Revised April, 2020 – Originally published September, 2017
“Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the levers and pulleys.” ~ Emma Bull
Border collie Rave On is a poster child for purposeful fitness dog training. Still, people surprise me with assumptions that any relationship between Rave On’s athletic success and her exposure to functional exercise are mere coincidence.
During 2017, Rave On entered her first AKC agility trial. Everything about Rave On was fast and confident. She moved through AKC Novice, Open, and into Excellent in both Standard and JWW classes in just 8 days of trialing with mostly first placements. She qualified in the more advanced Time 2 Beat classes as well. She had none of the dropped bars or contact obstacle uncertainties that dogs so often demonstrate during their initial competitive outings. Of course. nobody judges an athlete’s career based on her first 8 outings but we can assess how well prepared she was to begin competing based on her behavior at those trials.
Deliberate advance planning, not coincidence, brought two events together in 2015. First, I brought a Texas “cow dog” border collie home as a future agility prospect. About the same time as puppy Rave On was settling in, I made arrangements to attend the future 3-day FitPAWS® Master Trainer workshop.* I flew to Colorado in May, 2015 to learn the best ways to develop purposeful fitness exercise programs for dogs.
I devoted the month following FitPAWs Master Trainers’ lab* to three case studies** required for Master Trainer certification.* I included our mature border collie, Lincoln, among my three case studies. This offered a perfect opportunity to develop an exercise program based on Lincoln’s age, current level of fitness, and his lifestyle as an agility athlete within our family. A canine rehabilitation veterinarian working for FitPAWS reviewed (and passed) my case studies – sweet validation that my judgments were sound.
Although Rave On was too young then for repetitive or concussive exercise, she enjoyed the many purposeful puppy-activity ideas I’d brought home from the Master Trainer lab. She learned to manage unstable equipment such as inflated bones and discs and wobbly boards as she played on them daily. Puppy Rave On learned to use proper form while standing, sitting, downing, and turning both directions – on cue. Through puppy play she learned there were different cues for placing different feet on equipment – front feet only, back feet only, ALL feet together, and even a separate name for each individual leg – which she learned to lift at will.
During October 2015, radiographs verified that 11-month-old Rave On’s growth plates had closed. At that point we developed an exercise program for her that focused on supportive muscle development and injury prevention. Because of the skills she’s acquired as a puppy, it was an easy transition.
Early in 2016 we renovated our entire kennel building. The final touch was a separate canine fitness room with padded sports flooring. This dedicated space allowed us to keep our equipment handy and provided a safe place for exercise. We began scheduling purposeful fitness exercises for Rave On and Lincoln into our work days, conveniently, on a day-to-day basis.
My Continuing Education
In September 2016 I expanded upon my FitPAWS Master Trainer status by participating in the first Specialized Equipment Expert Course, held in Colorado. Working spots were limited and I felt fortunate to be allowed to include Rave On as a canine participant. For two days, we humans developed dog-appropriate levels of exercise. We included creative equipment combinations with strong emphasis on each dog’s proper form and mechanics. Rave On was a fine travel companion and her behavior allowed this fitness trainer to shine among my peers. I returned home feeling empowered to include cross conditioning exercise more assertively within our dogs’ athletic training programs.
Late in 2018 I completed University of Tennessee’s online requirements that, along with previous lab work, testing, and case studies, completed my requirements for Certified Canine Fitness Trainer status.
Rave On is not my first athletic dog but she is my first dog to have grown up in an environment that included functional exercise. Growth in any area of our lives requires us to see things differently. I hope I remain open minded and able to discover new levers and pulleys as Rave On & I train and play. Even now, I wonder what those might be.
* FitPAWS Master Trainer program has morphed into Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) program through University of Tennessee. The 3-day live hands on training referred to in this article is now called CCFT II LAB.
**FitPAWS Master Trainer program has morphed into Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) program through University of Tennessee. The 3 case studies required for Master Trainer certification referred to in this article are now called CCFT III CASE STUDIES.