Conditioning for the Ausdauerprüfung (AD)



by Victoria Janicki and Laura Holly

Drawing from our backgrounds in competitive running and conditioning, we have developed a program for preparing dogs to pass the AD in excellent condition. Using this program, we have trained a number of dogs for the AD and all have easily passed. We believe a thorough conditioning program is the key to training a dog to comfortably handle the demands of this test. This article outlines an example program and provides some tips for preparing for and participating in the AD.

Overview

The Ausdauerprüfung (AD) tests a dog’s endurance, conditioning and physical structure. The AD does not confer a title in the manner of a Schutzhund title, rather, the AD is a required test for dogs participating in the SV/USA USA Körung system for German Shepherd Dogs. A dog must have passed the AD in order to enter a Körung (i.e. Breed Survey).

During the AD test, the dog trots next to the handler, who is riding on a bicycle, for a total of 12.5 miles (20 KM) at a pace of 7.7 to 9.5 MPH (12-15 KMPH). The test contains a 15 minute rest period at the 5 mile (8 KM) mark and another 15 minute break when the dog has completed 9.4 miles (15 KM). During the rest periods, the judge checks the dog for tender or worn pads, overall fatigue or poor condition. The judge dismisses any dog that is not fit to continue. After completing the full distance, there is a 20 minute rest period followed by a short obedience routine.

Evaluating Your Dog

Before heading out for that first training session, take a thorough and honest assessment of your dog. Use the following criteria to help you determine when or if you should begin such a conditioning program with your dog: overall health weight level of physical conditioning age physical structure

Health

Does your dog have an illness or injury that might interfere with its training? For example, if your dog is recovering from a virus or a strained muscle, wait until it has completely recovered before beginning. Starting a conditioning program when your dog is not at its best, will ultimately set the dog’s conditioning back and can lead to further illness or injury.

Dogs with permanent or chronic physical limitations such as hip or elbow dysplasia should not, in our opinion, be subjected to the stress of training for the AD. A moderate exercise program is, however, vital to managing the effects of hip dysplasia.

Before beginning any vigorous exercise program with your dog, we recommend having your veterinarian evaluate your dog’s health.

Weight

Is your dog at its optimum weight? A dog carrying 5 or more extra pounds needs to start slowly on a conditioning program. Excess weight puts additional strain on joints and ligaments. If you aren't sure whether your dog is overweight, have a veterinarian or a friend whose dogs are in impressive physical condition check for you. Generally, you want to be able to see and feel the last two ribs. Put both thumbs on either side of the spine and swing your fingers along the dog’s side feeling for the ribs. You should be able to feel the ribs easily. Use your fingers to grab the fur and fat along the shoulders, neck and hind quarters. Excess fat is readily felt.

Fitness Level

How much regular exercise does your dog currently get? A dog that spends most of its time in the kennel with time out only for Schutzhund training or to watch TV, needs to slowly build its physical condition. On the other hand, if your dog is already in an active conditioning program, make note of the average time, distance and intensity of this exercise. You may find you can start at week 2 or 3 of the program.

Age

While the minimum age to enter the AD is 16 months, we recommend waiting until 18 months or two years before starting intensive conditioning. Slow maturing dogs, for example, are often at an awkward physical growth stage at 16 months and high mileage can be damaging to joints and tendons at this stage.

Conversely, dogs older than 5 years of age take longer to get fit and to recover from the physical stress of conditioning. Older dogs are also more prone to developing overuse injuries. Allow the older dog more time to prepare for the AD and more time to recover between conditioning runs.

Physical structure

What are the weak points in your dog’s conformation? The dog’s physical structure must absorb the repetitive pounding of running. The amount of angulation a dog has determines how effectively its structure handles this stress. Think of the dog’s shoulders and hindquarters as shock absorbers. For example, a dog with straighter shoulders and rear quarters will not absorb the pounding as efficiently as a dog with more angulation. In general, any structural fault that interferes with a dog’s overall efficiency of movement exposes the joints, muscles and tendons to additional stress. As a consequence, these areas are more vulnerable to injury. Again, allow a dog with structural faults more time to prepare for the AD and be alert for signs of overuse injuries. Also, consider occasionally substituting an alternative exercise like swimming for these dogs.

Designing Your Training Plan

It is extremely important that you not overtrain the dog, especially in the beginning. Training too hard risks injuring or souring the dog. Plan to run your dog two or three times a week. We suggest running older dogs or those with structural weaknesses only two times a week.

We have organized our program into 3 day "weeks". Each week consists of 2 basic conditioning runs and one long run. The base conditioning runs build an aerobic foundation. The long runs enhance the dog's overall endurance. Both types of runs are needed to achieve the desired level of fitness. Running once a week for 60 minutes will not produce the same benefits as running three times a week for 20 minutes. It is more important to get 3 runs in per week than it is to go for maximum mileage once a week.

At the beginning of the program, the base runs are approximately 80% of the distance of the long runs. As the long runs increase, the base runs gradually become 40-60% of the distance of the long runs. The order in which you organize your runs (base/base/long or base/long/base) is not important. However, do not attempt two long runs in a row.

Rest is as important to this conditioning program as is the actual training. Your dog’s body uses these rest days to process muscle waste products and stockpile energy for the next session. We recommend allowing at least 1 day of rest between runs. Allow 2 days of rest after a long run from Week 4 onward. However, this doesn’t mean your dog must sit in its kennel on rest days. Consider “active” rest days for your dog. Active rest includes a walk in the woods, formal training, assisting with chores around the house, or a dip in the local swimming hole. Essentially any activity except running training is acceptable.

Dogs that are capable of trotting 20 minutes or 2-3 miles with moderate effort at the start of the program should be prepared for the AD within 6-8 weeks. Dogs starting with little or no conditioning base take 3-6 weeks longer.

TABLE 1: Typical Training Program

Base Run - 2 per week Long Run - 1 per week

Week 1

20min

2.0 to 2.5 miles

Long Run 25min

2.5-3.5 miles

Week 2

25min

2.5 to 3.5 miles

Long Run 30 min

3.0-4.0 miles

Week 3

25/30 min

2.5 to 3.5 miles

Long Run 40 min

4.5-6.0 miles

Week 4

30 min

3.0 to 4.0 miles

Long Run 50 min

5.5-7.0 miles

Week 5

30/35 min

3.0 to 4.5 miles

Long Run 60 min

6.5-7.5 miles

Week 6

30/40 min

3.0 to 6.0 miles

Long Run 70 min

7.0-8.0+ miles

We consider a dog prepared for an AD when it is comfortably running 30-40 minutes (4-5 miles) for base runs and successfully completes a run of 8 miles (70-80 minutes). We have not found it necessary to have the dog run longer than 8 miles in one run.

If you complete the program and still have time to spare, maintain at week 6 until the AD arrives. You can shorten the long run to 50-60 minutes. It is more important to continue to consistently run 3 times a week than it is to progressively lengthen the maximum distance beyond 8 miles. If your dog finishes the program well before the AD and has been training for more than 10 weeks, we recommend tapering your training the week before the test by running your dog 2-3 times that week for only 25-40 minutes.

Training Your Dog

Before and After Conditioning

We recommend running your dog on an empty or nearly empty stomach to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort. Allow 3-4 hours after a meal before training. If your dog has just finished drinking a large amount of water, wait 1-2 hours before training.

Warming up your dog before a run prepares its muscles for the task ahead. Cooling down after runs reduces stiffness and keeps the muscles relaxed. Warm the dog up with a brisk 5-10 minute walk or slow trot. After completing a training run, make sure your dog is cooled down before putting it in the kennel. Again, walk the dog for at least 5-10 minutes.

After the dog has cooled down, you can offer it water. The water should be lukewarm, not cold. Allow the dog to drink approximately 1-1½ cups of water. Wait several minutes before offering more. Also, wait for at least an hour after training before feeding the dog.

Equipment

We recommend using a mountain or city style bicycle to exercise your dog rather than a traditional touring or racing bicycle. The mountain bikes have more stability and wider tires to safely handle a variety of road conditions. We use a Springer attachment for our bicycles. The Springer attaches directly to the bicycle frame and has a clip to which you attach the dog’s collar or harness. The Springer allows you to keep both hands on the handlebars and helps prevent the dog from tipping the bike over. We do not recommend having the dog trot alongside a car.

For your safety, always wear an AST approved bicycle helmet. Even the steadiest dog can suddenly jerk a bike around causing you to fall. We also advise hunter orange reflective gear for both you and your dog.

We have found that a “Super Soaker” water cannon filled with water is a good deterrent against loose, territorial dogs you may encounter during your rides.

Training Tips

The most important training tip is to always use common sense when training. Although it is helpful to have a program to guide training, remember that it is just that, a guide. When deciding what workout to do on a given day, be flexible and take the weather and your dog’s adjustment to the new physical demands into account. For example, if the weather suddenly becomes much warmer, consider skipping training or substituting a shorter run. Reschedule the long run for a cooler day. Monitor how your dog responds to the training. If the dog lags during runs, flops down immediately afterwards or shows post run soreness, stiffness or fatigue, go back one or two weeks in the program. The goal is not to push the dog on every run, but rather to gradually build a consistent conditioning foundation.

As the mileage increases, so may your dog's caloric requirements. Adjust the amount or type of food accordingly.

Experiment by running your dog at different speeds to find what is comfortable. The goal is to have the dog moving at an efficient, ground covering trot. To maintain this pace, we find that on a flat road, we need to pedal lightly but steadily. Do not increase the speed so much that the dog begins to canter or gallop. You want to keep the dog trotting at a brisk pace. At a trot, a dog’s legs move in diagonal pairs. At the less efficient pace gait, the legs on the same side (i.e. left front/left rear and right front/right rear) move together. If your dog is pacing, you may be going too slow. Move faster and see if the dog switches to a trot. Also, dogs that are tired will sometimes slow down and pace. In particular, dogs with structural faults have to work harder in general to stay at a trot. These dogs may tire at the end of runs and fall into the less efficient pacing gait.

In training, you may occasionally substitute an alternate aerobic exercise, such as swimming, for running. However, to properly prepare for the AD, a dog must build up its trotting muscles so most conditioning should be at this gait.

During the runs, try to find different surfaces to run on such as pavement, grass, sand and dirt. The variety will help toughen your dog's pads and prepare it for whatever the AD might bring.

To keep the runs interesting for you and your dog, choose different routes and occasionally change the pace both faster and slower.

Finally, try running with at least one other dog and handler team prior to the AD test so you and your dog can become accustomed to having another dog around. Your dog may become competitive and try to run too fast or it may be too focused on the other dog. Now is the time to work out these problems instead wasting your dog's energy on the morning of the test.

Running the AD

If you have been working your dog in a program similar to the one we outline, your dog should easily finish the AD without showing much, if any, fatigue.

Conserve your dog’s energy and maintain an even pace throughout the test. At the start, resist the urge to bolt out to the head of the pack. You’ll catch up to those dogs when they tire down the road. Also, remember to keep a respectful distance from the other participants. Nerves and excitement may have handlers and dogs on edge.

The AD can be held on different types of surfaces such as running tracks, horse tracks, dirt roads, and grass fields. Most, however, are held on local roadways. Watch for obstacles, holes and glass in the road at all times for your and your dog's safety.

Often a dog must stop to relieve itself at some point during the test. There is no penalty for this. When the dog finishes, gradually catch up to the rest of the dogs. Don’t allow your dog to sprint back to the pack.

At each of the rest breaks, walk your dog around to keep its muscles loose. On warm, sunny days, keep your dog in the shade as much as possible. Offer rationed amounts of room temperature water. Once your dog has recovered his breath, you can allow it to sit or lie down. A few minutes before restarting, walk your dog around to limber up. Have your dog ready for the judge's examination. The type of examination is at the judge’s discretion, but most judges check at least the dog's pads for tenderness or cuts. Practice examining your dog if it is not accustomed to being handled in this way.

After the endurance portion of the test is completed, the judge directs you and your dog in the obedience routine. The routine is dictated by the judge but most require at least on-lead heeling and a basic recall to demonstrate your dog's mental and physical fitness. Here the judge focuses more on the dog's willingness and energy levels than on the absolute precision and correctness of the exercises.

Conclusion

As a result of the conditioning training, you should notice that your dog is now capable of working harder and for longer periods of time. The hold and guard bark is fuller and stronger. The dog completes long tracks more easily.

Don't lose these benefits. Continue a conditioning program with your dog not only to enhance performance but furthermore to prevent nagging injuries that can keep you out of competition. Incorporating a conditioning program into your overall training allows your dog to meet and thrive on the demands of working dog sports.

Biographical notes:

Laura Holly has been active in dog sports for 9 years. She is a member of USA’s SchH3 club with her German Shepherd Dog Dokken vom Mack-Zwinger SchH3 FH CD TD. Victoria Janicki also has been active in dog sports for 9 years. She is the Assistant Breed Warden for O.G. Boston Schutzhund Club and is training a young dog towards Schutzhund titles. Both Laura and Vicky are members of the O.G. Boston Schutzhund Club. The authors may be contacted on line at reiher@ma.ultranet.com.

Previous Printing History: An early version of this article originally appeared in Doggin’ It, the quarterly newsletter for New England Regional Schutzhund clubs. Copyright 1996 by Victoria Janicki and Laura Holly. All rights reserved. 

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