no skin in the game. Please, if you take away anything from this post, let that be it.

Our dogs go out there and literally work their asses off for us, so we can stand in the spotlight. These dogs are literally the definition of selflessness when it comes to this sport - so consciously, you always need to be aware of that. You consistently have to walk that line, so-to-speak, and advocate for them even when your competitive edge is still radiating through. You are their only voice on and off the course. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for going out there and laying it all on the line, but let us all remember their joy to participate stems from us. The sport of dog agility will always be a source of pure joy for myself and my dogs whenever we step to the line to compete; so make no mistake, I will always be their voice when they need it.

If all goes according to plan, then the end game is always going to be standing on those boxes.

After all, it is a competition.

low-intensity steady state cardiovascular exercise.

No matter how long you have been involved in fitness either with yourself or with your dogs, there is one type of exercise that is not only easy, free and beneficial to both humans and canines, but it is something that can be done anywhere and at any time during your day. Low-intensity steady state cardiovascular exercise is essentially any form of exercise that allows you to maintain a consistent partial-capacity cardiovascular pace over a distinguished period of time. It can be used to accompany your weight training sets during your weekly workout regimen or be used to compliment your high-intensity interval training activities on alternating days.

By maintaining a steady, low-intensity pace for an extended period of time, you allow your dog to exercise at their own capacity. Low-intensity cardiovascular exercises such as walking, hiking, or swimming are all easy additions to any established fitness regimen. It is a wonderful way for you to build up their overall fitness levels, while also keeping the overall impact on their bodies relatively low; this particular type of exercise does not add much stress to their joints and connective tissues, so it can be done several times a week without really worrying about “overdoing it”. Low-intensity cardiovascular exercise can even be a great form of exercise for any dog recovering from an illness or injury that needs to slowly work towards getting back to competing.

At least 3 days a week, my dogs and I have a regular routine of hiking where they are allowed to just run off-leash and be dogs for at least a full hour or more. Of course they all have amazingly trained recalls and are required to follow the rules out on public trails, but for the most part they are allowed to just be themselves in a non-restricted environment. Interacting with nature, smelling unique scents, and moving over different types of terrain contributes exponentially to my dogs’ overall health. I personally feel that this particular type of low-intensity, steady-state cardiovascular exercise is super beneficial to not only their physical health, but also to their overall mental health as well.

Another example of how my dogs enjoy low-intensity physical activity each week, is by spending around 30-45 minutes in the pool. Swimming is not only a wonderful full-body workout, but it also helps keep almost all the impact stress off of their joints as well. All while increasing their cardiovascular health, it also contributes to helping build their overall endurance, to strengthen their muscles, and to burn a decent amount of calories. By swimming at a lower intensity, such as treading water, it allows your dog to still be able to exercise without interfering with the recovery time of potentially sore muscles. Swimming can help substantially increase the blood-flow to recovering muscles and reduce post-workout stiffness from fitness training sessions done earlier in the week.

Personally, I love my dogs’ low-intensity cardio time as it allows me some personal time to just relax and reflect; especially during their off-leash walks and hikes. It is an easy way to get me out of bed first thing in the morning and keep me moving for the day ahead. This way, I end up being able to accomplish more during my overall day too. It enables me time to catch up on some of my favorite podcasts or even just enjoy the quiet during our time together in different peaceful, natural environments. Participating in low-intensity cardiovascular exercise with my dogs is super enjoyable and I actually look forward to it the most out of all my exercise time each week! Oddly enough, I think this free-time and type of exercise is the one that they look forward to the most each week as well.

If all of those reasons have not already triggered you to add steady state cardio to you and your canine’s current work-load, then let me add one more benefit to the list: it is a major helper in burning excess fat. When you train at a lower intensity, you enable your body the ability to metabolize fat. Essentially, that means your body can now access, break down, and use your current fat storages for more energy. If you use any type of heart rate tracker, you want to shoot for anywhere from 50-60% of your maximum heart rate during this time for your greatest fat burning abilities. Of course, you always need to be incorporating some type of high-intensity interval training during your weekly workouts too; if not, you will potentially set your body up for breaking down muscle mass as you continue to burn through your energy sources.

When it comes to health and fitness, balance is always key. Now get out and enjoy some blissful free-time with your pups all while increasing your cardiac fitness and overall longevity.

cavaletti drills and ladder work.

When it comes to skills and drills for human and canine performance, ladder & cavaletti exercises adequately compliment one another. These particular exercises parallel each other in multiple avenues of fitness especially when it comes to spacial awareness (proprioception) of the extremities and improving foot placement timing. When it comes to the actual volume of these exercises, you can start slow and low and expand on speed or height to also increase cardiac performance over time. For those of us involved in a speed based sport such as dog agility, ladder drills are a wonderful way to increase your sprinting abilities and timing. As for our canine athletes, cavaletti exercises can achieve these same desired outcomes utilizing their four paws during a similar, yet more controlled process.

Using cavaletti poles as a warm-up, especially before agility jumping drills, can be amazingly beneficial for your canine athlete as it allows them to obtain more flexion (bending) of their wrists, elbows, ankles and knees. It is important to note that there is no increase in extension of the joints when working on cavaletti rails, which allows the dog to work their muscles, tendons and fibers adequately while remaining a low-impact exercise. Working over cavalletti rails can enhance the regularity and rhythm of distinguished paces, loosen up and strengthen the muscles, contribute to the development of the heart and circulatory systems, and increase balance & suspension. By slowly increasing the amount of repetitions over time, you can subsequently increase their cardiac output which will help them warm-up more efficiently and effectively before explosive amounts of exercise. It truly is a wonderful all-around gymnastics exercise for our four-legged athletes that can be easily added to your current exercise and fitness regimen.

At any rate, improving the dog’s overall movement is essentially the end goal when working them on cavaletti drills. When watching my own dogs move, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a beautiful, perpetual, sound trot. There are those of you who know exactly what I am talking about - there is an underlying peace that settles in when you watch your free-moving performance dog have a perfectly sound gait - there is just something about it that I’ll never really be able to put into words regarding how happy it actually makes me feel. Nonetheless, by improving their overall core strength and expanding their muscle fiber length in their limbs, you can achieve this sound and balanced trot I am elaborating on here.

When your dog has mastered the concept of cavaletti rails, you can then increase the difficulty with some of these simple adjustments:

  • Increase height

  • Increase number of repetitions

  • Increase number of poles (even numbers, typically in sets of 6)

In conjunction with working on your dog’s balance and circulatory system health, you need to be working on yours! Agility ladders, adequately named here, can be used in multiple different ways to achieve the same desired results for handlers. They are a wonderful way to practice your individual footwork, movement training, and increase your cardiovascular endurance. Following up on what I talked about in regards to proper warm-up exercises, ladder drills are also an amazing way to warm-up your entire body; especially your lower extremities, to avoid potential injuries before sprinting out on course. These drills can help you increase your overall speed and explosiveness when executing crosses or accelerating out of turns. Bottom line, ladder drills are essentially one of the best tools for increasing your speed and agility.

Here is a simple agility ladder full lower body workout warm-up (5-7 minutes, as many rounds as possible):

  • Two Feet Hop

  • Two Feet Individual Stepping (forward/backward motion)

  • Side Hops (each side)

  • Lateral Shuffle (each way with individual feet placement)

  • Hopscotch

As your skills increase, you can start incorporating sprinting drills with cones into a full-blown ladder workout once or twice a week. Incorporating ladder drills into your current workout routine can help you burn monster amounts of calories and destroy excessively stored fat. Believe it or not, ladder drills can be considered a high intensity interval training workout, which makes them fun and functional for those of you who need incentive to change your current routine. In addition to ladder drills working your body intensely, the longer you work to develop your drills and the quicker you become, the faster you will be able to think and process these types of movements over time as well. These type of drills in particular, force you to connect your mind and body as you concentrate on your foot placement at faster rates of speed during more complicated drills.

Agility ladders for bipeds are relatively easy and cheap to obtain at any local fitness store. Proper cavaletti rails are more difficult to obtain however, at a decent price; but a good, easy option is always the FitPaws hurdle kits. If you currently do not own a set of cavaletti rails and you are short on cash, that is also no problem! Some cheap, at home alternatives include:

  • pool noodles

  • low agility jumps (set to wrist height or lower)

  • mops and broom sticks

  • rolled up towels

  • ladders (dependent on dog’s height/stride length)

I actually recently found a human fitness ladder that doubles as a set of canine cavaletti rails! You can get these ladders from Fitnesshealth.co for $24.99 USD - it has the ability to be a flat exercise ladder that can also double as an elevated speed ladder for human agility training and canine cavaletti work! These come in sets of 6. You can adjust the height as you compress and expand the ladder, but the ultimate height is around 6’’ tall when fully compressed. When all 6 dividers are present the space between rungs can be made 14-18’’, but you can also remove every other rung to increase the ultimate distance to 36’’. So, if you have a typical medium sized dog, these ladders are a perfect way to expand on your fitness training and increase your pups fitness regimen as well!

A special ‘thank you’ to Lauren Blackson DVM, CCRP of Peak Performance for some information and insight on the canine cavaletti performance mechanics and benefits for this post! Happy fitness training!

the importance of warm-ups and cool-downs.

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Throughout my entire life, I have been involved in competitive sports in one way or another. As some of you know, I have also always been an avid fan of college and professional sports as well; even watching practice footage and day-to-day workouts of teams helps give me a better understanding of what these athletes achieve on and off the field. Organized workout routines surrounded by proper warm-ups, cool-downs, and recovery tactics help keep athletes in their most competitive state year round. Any team that goes on to win a national championship, in any capacity, will tell you that the time spent before and after the game is just as important as the time spent playing it. Competitive dog agility is by far one of the most underappreciated sports in this country; due to this, I personally feel that many individuals that are currently competing do not take the adequate time to properly warm-up and cool-down not only their canine athletes, but themselves.

Personally, I have a very extensive warm-up and cool-down routine for both myself and my dogs. I cannot stress how important this is for BOTH of you; after all, you are a team. Working professionally in orthopedics for the last six years, I have seen, diagnosed, treated, and assisted on fixing thousands of sports related injuries. For facts sake, I looked up a recent study from the US Department of Health and Human Services which determined the following for athletes:

  • Sprains and strains accounted for the largest portion of ‘sports’ injury types, at 41.4 per 1,000. Fractures, at 20 per 1,000, were next, followed by contusions (19), open wound (10), traumatic brain injury (4.5), and dislocation (2.9).

  • The most frequently injured area of the body was the lower extremities, at 42 per 1,000 individuals, followed by upper extremities (30), head/neck (16), and trunk (10).

Given these findings, it is safe to say that strains and sprains of the lower extremities (hips, knees, and ankles) are the most prevalent sports injuries you will see. This is extremely prevalent in the world of competitive dog agility; most of the injuries I have personally witnessed individuals suffer during a run pertain to their knees and ankles. Not to say other injuries do not occur - unfortunately, I have assisted in treating multiple fall injuries on site at local events, one that even resulted in a fractured wrist that I stabilized on site before EMS arrived - but this definitely holds true from my personal experiences.

As for our canine counterparts however, from research conducted by multiple veterinarians and canine agility enthusiasts, ‘A Survey of Injuries Occurring in Dogs Participating in Agility’ showed similar, yet contrasting, findings:

  • Soft tissue injuries (sprains, strains, and contusions) were the predominant injury type.

  • In general, the shoulders and backs of your dogs (20% and 18% of all injuries respectively) were most commonly injured. The stifle (12%), hip (6%), carpus (6%) and phalanges (6%) were injured less frequently.

So, strains and sprains still make up a greater part of injuries for our canines in this sport, but instead of a majority of these being to their lower extremities like human athletes, their shoulders and spine take a brunt of the trauma woefully. This statistic is supported heavily by the persistent uptick of shoulder scopes I have seen needing to take place just in the past couple of years. Regardless of what needs to be addressed in consideration to safety of particular obstacles on course, I am convinced a significant amount of these injuries can be prevented with a proper warm-up and cool-down routine.

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That being said, if you are not warming yourself up before a run, then you are leaving about 15% of your maximum human potential literally sitting outside the ring. In short, there are three primary factors to focus on during your warm-up; stretch-reflex systems for tendon, ligament and muscle groups, increased blood flow and heart rate, & neurological/motor skill function. Proper warm-up of these functions can be done in about 6-8 minutes of focused work. Here is an example of a simple outline to follow:

  • Forward jogging for 5 seconds (60% effort), backwards jogging for 5 seconds (60% effort), lateral movement for 5 seconds each way (60% effort)

  • Stretch lower extremities for 90 seconds

  • Repeat above at 70% effort/stretch for 60 seconds

  • Repeat above at 85% effort/stretch for 30 seconds

  • 1 minute footwork drills

    **should be completed 15-20 minutes before your actual run

Additionally, formal warm-ups for canines are becoming increasingly more important as demands for faster times, tighter turns, and jumping abilities grows. Warming up the dog before taking them to the line allows their muscles the ability to prepare for such a strenuous activity. By gradually increasing their heart rate and blood circulation, you allow the muscles to fill with blood and increase in elasticity. This also allows their heart to prepare for the strenuous activity ahead. During this time, you are also allowing their joints to loosen and move more freely; joints that are warmed up efficiently allow the body to move with ease during explosive movements, which in turn, decreases the likelihood of an injury. Therefore, you should start by including the following into their pre-run routine:

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  • At minimum, 5-10 minutes of free/leashed walking (once they leave their resting area)

  • Light side bends to each side of the body towards their neck, shoulder, mid-spine, & rear

  • Independent spins in either direction on the flat (left and right)

  • Combination of backing up on the flat <this skill is SO important> with command skills

  • Sit-to-stands and down-to-stands to a hand touch

  • Sprints on the flat - either to a toy or as a recall from a stay

    • <funny, a place to work your start-line stay before the run>.

  • Then, and only then, do we move to the practice jump area.

    • Starting the dog at a much lower height and working my way up to their actual competition height allows those muscle and tendon groups to finally work together in a symbiotic relationship without the stress of running full force. I spend significant time here working on different angles of the jump and certain turns I plan to execute on the course ahead <a fresh reminder for them of some skill work before it counts>.

Until this has all been achieved, I do not run my dogs. In my opinion, it is a disservice to them and their overall physical well-being if they are not adequately warmed up before allowed out on course. With all that we ask of our canine athletes on each run, they deserve an adequate warm-up routine at the very least.

Do not forget after each run, your cool-down is just as essential as your warm-up; you are assisting the body’s natural process of helping to flush out the built up lactic acid and other bi-products as well as re-oxygenating the body’s tissues for maximum recovery. Over time, this will also help your muscles increase in flexibility and remain more elastic for your next exercise endeavor. This could include the following:

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  • 6-8 minutes of walking (brisk to start, slowing to a mild pace)

  • 5-10 minutes foam rolling lower extremity muscle groups

  • Full-body stretching (at the end of the day/after all runs)

Just as you suspected, canine cool-down is just as important as a substantial warm-up as well. Like human athletes, canine athletes need to be gradually returned to a normal resting respiration rate, heart rate and body temperature after strenuous physical activity. This can be achieved with:

  • 5-10 minutes of free/leashed walking in between each run & a full range-of-motion check

  • Full ROM stretching (after all runs for the day)

    • I normally try to spend around 30 seconds - 1 minute on each muscle group, each side; taking my time to notice any hesitations or restrictions.

“What seems impossible today, will one day become your warm-up.”

https://www.apta.org/PTinMotion/News/2017/1/4/SportsInjuries/

inspiration.

inspiration n. 1: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative < I had a flash of inspiration > 2: a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea < a divine influence > 3: a drawing in of breath, inhalation < an act of breathing >.

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What inspires you?

Since starting to participate in the sport of agility, I have had the privilege to work with some incredible handlers who have shaped this sport into what it is today. Each one bringing something unique to the table; each one allowing me to add something valuable to my toolbox. By allowing others to push you out of your comfort zone, you empower yourself to unlimited quantities of knowledge. The learning is infinite when it comes to this sport; accordingly, how we learn to communicate with our canine counterparts is consistently perpetuating us to newer and superior heights.

Training is part of my daily routine; whether it pertains to exercising our brains or exercising our physical bodies, we are consistently and perpetually working on a concept or skill each day. By obtaining knowledge and skills from several individuals and places, it allows me to keep things fresh and interesting for both myself and my dogs. I consistently allow ideas of individuals <who have been inspired in their own endeavors to create concepts and new training techniques> to absorb into my every day life. This is so important; opening yourself up to new information and possibilities enables you to grow and reach your fullest potential.

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Specifically learning from others successes may be one of the most beneficial instances that allows you to grow as an individual. Successful individuals are typically victorious for multiple reasons in several avenues of their lives; this is not something that is coincidental or happens due to ‘good luck’. These individuals put in long hours of hard work and exercise their learning abilities on a daily basis when it comes to their unique position. This should be highly admired and motivate you to reach new heights and discover new possibilities pertaining to your own successes.

So, on that note, encouraging and supporting fellow athletes in this sport needs to be higher up on everyone’s priority list; your fellow competitors are not the enemy. Let yourself by amazed by others individual abilities and let it fuel you to newer heights and foster greater possibilities for you and your own dog. Enjoy seeing others in their own space and let it inspire you. Go out of your comfort zone and compliment others on skills or attributes that stand out to you. Do not be intimidated when another team’s capabilities are exemplary; kick back, take some notes, and let those experiences foster your own creativity towards your unique life triumphs.

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Allow yourself to get caught in the moment when it comes to your personal participation. Live for the experiences; deeply breathe in the new knowledge; let yourself escape down an avenue of adventure. Let go of all your preconceived notions and allow your understanding to mature. Information is infinite when it comes to progressing in the sport of agility'; so, sign-up for that online training course, start that new fitness routine, or attend that new handling seminar. Looking back a year from now I am confident you will be transformed by obtaining all that new found understanding. Who knows, it may even lead you to inspire others.

Handler Focused Fitness ‘Freebie’:

  • Warm-up:

    • 5 minute incline treadmill walk (3.4 speed)

  • Cardio:

    • 1 mile banded treadmill run (7.0+ speed)

  • Circuit 1:

    • Weighted deadlifts (95 pounds, 4 sets of 12)

    • Burpees to 20” elevated 1-legged box jumps (4 sets, 3 each side per set)

  • Circuit 2:

    • Banded jump squats (4 sets of 12)

    • Weighted ball, full body extension, decline sit-ups (12 pound ball, 4 sets of 12)

  • Cool-Down:

    • 5 minute light treadmill walk

    • 10 minutes dynamic stretching

Video example of "banded jump squats”: https://youtu.be/aomJqAfzukA

pursuing happiness.

happiness n. 1: the state of being happy < she struggled to find happiness in her life >.

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What does happiness mean to you? Better yet, what truly brings you happiness? Just settle in and think about this one for a minute - I mean that true, unmistakable joy that wells up inside of you and allows you to know that you, as an individual, have purpose in this world - that’s the internal feeling I want you to bring to light at this moment in time. When I think about this in regards to my own individual happiness, three distinct things sit permanently on my list - Derrick <my person, better-half, and the one that kicks my ass when I need it most; always pushing me to be a better version of myself>, my dogs <essentially my children with four legs and fur> and fitness. Of course other delights such as coffee, pizza and tacos come to mind, but these essentially are things that bring limited bursts of gratification - not the purposeful happiness I am talking about.

When it comes to figuring out my purpose in this lifetime, I have recently started to realize that helping others is definitely always going to be a part of who I am. Feeling like I have helped an individual whether in the hospital or out on the agility field - that gives me purpose. Helping others achieve their goals and sparking happiness in others literally lights me up inside. Likewise, seeing other individuals struggle when they are supposed to be fostering their own happiness is equally upsetting. This is where the fitness component comes into play.

When I first started running agility, I struggled with my own fitness goals. I was depressed, always tired, overweight and burning the candle at both ends of the wick so to speak. Oakley initially pushed me to make a change; I turned to a better diet, started exercising and started eliminating toxic components from my life. Less than a year later, I had lost almost fifty pounds and finally felt like I was on the right track; fast forward to today <almost 4 years later> and I am in the best shape of my entire life. With a regular workout schedule and eating healthy, nutritious foods daily; it truly brings me happiness and makes me a better person and trainer all the way around.

As I look at our community as dog agility handlers, I see that we all struggle with our own individual challenges in regards to our personal fitness and health; and I think I can help <again, that purpose of helping others is ingrained in my soul> . Handlers care so much about their dogs health, diet, fitness, and training - but, what about yourselves? They are only one half of the team <a very important part, do not get me wrong, but so are you> and I feel as though handlers overlook their own individual health and fitness needs in the process of caring for their canine counterparts. Your diet and exercise routine needs to be just as big of a priority, so you can be the best teammate you can be.

My pursuit of happiness starts with you all - all you handlers out there who want to run a little faster, turn a little tighter, cut a little harder, beat your dog down that dog walk, get in that tough blind cross, and not be winded at the end of those runs. I was there - desperately wanting to be where I am now - and I have not looked back since. Fitness is a part of my ultimate happiness and I am determined to share that with as many like-minded individuals as I can who participate in this sport; individuals who care about being the best versions of themselves that they possibly can be for their four-legged teammates.

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Just as each agility course is completed one obstacle at a time; each meal and each workout can put you one step closer to your health and fitness goals. Each week I am going to be posting a sampling of one of my weekly workouts with each blog post; try them out! “Handler focused fitness freebies” will hold me accountable for each week and I would love to hear from you once complete them yourselves!

Just think about where you could be a year from now… are you ready to start pursuing your own happiness?

Handler Focused Fitness ‘Freebie’:

  • Warm-up:

    • Elliptical 15 minute progressive warm-up (resistance climbing every 2 minutes)

  • Circuit 1: 8 minutes (4 rounds)

    • Step elevated split lunges (15 pound weights each hand; 10 each leg)

    • Full-body crunches (12 reps; 10 pound weight)

    • Tricep kick-backs (5 pound weight each hand; 10 reps each side)

  • Circuit 2: 8 minutes (4 rounds)

    • Elevated straight leg raises (5 total)

    • Kettle bell deadlifts (40 pound kettle bell; 7 total)

    • Burpee to 1 leg elevated step jumps (3 each side)

  • Cool-Down:

    • 5 minute treadmill walk

    • 10 minutes of dynamic stretching

the dream.

dream n. 1: sequences of mental images and emotions which occur during sleep 2: mental pictures of a waking life experience with abstract and or dream-like characteristics : visual imagery created by one’s imagination : a daydream or a vision 3: someone or something wonderful 4: an ambitious desire 5: an indulgent fantasy
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We all dream; whether it is about a new home, a better job, more shoes, or a vacation getaway, it is a common attribute we all share as human beings. Within the last few years, quite a few things have dramatically changed in my life. I have changed careers, been married and divorced, moved to a different part of the country, found the love of my life, gained more amazing dogs to my pack and finally feel comfortable in my own skin all at the ripe age of 27 <stuck somewhere between ‘I got this life thing figured out’ and ‘I don’t want to put on pants today’> These are just some of the highlighted points however, as I shoot across space and time from the most critical turning point in my life just over 2 years ago.

Many of you know the story of how I lost Oakley - January 20th will forever be a date that is burned into my brain that I wish never took place <one of those dates you wanna delete off the calendar forever type deals>. Some days it still feels like an actual dream <did that really happen?> like a collapsible moment in time where I cannot grasp that it was actually real. The phone call, the drive, the decision, the emptiness. That sticks with you. Reliving that moment is still very painful, but without that tragedy and the loss of him, I do not think I would be anywhere close to where I am at today. I would not be “me”, this particular person in time.

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Recently, I have truly risen and found the light out of the darkness. I have realized the potential that has perpetuated me forward to this point and I have found my joy again - with my dogs, my family, and ‘my person’. I have a vision. The reality of this vision is for changing this sport we all call ‘agility’, as a whole, for the better. Focusing on both mental and physical health for both handlers and their canines; by encouraging others to find their personal joy in dog training and competing. Just sit back and think about what you have to offer - as a partner, as a competitor, as a friend, and genuinely as a human being. Think about what makes you tick - your blessings, your shortcomings, your visions and your dreams.

My mission is to provide others with the tools to realize their full untapped potential as handler and dog teams. I encourage you to stop and think about what you truly need to work on to achieve your full potential as a teammate. You should embrace yourself for your current achievements and also for your shortcomings <as we know, those are what made you who you are today> but to always remember, there is continual room for growth. By surrounding yourself with positive, motivational influences you can continue to work on yourself, while also striving towards those perpetual dreams and goals.

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My focus forward is going to be using what I know and love to help others be better versions of themselves; to reach their highest potential by focusing on their physical abilities as a handler. Motivating handlers to focus on their health and fitness moving forward is something I am striving for <this is something I know everyone can use help and support on> as I needed help finding that motivation and the tools needed myself just a few short years ago. Oakley was my reason. Now however, his legacy and the lessons he taught me during his short life here have enabled me to see my true potential and start this new exciting endeavor in his name : Oakley Canine Athletics.

As I am moving forward with this new dream <holy crap, do I really own my own business now? so much adulting> I encourage you to think about your reasons ‘why’. What motivates you each day? What continues to push you to move forward with this sport? What moves you to put in the hours of training? How could you improve yourself overall? Finding YOUR reasons why will enable you to find the motivation to better yourself - to make your half of the team stronger. YOUR physical abilities are just as important as theirs - as though this seems to be perpetually overshadowed by their amazing bodies of fluff - you should always remember that.

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Now, let me get back to throwing the ball while I continue to dream…