Stepping It Up
Conditioning your dog (not the classical conditioning kind – the muscle kind!) can help you step up your agility game. A fit human athlete is likely to do better, and less likely to be injured while competing. The same idea applies to canine athletes. Conditioning is easier than it sounds, though. Long walks, runs, and playing – all things you and your dog do together anyways – count towards their overall fitness. You may reap added benefits from working your dog over conditioning obstacles, such as cavalettis.
Cavalettis are step-obstacles. You should use a row of at least four (preferably more) cavalettis that are at the right height for your dog. Cavalettis should be set about a stride apart, and come to your dogs’ hock.The idea is to walk over the obstacles, not jump. Think of how horses prance in a show, or how football players run through steps, lifting their knees – that is the motion your are going for with your dog. This helps strengthen your dog’s muscles, and develops dexterity. Your dog needs to be sure-footed, after all, dogwalk planks are pretty narrow when a dog is running full tilt!
Set up the cavaletti row or circle, and coax your dog through. Some dogs take to it naturally, and some don’t. Be sure to reward your dog and keep it positive! At the end of the row, reward, turn around and go back. If you hear your dogs’ feet ‘ticking’ on the bars, the spacing may be off, or they may be too high. Space them differently for walk and trot so your dog picks up their feet as they pick up speed.
Make sure you stop while your dog still has energy, and is having fun. This gets your dogs’ muscles toned and solid, much like high repetition, low weight works on a human. If your dog is in good shape, they are less likely to be injured on-course, and if they are injured, are more likely to heal quickly. Step on out!