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Skill Related Fitness

Fitness isn't just for sport dogs.  Service dogs desparately need a fitness program.  Most service dogs work hard and longer than sport dogs and their skills can be injurious.  Skills needing fitness for a service dog would cover: being able to support an unconscious person, walking all day, moving through tight spaces, jumping in and out of the car numerous times a day.




In traditional sports training, there were basically five areas that were focused on. These areas are strength, endurance, flexibility, body composition and aerobics. Some people add reaction time and agility to this list. Personally, I would also add posture. All the exercises used in training for any particular sport concentrated on one or more of these areas. Skill was increased only in doing the activity itself. The thought was that if you had the “basics” and the “talent” that the skill would just magically appear with practice.


I remember those days. In the winter instead of being in the freezing cold pool (the heater pilot was always blowing out), we would do land exercises involving weights, pulleys and gymnastics. Except for the pulley systems, nothing involved the actual skills in swimming the different strokes, and even the pulley system wasn’t like moving through water. I did have one coach over a summer in 1967 that practiced skill related fitness. All our exercises were done in the pool and all related to some movement that we did in swimming any of the four strokes (breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and freestyle).


Functional training strategies now take advantage of encouraging exercises that mimic the skills of the sport within the fitness sessions. The difference between skills during training versus learning skills while doing is that field skills work very precise moves and have narrow scopes whereas skills training can cover similarities and differences without having to be precise. Because skills learned in the field are so narrow in scope, the vulnerability to injury is greater due to odd and unpredictable situations on the field. Functional training works within the scope of the sport but looks to increasing the ability to be flexible with the skills in order to meet all circumstances one might find on the field.


This is just as true for our dogs as it is for us. I remember the first time I watched Susan Garrett’s DVD “Success With One Jump” where she used one piece of equipment and taught every skill, every approach and release, every possible combination of moves that would involve any jump. This is functional skill training. Find the most common denominator and work everything from there. Full range of motion, all speeds, different surfaces, different weather, sounds, distractions, and anything you can possibly imagine could happen in the field or at trial.

Strength, flexibility, agility, reaction time, aerobics and endurance can all be built with this method and having been built this way are all more reliable in a crunch and are built to withstand the vagaries of life.