Getting a new puppy is an exciting and busy time. Once your puppy comes home they begin an intensive learning period as they become accustomed to the routine of their new home, learn basic commands, and start foundation work for future performance endeavours. But you may be wondering, how to introduce your puppy to canine conditioning. The good news is that a lot of the skills you'll need for a future in sport can also be taught NOW as you are building your canine conditioning foundation skills. I often get asked a lot of questions about getting our young dogs started on canine conditioning so in this week's blog I'll go over a few of the top puppy conditioning questions I get asked!
Q: When can I start canine conditioning foundation training with my puppy?
The answer to this is - as soon as they come home!!!
Our puppies have an amazing capacity to soak up new information! And it's while they're young that we can take advantage of this ability to learn and use it to build a strong foundational base! The first and most important thing we can do with our puppies is teach them how to use their bodies! Puppies are often prone to injury because they lack both muscle strength and coordination.
Foundation work is not something we need to “get through” so we can start working on the “real skills,” in fact, the work we do now is crucial to the success of our future training goals. By taking the time now to teach our puppies good training habits, proper form, and a solid understanding of various foundation exercises we are reducing their risk of injury (present and future) and save critical time that would be needed to re-train those bad habits and postures later in life.
The foundation training we do applies to more than just conditioning but actually compliments our other training as well. When we work with our young dogs on foundation we not only build a stronger relationship with them but we also bolster their confidence, improve upon their life skills, and build on their sport foundations.
Q: What can my puppy do at a young age?
Just because our puppy is young doesn't mean they can't start building their foundational skills. We just want to make sure that what we do with them is safe and age-appropriate! The equipment you use should be low to the ground and stable to ensure that your puppy won't fall and hurt themselves. You'll also want to work on introducing different textures to familiarize your pup to different surfaces. For my own dogs, I like to introduce them to my gym as young as 8-weeks-old.
There is lots that we can do with our pups without fear of affecting their growth plates. Most growth plate injuries result from your puppy falling out of your arms, getting run into by another dog, repetitive stair climbing, or even something as serious as being hit by a car. The truth is excessive exercise is NOT the leading cause. Research has shown that running a skeletal immature dog as much as 20km a day for nearly a year resulted in just a 6% reduction in cartilage thickness of the medial femoral condyle and an 11% reduction in the part of the cartilage that gives it its stiffness and wear resistance (proteoglycan content). In fact, the majority of studies find that changes to articular cartilage only occurred when dogs ran an excess of 20km/a day. That gives us A LOT of wiggle room! So, while we should still avoid excessive or inappropriate exercises, there is still plenty we can do with our puppies that is safe!
Before you start your foundation training take a moment and reflect upon your puppy's structure. A lot of breeds have been developed over hundreds of years to perform a specific job and their build has been developed over time to give them the ability to do their jobs well. Sometimes, what we ask them to do is counter to what they were bred to do and your pup may face different challenges or limitations as a result of their structure. By understanding your dog's breed and structure you can work towards building a foundation program that will address any physically limitations they have and better understand physical challenges they may face. Remember to work with the dog you have in front of you! Too often I see follow classmates or trainers compare their young dog to another one in the class! Comparison is the killer of joy!
Q: How long should my training sessions be?
Have you heard of the puppy conditioning KISS principle?
Keep It Short, Silly!
Puppies LOVE to work with us and you may find that they want to continue to train, even when we have decided the session is over. Puppies (and adult dogs for that matter) struggle with self-limiting and it is our responsibility as their owners to be mindful of how long we are training them for, based on their age, tolerance and abilities. It is always best to quit while you are ahead and end the session on a high note where your puppy is happy, enthusiastic and wanting more.
We keep our training sessions short with our puppies to reduce potential physical and mental overload. When learning something new, our puppies are engaging their minds and bodies and that can be challenging for them. By pushing them beyond their limits we run the risk of not only discouraging them and squashing their enthusiasm but pushing them pass their physical abilities potentially causing an injury. Deflating your puppy or pushing them outside of what they can handle is also not a great way to strengthen your connection and bond!
Q: How do I know when my puppy is ready to start progressing exercises?
The truth is there is no clear cut answer as it largely depends on the dog, how long they've been doing the exercise, their age, training schedule, and experience. Generally speaking, if your dog can complete an exercise with good form and fully understands the behaviour it's time to start trying to add new variables. When working with puppies it's important to evaluate your goals and the life stage your dog is at. With puppies we want to be cautious and make sure they have the proper form and are learning the foundational skills. These skills are generally more important than progressing an exercise.
You can learn more on how to progress your exercises on my previous blog "Progressing your Conditioning Exercises like a Pro!"
The #1 question...
One of the most frequent questions I get is on how to begin conditioning our puppies. There's a lot of information out there and it can quickly be overwhelming! This is called information paralysis, and it occurs when we can't make a decision about something due to the amount of options and information available to us.
This is completely NORMAL! There is a lot of information on canine conditioning on the World Wide Web including dedicated FB. groups, blogs, youtube videos, and online courses. There is a wealth of information available at our fingertips and it can be at times conflicting and confusing. What I generally recommend for people struggling with information paralysis is to seek out and get some external guidance. By working with a trusted fully trained health professional you eliminate the guess work of conditioning exercises. Working with an experienced PT can give you peace of mind knowing that you’re following a step-by-step foundation program that is SAFE, FUNCTIONAL, and designed specifically for the young dog!
We can waste a lot of our valuable time trying to decipher what we read online and whether we can safely apply it to our dogs. We all have commitments and can struggle with fitting our training sessions into a busy life schedule. A PT can be a real time-saver by cutting through all the conflicting information out there and providing you with a step-by-step, clear guide on foundation exercises that are safe for your young dog to do. By following a program, you also have the peace of mind knowing that what you're doing is a proven method with proven results!
That's why I'm so excited to offer Walk the Plank: Transform your Puppy into Ship Shape for their Lifetime Voyage, a new puppy conditioning foundations course! This 6-week online course is designed to take away the guesswork of conditioning foundations and get you training your pups in a time efficient and proven manner using just the plank!
There's only ONE MORE DAY to join Walk the Plank! Don't miss out on this unique training opportunity! Click the button below to learn more about Walk the Plank!
If you have any questions about the program or starting your puppy's conditioning journey don't hesitate to reach out to me - I'm always happy to chat!