Functional Canine Conditioning Part 4: Endurance

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

Part 4: Endurance

How do you build your dog’s cardiovascular Endurance? Should you do High Intensity Short Duration or Low Intensity Long Duration. What about muscle endurance? How long should a set of Puppy Push Ups or Squats last? Or how long should an entire conditioning sessions last? At The Martial ARFS™ we use three components to develop dog’s endurance: Cardiovascular Endurance, Muscle Endurance, and Mental Endurance.

CardioVascular Endurance (Fitness) Your dog uses three systems to provide energy during physical activity: immediate sources (ATP & Creatine Phosphate), Glycolitic Metabolism (Anaerobic Breakdown of Glucose), and Oxidative Metabolism (Aerobic Breakdown of Carbohydrates, Fat & Protein). The system used for the production of energy is based on the intensity & duration of the activity.  And, although all canine athletes will benefit from all types of cardiovascular conditioning, your dog’s cardiovascular conditioning exercises should be geared toward the activity that they do the most.  Keep in mind, your dog’s ability to maximally utilize each system is based on genetics, regardless of how well they are trained.

Maximum Performance But Minimum Endurance. Maximal muscle contractions require the immediate sources of energy (ATP & Creatine Phosphate). These immediate sources are in short supply and only last from about 5-10 seconds. Once gone, maximum muscle Frisbee_Chase_Fastcontraction declines, and either performance diminishes or you stop and allow your dog to recover fully. This allows your dog to restore those energy sources for utilization in the next set. Full recovery can take from 3-5 minutes depending on the intensity.

Maximum Intensity Sets of 5-10 second sprints utilize the ATP-CP system to build strength, speed and power and will create a finely tuned canine machine with maximal output of heart, lungs and muscles. Between each set, you must allow your dog to fully recover. This means you have to have the patience (and ability) to let your dog rest and recover fully between each set.  Remember, as I previously mentioned in my post on speed training, high intensity training like this can lead to injury especially if your dog has not been properly conditioned first.

Best Performance Gains For: Primary: FlyBall, Dock Diving, Agility, Disc Dog, Weight Pull, Maximum Speed or Power Sports. Secondary: Lure Coursing, Herding, Field Trials, Tracking.

High Intensity Performance With Added Endurance. Glycolitic Metabolism (Anaerobic Breakdown of Glucose) is the primary method of energy production for high intensity but sub maximum exertion. Meaning, after 5-10 seconds of your dog working at maximum intensity, Glycolitic Metabolism can supply energy at sub maximum exertion for another 30 seconds or so. If they’re just performing a high intensity activity it can supply energy for a few minutes. In addition, it is the primary method of energy production used when performing strength building exercises like Puppy Push Ups.   Border_Collie_Turn

Training this system builds Anaerobic Endurance and will allow your dog to perform high intensity activity for an extended period of time. In other words they’ll be stronger for longer!!

Glycolitic Metabolism begins to fail when your dog’s body is unable to remove the resulting waste products faster than they are created. You recognize it as the burn in your arms when you’re exercising. At that point, muscle contractions will decline, and either performance diminishes or you stop and allow your dog to rest and recover.

To effectively train this system, high intensity sets of 30-90 seconds should be followed with a recovery period of about twice the time of activity. For example, an agility or disc dog might do a 30 or 60 second sprint followed by a recovery of 60 or 120 second recovery.

Best Performance Gains For: Primary: Agility, Disc Dog, Lure Coursing, High Intensity or Long Duration w/Bursts of Speed Sports. Secondary: Herding, Field Trials, Tracking, FlyBall, Dock Diving, Weight Pull.

Minimal Performance But Maximum Endurance. To maintain a period of physical activity beyond that of a few minutes, Oxidative Metabolism becomes the primary method to produce energy for Endurance Training Activities. Energy production takes longer as your dog uses oxygen to breakdown carbohydrates, fat & protein to provide fuel to the muscles.Field_Trial_GSHP

Dogs by nature are endurance animals. They have high oxidative capacities  and are well adapted to endurance activities. In fact, there’s a debate as to whether dogs have muscle fibers that are completely anaerobic! However, that doesn’t mean that cardiovascular endurance can’t be improved. Aerobic cardiovascular conditioning will increase heart stroke volume, blood flow, oxygen uptake,  while decrease resting heart rate. In other words, your dog will have the endurance to go all day long!

The lower intensity allows for an extended duration because energy production is able to keep up with the level of exertion. Therefore, progression of time is the most significant factor to improving your dog’s aerobic endurance. At The Martial ARFS, we start dogs off @ 20-30 minutes on the treadmill, or 15 minutes in the pool and build from there.

Though you should also increase the intensity, if the length of time of training doesn’t increase, or even worse decreases at a higher intensity, you will not see the aerobic improvement you might be seeking.

Best Performance Gains For: Primary: Herding, Field Trials, Tracking, Long Distance or Long Durations Sports & Activities. Secondary: Agility, Disc Dog, Lure Coursing, Flyball, Dock Diving.

Muscle Endurance (Strength) To achieve maximum strength, you need maximum intensity. If you’re running, you do short sets of maximum intensity sprints. If you’re doing strength training, you need to increase the resistance. In human athletic strength training, this would be achieved with heavy weight. However, we are not yet at the point where we would add the amount of weight to a dog that would equal the force necessary to cause maximum or near maximum muscle contractions.

For canine conditioning, we primarily use the dog’s body weight and there are only a few positions and exercises that it is possible to achieve maximum muscle contractions. As a result, canine strength & conditioning  exercises are endurance oriented and Glycolitic or Oxidative Metabolism would be the primary system involved. So we MUST increase the number of repetitions, the length of time performing an exercise and total workout time in order to build strength and ultimately the endurance of the muscles involved.

Holding the flexed push up position builds strength and endurance in the triceps .

When training the Primary Movers of the forelimb with Puppy Push Ups for example, the body weight of many athletic dogs, even if vertical, will not force maximum muscle contractions, yet these muscles will respond best to high intensity training. So your dog must complete a significant number of slow controlled full ROM repetitions at a variety of body positions in order increase the workload and see the results of the exercise.

You might start at 5-10 repetitions for a puppy push up. Then increase to 10-15 reps, 15-20 reps. You can also increase the time for each rep to continue progression. If 10-15 reps might take your dog 30 seconds (i.e. approx 2 secs each), you can have your dog perform them more slowly so each repetition takes 3-4 seconds or have them hold a position halfway. Remember, Glycolitic Metabolism can last up to a few minutes at high intensity when building anaerobic muscle endurance,  so for maximum Anaerobic Muscle Strength and Endurance gains, 2-3 minute sets should work well.

When training postural and joint stabilizers on the peanut for example, your dog is almost constantly contracting these muscles in order to keep the peanut still. Postural muscles specifically are fatigue resistant and respond best to low intensity long duration type training. So as postural muscles and stabilizers become stronger and more resistant to fatigue, they need to be worked longer and longerIMG_1683 copy. If you do not continue to increase the length of time doing these exercises, adaptation will plateau and you will not continue to see the benefits of them.

Again, you might start off with sets of 5 minutes on the peanut but you must progress to longer and longer sets to improve aerobic muscle endurance for postural muscles and joint stabilizers.

In addition to sets, entire conditioning sessions might start out  5-10 minutes, but you will probably need to advance from 5-10 minutes to 10-15 minutes, to 15-30 minutes, to 30-60 minutes or longer to achieve your conditioning goals.

As a warning, long sets or workouts targeting muscle endurance will leave your dog’s primary movers, joint stabilizers and postural muscles fatigued. They will not be able to fully or properly contract after the workout so engaging in a fun physical activity afterwards can lead to serious injury.

Mental Endurance (Focus) is your dog’s ability to stay focused on a task for an extended period of time. Poor focus and mental fatigue can be a major cause of athletic performance failure. Competitive events are long, long days and we expect our dogs to be ready to go when it’s their time. Dogs can get spooked, riled up or otherwise distracted, while anticipation or the effect of multiple performances can burnout your dog’s brain.

RueNew (2)Mental Endurance must be trained just like any other skill and training to increase your dog’s ability to focus should be just as important as any other aspect of your dog’s training. At The Martial ARFS we were constantly hearing “my dog has ADD”, especially relating to high drive dogs. So we created a class (KravMuttGa™) entirely focused on improving dog’s attention spans. Owners practice a variety of eye contact, name recognition, and position drills for a full 60 minutes. Needless to say, most dogs don’t start off able to focus for the whole 60 minutes so they take periodic breaks until they can.

Keep in mind, there is a difference between the short session of teaching your dog something new, and the long sessions of improving your dog’s concentration or attention span when they already know how to do something. You should not teach your dog a new skill, and work on improving their ability to focus at the same time.  Increasing your dog’s ability to focus for an extended period of time is a new skill! Trying to teach your dog to focus for a whole hour while working on a new agility sequence can be mentally overwhelming for your dog.

Endurance Summary

  • Interval Training at Maximum Intensity (5-10 Seconds) improves Power, Speed & Strength.
  • Interval Training at High Intensity (30 to 120 seconds) improves Power & Endurance.
  • Aerobic Training Increases the capacity of the heart, lungs, and muscles to utilizes oxygen.
  • Muscle Endurance requires an increase in Repetitions, Individual Exercise Time, and Total Workout Time for continued strength & endurance gains.
  • Mental Endurance must be trained with sessions extending beyond just a few minutes.

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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