When you and your dog train and compete in agility, flyball or any canine sport, your dog’s fitness level plays a key role. It is so important that hiring the wrong fitness coach can have a huge negative impact.
Your dog’s fitness level will directly affect performance, longevity in the sport, and perhaps biggest of all - the risk of injury. Your choice of fitness coach or personal trainer for your dog is critical to success. All K9 athletes, from top national level competitors to the novice in the sport, need the appropriate fitness level to compete for better times and placements.
You can find someone teaching canine fitness on nearly every corner- and in every part of the world via the internet. From your local dog trainer to an online course, canine fitness is everywhere. Since the canine fitness world is not regulated or monitored in any way, anyone can proclaim themselves a canine fitness coach.
How do you know that the fitness coach you have chosen has any actual knowledge or experience? How do you know the money you have spent on courses and trainers is well spent? How do you know your dog’s fitness is improving?
Because the canine fitness field is filling quickly and not necessarily with quality trainers, here are 7 reasons you should fire your current fitness coach and hire someone else.
Reason #1: Your fitness coach has no formal education in fitness.
Fitness training is not the same as dog training. There are specific fitness principles based on physiology that are crucial to know, understand and be able to implement. Proper fitness education teaches these principles. Your trainer should be able to rattle them off easily ad explain how they are implemented in your dog’s plan. In addition, your coach should have a thorough understanding of canine anatomy, biomechanics and movement, as well as muscle actions. Ask your trainer if you’re not sure. While you’re at it, ask your trainer what their education in fitness education entails? Did they simply take an online course then turn around and try to teach it in their own facility or do they fully understand the anatomy and physiology? Look at the quality of their fitness education. Did they just do an online course or did they receive hands on training as well? Is the school or certification from a reliable source? What is the quality of fitness coaches being produced?
If your trainer does not know or remember the fitness education, then your dog is potentially at risk for an injury - both in your sport and in the actual fitness training itself. At the very least, you may not see the improvement in fitness you paid for and expected. Nobody wants to waste time and money and put their dog at risk.
Reason #2: Your fitness coach has little to no personal experience in fitness training.
Almost as important as the formal fitness education is the need to have experience in fitness training. Even experience in human fitness carries significant value. There are many aspects of fitness not yet studied or determined in dogs but experience on the human side (combined with proper education on dogs) gives the ability to see if information on the human side can transfer or be applied. If your fitness coach has worked extensively with a personal trainer or is a personal trainer for people, there is tremendous benefit in this valuable experience. If your fitness coach also has experience in canine fitness and has been doing this for awhile there is a huge amount of knowledge that comes from doing it and not just reading about it. The more dogs your coach has worked with in a personal way, the better. Every dog is different, and nothing teaches this better than personal experience with a large variety of different sizes, different breeds, and different personalities of dogs.
Reason #3: Your fitness coach does not have SMART goals for your dog.
Your dog’s fitness coach should have very well-defined SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. The goal should not be “to increase your dog’s fitness level.” A better goal would be to increase your dog’s strength to be able to easily pass the Sport Readiness Assessment for agility in 4 weeks. The Sport Readiness Assessment is a clearly defined goal: 3 specific exercises with determined numbers of reps and sets. 4 weeks is the time frame. Whether or not it is achievable or realistic will depend on the dog and its starting point. If the dog is clearly geriatric and barely able to walk then this is not even remotely realistic, and not likely to be achievable at all.
Without clearly defined SMART goals, your dog’s fitness may flounder or meander. You will not know if you are meeting the goals if you do not set them properly in the first place.
Reason #4: Your fitness coach does not know everything - every little aspect - that an exercise involves for your dog.
It is not enough to know that an exercise involves balance. Your fitness coach must know every aspect being worked, every major muscle group, the level of body awareness, the degree of strength, the amount of balance, the degree of learning (and how to get there) and the degree of confidence for every single exercise your dog is asked to do. Your dog may be strong but lack balance. If your trainer does not realize an exercise requires more balance than your dog can handle, your dog could be at risk. If your dog can not perform an exercise, the less experienced trainer may assume it is a lack of understanding on your dog’s part when it is a lack of strength. Or perhaps your dog can physically achieve it, but your dog is hesitant due to a lack of confidence or is a bit unsure. Your fitness coach must know all of this. And then your coach must know what to do about it.
Reason #5: Your fitness coach cannot tell you at least one physical fitness reason why your dog is doing an exercise.
Your dog’s fitness coach should give you a specific reason to ask your dog to do an exercise. This is true for any and every exercise. If you ask, “why are we doing Push-Ups?” your trainer should tell you what he or she is looking to achieve from this specific exercise. Why it was chosen as opposed to another exercise. And it should tie into the SMART goal for that workout, for that phase of training, and for that dog. If it does not tie into the goal, why are you spending time teaching it, practicing it and repeating it when you could be doing an exercise that would benefit your dog more? Never do an exercise just because someone else is doing it with their dog. And never, ever do an exercise because it is the latest craze on the internet. Fitness is not about flashy exercises. Sometimes exercises are chosen for reasons other than physical fitness but then these become tricks, and not useful for your goals in fitness.
Reason #6: Your fitness coach cannot determine whether it is a training issue or a physical fitness issue.
It is your coach’s job to be able to determine if your dog has a lack of understanding on what to do and how to do it versus your dog not having the physical capacity to do it. While it can be tricky to determine at times, it is still ultimately up to your coach to work through the issue and correct it. If your fitness coach cannot correct the issue, then it is up to your coach to choose a different exercise to target the intended aspect of fitness so that your dog can still reach the SMART goal. There is always another exercise or movement that will target the intended muscles, or challenge the balance, or stimulate the nerves in the desired manner. If your fitness coach has sufficient fitness experience (see reason #2) then your coach will be aware of the most common stumbling blocks in learning an exercise and how to address them.
Reason #7: Your fitness coach lumps balance and strength training together.
This may be the single biggest reason to fire your fitness coach.
Without a doubt, balance training and strength training are not the same thing. If your fitness coach cannot or does not do strength training without always involving balance equipment, fire your coach immediately and leave. Strength training has specific goals. Balance training has specific goals. A good coach will know how to separate and train these individually in order to maximize the benefits of each.
Combining the two is known as instability resistance training. This type of training has been shown to reduce the overall power and force production of agonist muscles to 70% of what it could be if done on a stable surface. Additionally, the rate at which the force can be produced is also slowed. Training with reduced force output and a slower rate production is less than advantageous for most athletes, canine or otherwise (Reference Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th Edition, National Strength & Conditioning Association, Copyright 2016). At the same time, this style of training will increase core activation 30% so it is important to know the reason your fitness coach has chosen to do this type of exercise. If the goal is to strengthen the agonist or prime mover, there are safer, more effective ways to do it- that your coach should know.
While there are other reasons to fire your fitness coach, these 7 are directly related to the coach’s ability to safely, effectively, and efficiently improve your dog’s fitness for sports participation. If your coach does not make the grade, then move on to one who does.