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Functional Canine Conditioning Part 3: Speed

The 4 Elements Of A Functional Canine Conditioning Program:
Power. Athleticism. Speed. Endurance. (P.A.S.E.)

Part 3: Speed!!

When you see a dog run and think to yourself, “Wow that dog is fast!”, what are you looking at? Is it how fast the dog runs in the open field? What about how fast the dog runs an agility course? Is it how fast the dog starts? Stops? Or changes direction? At The Martial ARFS™ we define speed using 4 components:  Reaction, Direction, Acceleration,  & Sprint, and you must train them all to improve your dog’s performance.

***Before training your dog for speed keep in mind, unlike other  conditioning exercises, speed can only be improved with speed. But, training for speed can lead to injury if your dog has not been properly conditioned prior to a speed building program. If you have not read Part 1: Power & Part 2: Athleticism please do so first. Speed training must be done with the utmost care or you are sure to suffer a setback. Do not try to copy what you see in the images of this post without consulting a canine conditioning professional first***

The knobs on the ball adds an unpredictable bounce that forces greater focus, concentration & Reaction Speed in order to catch the ball.

Reaction: Often called Reaction Time, this is how fast your dog can respond to a command (sound) or object. It is the precursor for Acceleration  and Directional Training (See Below), and one of the most overlooked aspects of Speed Training in canine conditioning. Your dog must first mentally register the stimulus to move, before they can move their body in any direction. The faster a K9 Athlete responds, the greater the chance for victory. The most significant factor in Reaction Training is unpredictability. The second factor is speed of travel.

A sitting dog that is training to react to a still object only has to respond as fast as his desire to have the object from where it currently resides. However, Reaction Training does not rely on commands and in truth, simply releasing your dog to get something is not enough to maximize Reaction Speed. In contrast, Reaction Balls are a big part of training Reaction Speed for human athletes and should also be a part of training your dog’s Reaction Speed. Your dog will respond much more intensely to a moving object than a still object. As well, a moving dog’s desire for a moving object that is getting closer, forces him to react faster and faster as the object gets closer and closer.

At this range and moving with unpredictable bounce patterns, Sabre will have to react at tremendous speeds in order to catch the jack. Do you think he caught it? You can answer in the comment section below.

For example, as your dog is getting closer to a ball that you have thrown,  the unpredictable bounces of the ball combined with the closing distance to the ball forces your dog to try to react faster and faster. Even better, if you throw a ball toward your dog while he’s running at you, he has an exponentially closing window to react to the ball or he will miss it entirely.  For true unpredictability, I recommend an ORKA Jack. The star shape of the ORKA offers unpredictable multi-directional bounces that you won’t get from a regular ball similar to a Reaction Ball for training human athletes.

Acceleration: This is how fast your dog can get to a Full Sprint (Full Speed) from a stop or change of direction. This is often referred to as just “fast” and for sports like Agility, Acceleration is paramount to victory. Like a car going from 0-60mph, or a human running a 40yrd Dash, your dog’s Acceleration is an indication of their athletic power. To improve Acceleration, your dog needs more strength in the primary movers, spinal and limb stabilizers, more coordinated muscle contractions that transfer power from back to front, and more flexibility for extension through the hindlimbs, spine and forelimbs.

Using a SpeedSac forces Sabre to drive forward at launch contracting the power primary movers of the hindlimbs  and then continue to power up to a full sprint using his entire body.

The first step in improving Acceleration is to continue to train your dog  by incorporating the first two principles of our functional conditioning program, Part 1: Power and Part 2: Athleticism. Second, remember, functional conditioning is about actively stressing the muscles in the manner in which they are intended to be used. Therefore, to improve acceleration, we have to apply resistance at the beginning of our dog’s movement. That resistance has to be consistently applied while your dog is building up to his peak. Once your dog has reached a full sprint speed, if  the resistance is continued, your dog is no longer training acceleration.

Always remember, speed must be trained with speed. Too much resistance for speed training will slow your dog down so much that it will no longer  improve their speed.

Direction: This is how fast  your dog can change direction. Fast changes of direction are often referred to as “Quick”. Like Acceleration, Quickness for sports like Agility is paramount to victory. Fast directional changes require more strength in the primary movers, spinal, limb AND joint stabilizers. Keep in mind, collisions, falls, and Fast Directional Changes are how dogs (and people) get injured.  However, if you want to improve your dog’s athletic performance as well as prevent the injuries associated with intense athletic activity, Directional Training is a must.

Sabre’s left shoulder joint is pulled way back and his elbow joint is loaded as he turns and pushes toward the ball. This is often how injury during highly intense movement occurs.

Like Acceleration training, Direction training must start with the first two principles of our functional conditioning program, Part 1: Power and Part 2: Athleticism. Particularly, you must place great emphasis on the Stabilization and Extension components of the Power Principle.  Full speed directional changes create a number of ways a poorly conditioned dog can get hurt. One, your dog will put a tremendous load on their joints to stop. Weak muscles create an unstable joint which could give under this load and cause injury. Two, while your dog is trying to stop under this tremendous load, your dog’s feet will slip out from under them and the limb will over extend again tearing muscles, tendons or ligaments.

If you have yet to condition your dog to handle these vigorous actions, you should not do any intense Directional training until you do. Even if you condition your dog well, as with any training, injury is always a possibility. You must to take care not to over do it. Be smart about how often and at what intensity you train your dog.

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Sabre’s forelimbs are fully extended while slipping from underneath him as he tries to change direction. If not properly conditioned this extreme extension can lead to injury.

Like Reaction Training, true Directional Speed Training requires directional unpredictability while maintaining maximum intensity.  This means your dog has to run as fast as he can in one direction and then immediately stop and change to an unknown direction once or even multiple times. The more dramatic the change of direction, along with the more speed maintained during the change of direction, the more Directional Speed or “Quickness” your dog can develop. This means, a 45 degree turn is more intense than a 20 degree turn, a 70 degree turn is more intense than a 45 degree turn, and, all the while you should be using something that will encourage your dog to perform these changes of direction as fast as they can.

Full Sprint: This is how fast your dog can run at full power over a sustained period. Though not as important for an agility course, a full sprint from my dog has saved me a few times in D/A Frisbee competitions. Your dog’s Full Sprint Speed’s competitive or real world significance physically defines them. A fast Full Sprint speed means your dog has strong primary movers and spinal & limb stabilizers, your dog is capable of coordinated muscle contractions that transfer tremendous power from back to front, your dog has great flexibility for extension through the hind limbs, spine and forelimbs. The faster your  dog’s top speed, the better they can do in any athletic competition or life activity.

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The Speed Chute works perfectly to create dynamic resistance during Speed Training.

But how do you improve the top speed of your dog? First, we must continue to train our dogs by incorporating the first two principles of a functional conditioning program, Part 1: Power and Part 2: Athleticism.  Second, remember, functional conditioning is about actively stressing the muscles in the manner in which they are intended to be used. With Acceleration training resistance is applied in the beginning, the opposite is true for Sprint training. To improve, and or strengthen muscles to increase top speed, you have to stress the muscles at the point when your dog is running their fastest.

How do you do that? Dynamic Resistance. What is dynamic resistance? The faster your dog runs, the more resistance that is applied. A Speed Chute uses wind resistance and is perfect for Full Sprint training.   If you speed your dog up the resistance increases and it becomes more difficult. If you slow your dog down the resistance decreases and it becomes easier. This allows for a great variety Speed Training exercises. In addition, because the resistance isn’t constantly being applied to your dog and there is no actual weight being used, it extremely safe.


For an increase in your dog’s Speed you must increase:

  • The Reaction Speed necessary for fast responses to commands or objects.
  • The Acceleration Speed  for overall athletic power & minimization of time to a Full Sprint from a stop or change of direction.
  • The Directional Speed  or quickness paramount to excel in athletic competition, but it must be trained with care.
  • The Sprinting Speed  created by your dog running with its full  power over a sustained period.

As always, it is best to seek instruction from a veterinary or canine conditioning professional before starting a conditioning program with your dog. And don’t forget to sign up in order to be notified as to when our next blog post is out.

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