You have probably heard it all before; it is wise to do a good warm-up before exercising. That doesn't only apply to you! It is also good for your dog to prepare him for the activity you are going to do. After all, he is also an athlete! Many principles from our training theory also apply to sporting dogs.
- You are your dog's personal trainer. It is up to you to put together a training session in a responsible way and to guide your dog well through it, says Rosine Verkleij at Run Dog Academy.
The importance of a good training routine
You need to make a routine of things you and your dog do before, during and after training in a logical and clear way. This ensures structure and a good transition between different actions.
- Then your dog will know what is expected of him. That way, he can stay calm instead of getting tense or too excited.
It is nice to have a dog who loves to run and is very eager to go. The enthusiasm is often seen as positive, but too much excitement can take a lot of energy at the expense of performance and cooperation.
- Too much excitement can also cause an explosive start, which will prevent your dog from using the right energy systems to maintain the duration of the activity. This is comparable to when we start running ourselves as if we are sprinting 100 meters. If the distance turns out not to be 100 meters, but 5K, we will have physical problems to complete this distance. That is also how it works for your dog. So, keeping your dog calm before training or a race is very important.
Why exactly is it wise to warm up and cool down?
With a warm-up, we prepare the body physically and mentally for the activity. With a cool down, we prepare the dog for rest. This way, we can also prevent injuries. You simply add a start and an end to your training - a transition from rest to training to rest.
- A lot of different things happen in a body when it switches from rest mode to action mode. The activity of the nervous system changes so that energy and blood from the core (vital organs) can go to the shell of the body (such as the muscles and joints). We want the temperature in the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints to be increased until the blood circulation in the muscles is at the right temperature and the synovial fluid in the joints is optimal so that they have better lubrication and are more shock-absorbing, Rosine says.
At rest, the circulation of the musculoskeletal system (skeletal muscles, joints and associated nerve pathways) is low. This should be increased slowly, otherwise you can easily get injuries. By slowly building up the movement, we get better blood circulation in the parts of the musculoskeletal system that will be used for the activity. This allows the energy systems and nerves to function optimally so that the control (coordination) runs optimally. This allows you to perform at your best and at the same time, minimize the chance of injuries.
- You can also use the warm-up to make contact with your dog and prepare him mentally for his performance. He will learn to pay attention to you and stay calm; it will help to avoid too much excitement. These are the right conditions for good cooperation.
After your training, you also need a transition to rest so that the activity of the nervous system can return to the rest mode. A cooling down will help us do that.
- That is why it is wise to start every training or competition with a warm-up and end it with a cool down. In that way, it becomes an essential part of your training routine and it will help you train responsibly and perform optimally.
How long does a warm-up take?
The warm-up for the dog generally takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The cartilage and synovial fluid need this time. The right blood flow in the muscles is done faster. The nervous system also needs to get going, that system controls coordination and is very important for all movements. So take enough time for it.
The temperature of the day also plays an essential role in the duration of the warm-up. In warm weather, the warm-up can be shorter than when it is freezing. A wet, rainy day with a cold wind can be a little risky, so make sure the dog starts with a good temperature in that case. You can also put on a jacket, before and after training, to keep the muscles warm.
Different sports require a different warm-up. What the warm-up looks like depends, among other things, on the form of energy used in the sport. A dog doing agility uses a different energy than a canicross dog. The preparation differs if your dog needs a short-term explosive activity compared to a dog that is active for a long time.
The warm-up can also sometimes change slightly. Are you preparing for a tough race? Then your dog needs a more intensive warm-up than for endurance training.
- In any case, it is good to take into account that canicross and bikejoring are endurance sports, where the intensity of the activity should not exceed 80 % of the maximum.
Tip: Prepare your equipment before warming up your dog so you can immediately harness your dog and start after it.
What does the warm-up look like?
In cooperation with dog fitness trainer Petra Mulder at Active Dog Training, Rosine has put together a suggested warm-up program for you and your dog.
Are you going to do canicross? Warm-up yourself first without your dog, by jogging and doing some loosening exercises. You can probably find enough information about this yourself, so we will not discuss this further.
1. Walking/jogging together
5 to 10 minutes
Take a nice walk with your dog on a loose leash (without canicross or bikejoring equipment).
- Let him sniff and do his needs, so that he learns the difference between walking and training, and you can give him instructions to continue running during training later on.
Slowly increase the speed to trotting and then to a sprint at the end. Make sure the leash remains loose and that you and your dog are both relaxed.
The duration and intensity of this section depends on the duration and intensity of your activity.
Purpose: Activate blood flow, activate heart and lung function, activate stamina
2. Fitness exercises
After the warm-up walk/jog, we can do some exercises.
- The following exercises optimize the nervous system and muscle tension. This will allow your dog to improve the movements and gaits during training. You can occasionally vary a bit in the exercises so that it doesn't get boring.
Use a treat to lure your dog into making the right movement and give it as a reward. Remember that the exercise should be done slowly and relaxed so that the dog uses its body correctly.
- Nose to the side of the rib cage: 1x left and 1x right
- Nose to toes forelegs: 1x
- Nose up: 1x
- Repetition of exercises above: 1x
Purpose: Loosen neck and spine, activate flexibility
Spin/twist & turn: 2x left and 2x right alternated
Purpose: Loosen the back, activate flexibility and coordination
Walking a few steps backwards: 2x
Purpose: Activate coordination
Sit and stand up: 3x
Purpose: Activate strength
Does your dog like to do exercises, and he does it easily? Then you can also add the following exercises to your warm-up:
Forelegs: Toes and wrist bend and stretch 2x
Hind legs: Toes and ankle bend and stretch (standing) 2x
Point of attention: leg is relaxed and only moves back and forth
Purpose: Loosen joints
Giving paw in combination with (in balance) sitting: 3x left and 3x right alternated
Purpose: Loosen the shoulder
Standing straight / stretched on hind legs: 2x
Purpose: Activate hindquarters, stretching hips, improve balance
Tip: The exercise "spin"/"twist & turn" is also an excellent exercise to see if your dog is flexible in his body. Doesn't he want to turn one side, or is it more difficult? There could be a chance that he has some mobility problems, a check with an osteopath or animal physiotherapist is advisable then.
After warming up yourself and your dog, the training starts. You can indicate this moment to your dog by putting his harness on and connecting him to the bungee leash.
- Do you have a hyper dog? Make sure that the moment between the end of the warm-up and start of the training is as short as possible.
While training, remember that dogs can run better and faster when speed is built up from relaxation instead of excitement.
- Teach your dog to dose his energy, train all gaits and vary your training.
After your training, water your dog and take off his harness. This way, you indicate that the training has stopped.
The cooldown starts after taking off your canicross or bikejor harness. After running and pulling, it is good for the body to move without the harness.
- With the cool down, we bring the dog's respiration and blood circulation back to a calmer level.
Stopping abruptly after an activity is not pleasant for the dog.
- He will catch his breath faster if he can walk for a short while. This also allows the body to start with the removal of lactic acid that is necessary for recovery, and that is important for the next training.
With the cooldown you can also calm down your dog mentally. Make sure that he is really calm in his head after the cool down.
- If this doesn't happen or not enough, there is a chance that your dog will remain restless and that can cause mental problems in the long term.
1. Walk together
The cooldown consists of walking on a loose leash for about 10 minutes. Let your dog sniff in between and do his needs.
2. Fitness exercise
You can do the following exercise to maintain flexibility. Due to the rectilinear movement, canicross and bikejoring are somewhat one-sided sports. This way you keep your dog flexible.
Spin/twist & turn: 2x left and 2x right alternated
Purpose: Maintain flexibility
Training in a group
Canicross athletes often go out with a group. It is great to run together!
- Keep in mind that you keep enough distance from each other during the warm-up and cool down. Also during training. This way your dog will build up less tension or excitement and he can focus better on you.
Walk/jog in a different direction with the warm-up and practice the exercises with at least 5 meters space between your dog and the next.
Is your dog still building up tension? Then increase the distance.
- It starts with you!
"Yes, but my dog is IMPOSSIBLE to keep calm before training! He goes crazy as soon as he sees my running shoes!"
Your dog is an expert in assessing the situation based on our behavior and attitude.
Is your dog very hyper before training? Then realize that the solution is in your way of guiding instead of wanting to change your dog's behavior.
- Change your routine and use a different approach, while remaining calm and relaxed yourself. This way, you can explain to your dog that you are going to do things differently.
Training theory and scientific research
Running and cycling with your dog seems simple, but these sports are quite complex!
About ten years ago, Rosine was introduced in the sled dog sports with the arrival of her Siberian Huskies. Later she found out that a small group of people in the Netherlands also did canicross with all types of dog breeds. That is how she came in contact with the sport canicross and joined their training. She founded Canicross Groningen & Friesland in her own area, and from there came a high demand for gear and knowledge. In 2013, she started selling gear for canicross, bikejoring and dog scootering with her company Run Dog. In 2016 the Run Dog Academy was added.
- Like in every sport, it is good to learn the basics of the technique and training theory before you add speed or distance or participate in competitions. At the Run Dog Academy, we give training, workshops and education in canicross, bikejoring and dog scootering. Therefore we also cooperate with canine and sport professionals.
The dog has a central place in their training method.
- More insight into his perspective, his needs, communication, way of learning, his body and aptitude determine your direction in sports. During training, it starts with understanding and coaching your dog with respect. We combine knowledge from the sled dog sports, canicross, other dog sports and also use techniques from other sports like equestrian sports. By integrating training theory and scientific research, we developed a professional and responsible way of training where animal welfare is the most important thing.
If you need guidance on how to properly do warm-up and cool down fitness exercises or the technique of canicross and bikejoring itself, Rosine and her team are happy to help!