Canine Cross Training


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What’s it About?

What are the four conditioning components of top athletes? Most physical therapists agree that they include balance, strength, endurance and flexibility. The same characteristics apply to canine athletes as well and form the basis of this new book by Sasha Foster, co-author of the award winning The Healthy Way to Stretch Your Dog.

When the four conditioning components are executed in a systematic approach using the key exercise principles of frequency, intensity and duration, you can train your dog to reach his fullest potential in whatever canine sport or activity you choose to participate in—and help keep him fitter and more injury-free over a longer period of time.

You will learn:

  • How to test your dog to determine what level of exercise difficulty he should begin with when starting out a cross training program.
  • The role of core stabilization and whole-body awareness exercise during balance training.
  • The use of positive training and shaping techniques to help your dog acclimate himself to the training equipment used in the various exercises.
  • Recommended conditioning programs for various types of activities ranging from dock diving to agility to flyball to therapy dog work.

About the Author

Sasha Foster is the founder of Canine Fitness Zone where she provides animal physical therapy and conditioning services, a faculty member at Canine Rehab Institute and the co-author of The Healthy Way to Stretch Your Dog.

Published 2013  Dogwise Publishing


Sasha Foster combines science and real-life experience to provide the reader with practical guidelines for canine cross training. The book includes many illustrations, pictures and case examples making it an easy, enjoyable read. Canine exercises and science will likely continue to evolve quickly over the coming years, in the meantime this book offers a solid outline of current concepts of canine conditioning.
Felix Duerr, DVM and Diplomate, American and European College of Veterinary Surgeons

Canine Cross Training is a tremendous resource rooted in the science of training and conditioning and executed through positive techniques to develop the brain as well as the body. The program is easy to follow and the steps for progression are well defined. We look forward to implementing and evaluating the age appropriate exercises in our puppies at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and working dogs in the field.
Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, PhD and Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center

I love the process of shaping a dog’s behavior—watching the dog’s brain become actively engaged. Canine Cross Training uses the shaping process to provide physical as well as mental exercise in healthy, healthful, fun ways. It is so much fun training dogs for useful behavior—and Canine Cross Training makes it physically healthful, too.
Gail Fisher, Owner, All Dogs Gym®, author of The Thinking Dog

Canine Cross Training is a must-read for the agility enthusiast. The concepts are well described, easy to understand and use. This book is a great reference tool. As an agility handler of a standard wirehair dachshund, this book is invaluable.
Beth A. Klucher, owner of Big Sur, National Agility Doxi Winner

~~One of the biggest concerns of owning a canine athlete is to how to keep him fit and healthy. This not only reduces the likelihood of injury, but can also make a big difference in improving performance.

In Canine Cross Training, Sasha Foster, founder of the Canine Fitness Zone and a faculty member at Canine Rehab Institute, explains how we can use the four conditioning components – balance, strength, endurance and flexibility – to build a fitness programme that will  ensure soundness and help a dog to reach his full potential.

Foster guides us through some fantastic exercises to improve body awareness, core stability, strength and endurance, showing us how to determine the correct level of difficulty to start with. She provides recommended conditioning programmes for various types of dogs (age and breed related) and for the different dog sports.

The book begins by explaining the four conditioning components that make up a canine cross training programme. The exercises needed to achieve balance, strength, endurance and flexibility are based on which the research based rules of exercise execution.  By building an exercise programme around these components and principles, all body systems are trained to work at optimal levels. Foster then looks at the six conditioning principles which include:

  • Overload
  • Cellular adaptation
  • Progression
  • Training specificity
  • Breed differences
  • Use and disuse

Chapter Two focuses on motor learning, which Foster describes as teaching the body sound and efficient patterns of movement, i.e. asking the dog to complete exercises. This is a complicated process, and Foster explains how the body learns new patterns of movement in response to two neurological processes, cognitive learning and neural plasticity. She further investigates the process of motor learning, and explains how we can use shaping to ensure quality neural encoding. Foster then provides us with some foundation behaviours that can be used by both dogs and humans that will increase neural encoding.

Chapter Three looks at balance, which Foster describes as the first and most important conditioning component in a cross training programme. She explains the purpose of balance, and how we can improve it by building core stability, demonstrating exercises to build the postural stabilizing muscles.  Another benefit of building balance is to improve whole body awareness, which can increase the rate or speed of limb reaction time.

Foster then moves on to balance tests, where she explains how to carry out level one, two, three and four core stabilisation and body awareness tests. The results of these tests determine the level of each exercise the dog is ready for. Next she describes the series of events that take place in the nervous system when core stabilisation and body awareness exercises are initiated.

Foster adds a few words about training specificity before providing us with core stabilisation and body awareness exercises, including what to do if your dog does not like it, how to recognise when the exercise has become too easy as well as some advice about equipment sizing.

Chapter Four examines strength. Foster explains that strength exercises build power in the muscles so the body can move. She looks at the conditioning principles involved in strength training, describing the role of the motor unit, a single motor neuron.

Foster next takes us through the eight strength tests – four levels each for the front and rear limbs. She explains the strength training phases, of which there are three; motor unit activation, cellular strengthening and the plateau. Foster gives advice on training specificity and progressing a strength training programme, before providing us with some front and hind limb strength exercises.

Chapter Five moves on to endurance, the function of which is to provide the body with energy to move. Foster discusses the energy source for cells, adenosine triphosphate or ATP, describing how production occurs through two different metabolic pathways: anaerobic or aerobic. She highlights the two physical characteristics of the body that first need to be considered before beginning an endurance training programme: core strength and nutrition.

Foster then looks at cellular adaptation during endurance training, and goes into more detail about anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. She describes how we use the principle of overload to begin the process of cellular adaptation, and what the body needs to do to improve short and intermediate sprinting and long distance endurance. Foster shows us how to progress an endurance training programme as well as discussing training specificity. She then provides us with some endurance training tests and exercises.

Chapter Six looks at activity specific cross training programmes. Foster explains that all conditioning programmes should be different in order to meet the demands of specific activities. She then discusses what should be involved in cross training programmes for individuals with the following needs, or participating in the following sports;

  • Agility
  • Conformation
  • Dachshund back health
  • Dock diving
  • Fieldwork
  • Flyball
  • Herding
  • Hiking
  • Old Dogs
  • Puppies
  • Running
  • Search and Rescue
  • Service work
  • Sled pulling
  • Therapy work
  • Weight pulling

Packed full of individual case studies, which illustrate her theories and make the material more accessible, Christine Zink describes the book as: “ a comprehensive, detailed source for targeted canine exercises. It’s thoughtfully conceived and well written – an essential go to guide.”


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