Hundreds of dogs that I have conditioned over the years are proof that the Canine Athletes system works. If you do the work, you too can get comparable results. There’s one reason I think most training programs fall short. Most usually give you one specific template, down to the day and the minute. Individual differences aren’t considered. Every dog gets the same old plan. For optimal body composition, health and performance, you will need strategies designed specifically for each individual dog. You’ll also need strategies that change as your dog’s bodies change; as they get leaner or gain muscle, they will have different bodies and therefore have different requirements. Most also have another thing in common. They recommend feeding sub-par diets filled with supplements to make up for the lack of nutrients in the food.
To start, we all need to have realistic expectations for what we can achieve. Six weeks to reach peak conditioning? I think not. Ten weeks to considerable progress and twelve weeks to massive improvements in body composition and performance? Now we are talking. It is important that you feed a high-quality diet to your dog’s their entire lifetime. Incremental differences add up and make huge differences as your dog’s age. It is also extremely important that your dog is prepared for the rigors of a conditioning program. You should be developing and grooming your Canine Athletes as youngsters through play. Introduce them to all the training methods available to you. It is a learning experience not only for the pups, but also for you. As handlers and trainers, you will learn what your dog as an individual enjoys. What he is not so crazy about. What he needs more practice with. What he is a natural at. These are all small bits of information which will be critical to maximizing your dogs potential later in his life.
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Many believe that we are merely training the dog to perform tasks, but I prefer to take my conditioning a step further. I have a deeper, more spiritual connection with my dogs than most people. I have developed this over-time by learning how to naturally interact and communicate with my dogs through both verbal and non-verbal means. The bond between man and dog is like no other on the planet. The dog innately knows when you are full of bullshit. You must be a good leader for the dog to believe and trust you, especially during times of stress. I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of communicating with your dogs here because it is something that requires years of hands on experience to develop. It is something that really can’t be taught. It must be developed through feel. Before I get into the meat and potatoes of my program I will leave you with some quotes on this topic from the book by Captain von Stephanitz, The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture, written in 1925:
The instructor must himself be a psychologist; he must learn to read the soul of the dog, and his own too. He must observe himself closely so that he shall not only be prevented from underestimating the dog in his human ignorance, but also that he may be able to give the dog suggestions and help in an intelligent way.
Our chief means of influencing the dog are eye, gesture and voice. The dog is in awe of our glance, and the sound of our voice conveys to him command and prohibition, praise and blame, affection, warning or punishment.
What you read in this plan may be common sense for some of you. I will say it anyway, because there are some that will find it helpful, and further, reiterating the routine reinforces good habits. To start, you will need to determine the best schedule that you will be able to faithfully commit to for the next three months. For me, working the dog Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday as rest days works best for me. It allows me to have my weekends free. You need to get at least four to five days of work in a week with two to three rest days. How you accomplish this is up to you. Everyone’s personal life varies and some dogs respond positively to different schedules than others. Experiment and get this figured out prior to committing to this program. Next, you will want to ensure that your dog is healthy and free from parasites. It is a smart idea to run routine blood work tests prior to starting the program. The American Pit Bull Terrier is an extremely stoic breed that often does no not show signs of illness until they are very sick. Performing these tests can identify any hidden symptoms that would otherwise go undetected and prevent your dog from reaching his full potential. Assuming your dog is healthy, you are ready to begin your training program. An overlooked portion of putting your dog into top condition, is figuring out where your dog will be housed during this duration of the program. The dog needs to be properly contained in a safe, low stress environment that will be conducive to good rest. I’m not going to tell you where to keep your dog, because you know your dogs as individuals better than I do. Some people keep their dogs indoors, some keep them in crates, kennels, on chains or cable-runs. The point is, determine a place where your dog will be safe, comfortable and able to get good sleep after their training sessions. Doing so will prevent problems later and the result will be a dog that is well-rested both mentally and physically. A dog that is ready to give his best every day.
Once a week I will give my dog a GoughNut Rubber Chew Toy on one of his rest days. If he does not enjoy GoughNuts Toys I will give them an Indestructibone or a large beef knuckle bone. I prefer the rubber GoughNuts Chew Toys versus the beef knuckle bones because the animal bones can dull your dogs teeth over time. The chewing will increase jaw power and provides mental stimulation. Never give the dog anything unsupervised. Spend the 30-60 minutes with the dog while he is chewing on his toy. Do not give your dog any chewing exercises more than once a week and do not give it at all the last week of the program.
Weeks (12 – 10) I spend slowly preparing my dog for the hard work to come. This consists of simply a one-hour hand walk. I do this Monday through Friday giving the dog Saturday and Sunday off. I always walk my dog in a collar unless I am having him drag something. I find walking a dog with a nice long leash in a collar strengthens the neck but does not take away from any of the other benefits that hand walking gives. Obviously, if you have a dog that can’t work or breathe in a collar for whatever reason, you will have to use a walking harness and/or a working harness. In these instances, you could use a weighted collar for your walks. I do not like to use a heavy collar. All you need is a few pounds to add some resistance. I’ve seen people add heavy weighted collars and leave them on the dog the entire program; even when not working. I don’t like this method at all.
Weeks (9-2) I start with a 20 – 30 minute hand walk to loosen the dog up and let him fully relieve himself. After the walk, I put the dog on the slat mill. I start with no more than 5 minutes of good running the first day. I like the dog to run at a fast trot; faster than a walk but not a sprint. At some point during the 5 minutes of running I like to see the dog sprint to get an idea of how fast he can run and how much work he can handle. I only have the dog sprint for about 30 seconds to a minute. That is plenty on the first day of real work. Some dogs won’t sprint on the mill and others will need to be enticed with a toy or another dog to get them excited. If you have a dog that will not run the mill, you can replicate this with a bicycle. All of the slat mill work can be replicated on a bike. You will need to find a nice dirt trail through the woods if possible or an old country road with little traffic. Running the dog on the roads is tough on their pads so be sure to use Pad-Tuff. If you prepare the dog with two weeks of simple hand walking as outlined above you most likely will not have a problem with the pads. However, if you are working the dog on pavement you should be adding Pad-Tuff just to be on the safe side.
After the slat mill work, I hand walk my dog. For week (9) I only walk him about a ½ hour or so. After the first two weeks of light work and this first week of real work you should have an idea of how much work the dog can handle and what his limitations are. I will gradually increase the mill work and hand walking through-out weeks (9-2). I normally peak out at around 50-60 minutes on the slat mill and one to one-and-a-half-hour hand walk. This is 50-60 minutes of mill work broken out into two sets. In between sets, I give my dog a short five minute hand walk. I do not take the dog off the mill for a sip of water or to cool down during their sets. Sprints on the slat mill are very important as they increase the heart rate to a point that normal walking or trotting on the mill will not do. Raising the heart rate is critical as it will help the dog with recovery. This is where being a dog man versus merely being a guy with a dog comes into play. You can easily overwork your dogs by doing too many sprints. You must pay close attention to your dog. You want to work the dog hard but you do not want to overwork him. You really need to work a lot of dogs and have an eye for what you are doing. It’s hard to say how many minutes to sprint the dog for and/or how many sprints to give the dog during a training session. You just must determine what your dog can handle by watching your dog while he works.
Week (9) I pick a day that is going to be our hard training day. This is a day where I want to see more work from of my dog. I normally do this on Wednesday but if the dog seems like he is tired after the mill work I will wait until Friday. I Flirt Pole the dog on this day. Besides hand walking, if I could choose only one tool to work my dog it would be the Flirt Pole. No other form of exercise achieves the results that the Flirt Pole will do when used correctly. The Flirt Pole most closely replicates what we are training for. Prey drive, speed, stamina, fast twitch muscle strength, explosiveness, mouth/eye coordination, etc. Most people do not know how to properly work a dog with the Flirt Pole and they do more harm than good. Be sure to practice your flirt pole skills prior to the program. If you can’t properly use a Flirt Pole, use a spring pole. The Spring Pole does not compare to the Flirt Pole but it is a much better than ruining the dog you are working by using the Flirt Pole incorrectly. The Flirt Pole helps the dog become an athlete. It helps the dog to have a quick mouth, to be fast and agile, to work while frustrated and puts unbelievable cardiovascular endurance into the dog. The idea with the Flirt Pole is that you want the dog to chase the hide and to keep it just out of his reach. A mistake I see almost every time I watch someone use the flirt pole is that they stand in one spot and make the dog run in boring circles. You should be moving around, running and sprinting yourself while the dog chases you. Do large, wide figure eights. Change up your patterns so the dog does not know where you are going. Make the dog jump for the hide sometimes. Leaping and jumping creates explosiveness. Be careful with the jumping as the dog could possibly injure himself if he comes down wrong. You will notice the dogs’ athleticism increase from the first day you work the dog on the Flirt Pole to the last day you work the dog on the Flirt Pole. You will have to be better with the hide because the dogs mouth-eye coordination will improve considerably. If the dog catches the hide sometimes; do not worry. Praise the dog and let him work the hide for a few minutes while playing tug-o-war with him. This will help his confidence as well as building strength. It also forces the dog to breath through his nose while his mouth is closed which will again help to improve his cardiovascular endurance. This work is similar to the spring pole but it’s usually more fun for the dog because you are actually working with him. Don’t let him work the hide like this for more than a few minutes. If he doesn’t slip off within a minute or two, break him off and get back to the Flirt Pole work. You can easily over work a dog on the Flirt Pole. 5 minutes of intense Flirt Pole work the first day is more than enough. Again, being a dog man and paying attention to your animal is the key. Do not over work your dog. After the Flirt Pole work, hand walk your dog. Pay attention to how quickly your dog recovers on the walk. After the Flirt Pole work he should be breathing very heavily and wanting to rest. Pay attention to how quick your dog recovers and starts pulling on the leash again. Throughout the program, your dog should be recovering quicker and quicker.
Starting on week (8) I like to give my dog two hard days of work assuming he can handle it. Normally I do this on Tuesday and Friday. One day will be the Flirt Pole work discussed above and the other day will be either dragging chains, spring-pole or power walks. I will determine what my dogs needs based on his individual likes and dislikes. Rotating different exercises that the dog enjoys seems to work well and keep the dog mentally focused. Dragging chains helps to add strength and endurance. As with the weighted collar, the weight of the chain does not need to be too heavy. It needs to be enough to add resistance and give the dog a good workout. Always use a pulling harness with a tracer while dragging chains. In the beginning you only need 5-10 minutes of dragging the chain. As you progress through the training program you will gradually increase the time the dog drags the chains. I normally max out at about 40 minutes or so. I do the chain dragging as part of their normal hand walking. So, if I am going to walk the dog for an hour, I will put the chains and tracer in my backpack and start my walk. After about 10 minutes or so I will attach the tracer to the harness and hook up the chains. Then the dog drags the chains while we continue the walk. Once he has had enough, I take the chains off and put them back in the backpack and finish my walk. To get even more out of my walks, I will sometimes recruit a friend to walk a dog in front of me. My dog will pull even harder during the entire walk, maximizing our training. I call these Power Walks.
By Week (3-2) your dog should be working at his peak times. During these two weeks I usually give the dog 2-3 hard days of work. Typically, Monday, Wednesday and Friday are our hard work out days. Monday and Friday are Flirt Pole -or- Spring Pole and Wednesday are dragging chains or power walks. A few common mistakes I notice are handlers that are either under committed to the training schedule, or over-committed. What I mean by this is that they skip training days for no reason other than being lazy or needing to deal with life. On the contrary, I see others who are over-committed to the schedule and ignore the signs an over worked dog. Never be afraid to give the dog a day off if he is sluggish or sore. A day or two off will never hurt the dog. Skipping a work-out will always be better than working a tired dog.
Week (1) is the last week before the event. I gradually reduce my dogs work this week. Monday I will hand walk 20-30 minutes until the dog completely relieves himself. Then, I will put the dog on the slat mill for a hard 15-minute session. After this I will walk him for one and a half hours or whatever amount of time we have maxed out at during weeks (3-2). On Tuesday I will walk my dog to relieve himself, and then put him on the slat mill for an intense 10 minutes. Then I hand walk my dog for one and a half hours or whatever amount of time we have maxed out at during weeks (3-2). On Wednesday I hand walk my dog until he relieves himself and then I put him on the slat mill for a fast-paced 5 minutes. Then I hand walk my dog for one hour. On Thursday I will walk my dog for one hour only. I do not do any slat mill work on Thursday. On Friday I will walk my dog for one hour only. I do not do any slat mill work on Friday. Saturday is the day of the event. I hand walk my dog 3 to 4 times throughout the day, for 10-15 minutes each. Short, low intensity walks. The idea is to keep the dog eliminating to ensure he is completely empty before his event. After the walks, put your dog in a safe low stress place so that he can rest prior to the competition. When your competition starts, be confident. You have put in the arduous work and sacrifices of this program and you and your dog are primed for success. Have fun and leave it all out on the field. Remember, your dog can sense what you are feeling. If you are stressed or worried your dog will undoubtedly feel that emotion as well. If you are calm, relaxed and ready to kick ass your dog will be too.
- A basic rule of thumb is to add (5) minutes per set to the mill work each week. Some dogs will need less work and some dogs will need more. Use your best judgment based on the results you are getting.
- Factors to consider:
- Every training session should always begin with hand walking and end with hand walking.
- Temperature & Humidity will tire your dog out much quicker than many realize. Keep in mind the temperature and humidity levels during each work day.
- How hard the individual dog works. Not every dog works at the same intensity level. Lazy dogs will require more work while intense workers may need less work. I have one dog that is so intense that I have to break his treadmill sets into twelve sets of five minutes rather than my standard two sets of thirty minutes. Determine what works best for your dog and execute accordingly.
- How hard your slat mill turns. A harder turning mill will require more energy from your dog. Keep this in mind when determining how much work your dog needs. Both a free turning slat mill and a hard turning slat mill are useful tools.
- The dog’s natural stamina. Just like people, some dogs have better stamina than others. Pay attention to this variable and plan accordingly.
- Never try anything new on your dog the last two weeks of the program. This is not a time for experimenting. Run all experimenting prior to getting ready for competition.
- The best way to learn is to do. Perform practice programs on your dog to learn and improve. You don’t know something until you’ve done it.
- No conditioning plan exists that can transform a low-quality animal into a high quality animal. Remember, a great dog can make an amateur conditioner look great. A poor conditioner can make a great dog look average and a great conditioner can make an average dog look great. Pairing a great dog with a great conditioner is what legends are made of.
- The week of the competition your dog should be a ball of energy. He should be laser-sharp both mentally and physically. He is peaked and ready to handle business. A tell-tale sign that something went wrong in your conditioning program is a dull dog.
- Much of being a great conditioner is about being an astute problem solver. Where many people fail is they are not flexible enough to adjust to their program to the dogs needs.
- Be consistent, disciplined and always pay attention to your dog.
- Factors to consider:
I strongly believe that what you put into your dogs body everyday makes a huge difference. Feeding poor nutrition for most of the dogs life and then trying to ‘super-charge’ it for six to twelve weeks before a competition is a poor strategy. Here is a link to my Meal Plan. As always, I’m available to to help if anyone has any specific questions or needs help troubleshooting. Hit me up in the comments, Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Message or email me.