As a multi-sport dog trainer, I am passionate about physical warm-ups for canine athletes. A proper warm-up both increases performance and decreases risk of injury, yet many individuals fail to prioritize warm-ups within their training and competition routines. Contrary to popular belief, a 60-120 second ‘warm-up’ prior to a race is NOT a sufficient flyball warm-up routine. Your canine partner should be fully warmed-up and ready for action when you step into the lanes.
With my own dogs, I use a dynamic flyball warm-up routine comprised of tricks and trained movement. Done in order and with proper form, these behaviors warm-up all key muscle groups and work the dog in several planes of motion. While assisted, static stretching has a place in conditioning and rehab programs, it’s not recommended before explosive activity; for human or canine athletes.
A seven-step flyball warm-up routine:
- Backing Up 5-10 steps: Your dog’s head should be above the withers and neutral, while all limbs move individually to drive the backwards motion. No hopping!
- Side Stepping 5-10 steps both left and right: Your dog’s back remains straight and the head neutral. The dog reaches to the side with the front and rear leg on that side, then follows with the other set of legs, and moves laterally in one direction. After 5-10 steps in one direction, switch directions.
- Spins 2-3 reps both left and right: Your dog completes a full 360 circle clockwise, then counter clockwise. Caution, slow down! To be effective as a warm-up/fitness exercise, the dog should be using all his limbs to move through the spin, not pivoting on one leg and flinging his body around it.
- Sit to Stand 3-5 reps: Position changes sound simple but the details matter. From a stand, your dog performs a ‘tucked sit,’ bringing his rear assembly forward as he sits, and keeping his front feet stationary.From that sit, your dog performs a ‘kick-back stand,’ using his core and rear assembly to accomplish the stand while again keeping the front feet stationary. Teach your dog to fully articulate his stand by making sure his hocks are perpendicular to the ground and his back is flat.
- Down to Stand 3-5 reps: Again, the devil is in the details for this exercise. From a stand, your dog performs a ‘fold back down.’ All four feet remain stationary and your dog folds into a down, ending in a sphinxlike position. Returning to a stand without moving any feet requires exceptional core strength! The stand should again be fully articulated, front and rear limbs straight and the head neutral. It is good to mix up position changes within the flyball warm-up routine, such as sit-stand-down-stand-sit-stand, just for the sake of variety.
- Individual paw lifts 3 reps per limb: From a sit, have your dog wave with each front foot. Ideally, his limb goes all the way through its natural range of motion, reaching up, out, and down again. From a stand, have your dog lift each rear leg and hold for a second or two.
- Figure 8 3-5 reps: Standing shoulder-width apart, have your dog weave through your legs in a figure 8 pattern. Perform the exercise slowly for maximum benefit.
If time allows, it is always beneficial to add a few minutes of trotting.
For best results, teach this flyball warm-up routine movements individually and away from flyball before incorporating them into your competition/ training routine. When the behaviors are fluid, the entire flyball warm-up routine takes about 5 minutes to complete. Use it before you train, compete, or condition your dog. Helping him achieve a long and healthy career.