We started a fantastic class today with wonderful trainer Rebeccah Aube called Canine Core Fitness. Bex is a certified Canine Fitness instructor (I’m not sure what this means, though it undoubtedly took some effort to accomplish) and runs her own graphic design/dog training business called Paws & Ink!. Kyra and I have taken quite a few classes with Bex, including Flyball and Treibball, and she’s one of the best athletic-dog instructors I’ve met. Genuinely friendly and happy, Bex has a great connection with dogs of all flavors and truly enjoys watching the progress of the students in her class. She has a gift for finding the right way to get a dog to the goal. Another mark of a good trainer, Bex is constantly taking classes, studying, and training with her own dogs – she doesn’t rest on her laurels.
I’ve been wanting to take this class for quite a while and have been unable to over the past couple of years. Bex offers drop-in classes for graduates of the class quite often, and they’re usually scheduled on the days when Kyra and I would like to get out of the house and get some exercise and brainwork, but don’t have anywhere to go. However you need to take the foundations class first, and those are scheduled on Monday nights, typically my yoga nights! Between lack of funds for the dog class and my love of my yoga night, plus the fear of driving 1+ hours to class in a winter storm, I passed on the course until this term. I’m taking my chances and hoping that winter will pass us by for the next 6 weeks.
Kyra absolutely loves her classes with Paws & Ink, which take place at another great training school Finish Forward Dogs. If you have a dog, enjoy spending time with them or you both need some training, and you’re located in the Maine/New Hampshire area, FFD is the place to go. I particularly recommend them if you have a bully breed, as that’s the owner Shannan’s deep love and specialty, and nearly all of the trainers own at least one. Those in the bully-breed world know that it’s tough to find a trainer who is willing to work with a bully breed, let alone love and understand even the most difficult cases. Kyra and I have participated in a number of their classes, including their Behavior Modification course when Kyra went through a reactive phase after some bad experiences at daycare, and they are absolutely wonderful. They also run a daycare, walks, clinics, and tournaments with class and efficiency. It makes it well worth the 1+ hour drive up there for me.
Now that I’m done gushing, back to Canine Core Fitness. This class is designed to develop muscles in a dog’s core, an area often overlooked by amateur dog trainers and professional dog sports enthusiasts alike. We focus on the health of the legs and hips, the shoulder muscles, the neck. We look at impact pressures, stance, and movement to ensure that the dog doesn’t get injured. But all of these extremities are attached to a core, jus tlike they are in a human. If the core muscles of the spine and abdomen aren’t strong, then just like they are in humans, there is no support for the vigorous activity that the rest of the body is trying to do.
Bex uses specialized equipment in her classes that will remind you strongly of a human yoga or physical therapy studio. There are yoga balls and half-yoga balls (I know they have a name of their own but no idea what it is!) and other various pieces of equipment to raise a dog’s hind end awareness and encourage twisting movements to work on the lateral abs. There are wobble boards to isolate ab muscles. And I’m sure a bunch of other equipment that I haven’t seen yet…I’m really excited to get into the meat of the class!
Everything is done with extreme care and consideration for the dog’s safety. They wear chest harnesses to protect from stress on the shoulders and are pushed but not forced to play with the equipment. Bex’s classes always have an emphasis on FUN, and treats are dispersed liberally. Is it any wonder she’s one of Kyra’s favorite people?
We started the class learning some stretches (another thing you don’t think about a dog needing before exercises) and then moved into some basic movements that use muscles dogs aren’t often asked to use. I don’t want to disclose all of Bex’s secrets here, but I can say a couple of things. One, Kyra has always hated to back up on command, and that hasn’t changed. Two, that the hind end awareness work that I’ve done in past Rally classes with Kyra has really stuck with my girl, but doesn’t seem to have improved her awareness of her hind end at all.
The major way of increasing a dog’s hind end awareness is to teach them to stand with front paws only on a prop – I use a feed bucket purchased at Tractor Supply – and lure them to turn with their back paws only around the bucket. Dogs are usually better at going in one direction than the other, but going in both allows for exercise of muscles on both sides of the core. You can progress from this trick to teaching them how to rotate their back ends for crisp turns during Rally competitions, how to circle tightly for Treibball or Agility, or how to follow or mirror-opposite a handler’s movements for whatever reason.
I have no idea why Kyra enjoys doing this trick so much, but she’ll offer the behavior the instant she sees the feed bucket hit the floor. She’ll turn round and round until she’s dizzy. However she will not back up consistently in a straight line despite years of coaching from multiple trainers.
I have a weird dog.