K9 Handler Fitness

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By SMI Ron Ashie

It’s long overdue; fitness guidelines for K9 trainers and handlers.  Take a look around your jurisdiction – evaluate the condition of the handlers who are working dogs.  The results are pretty obvious.  The more out of shape a handler is, the less likely that handler is of making good use of the K9. I’m not claiming that all overweight or out of shape K9 personnel are inadequate at their job – but the truth is the truth.  A lack of physical fitness leads to quick fatigue, overt soreness, and injury; leading to weak training sessions and a dog not getting adequate training.

ASCT has established a guideline for fitness of both K9 and handler. As a portion of that guideline, there are specific suggestions for how to accomplish the increased fitness on both parts.  Thus,

ASCT is not just saying this should be done, but is also stating how to do it.  Help is available and it starts here today!

Most law enforcement personnel are familiar with fitness standards due to the agency requirements they are employed by.  But let’s face it most of us simply don’t want to make the time to get into better shape – working shape.

By the way – there is a significant percentage drop of tracking success between reasonably fit handlers and those not so much. The percentage is near 75% less success likelihood for handlers who cannot run a mile in less than 10 minutes / a few times each week (not just during a annual evaluation).

Injuries are terrific in number for K9 handlers. Shoulder separation, torn rotator cuff, sprained ankles, sprained knees, torn ACL, herniated disks in the L3 to L5 range of the lower back, broken fingers, and tendonitis in joints are all extremely common for K9 trainers and handlers. Therefore, a simple, targeted workout should work the areas most vulnerable in the K9 work.

Below you will find a suggested workout to accomplish all physical needs specific to a K9 handler or trainer.

Now, let me say one thing before we start.  If you are an avid gym junkie, runner, and P.E. instructor for your agency, martial arts participant, plays on multiple basketball and softball teams, Etc: this is NOT meant for you.  Those persons obviously are fit and can handle the stresses of the position.  For the rest of us who enjoy lunch as the best part of K9 training – we better learn.

****This workout should be performed only 3 times per week.  No reason to burn yourself out and get sick of it.  Instead, just do what you can in 20 minute sessions.  If you cannot complete 20 minutes, try 10 minutes, try 5 minutes. Maybe do 1 session per week and then work up to 3.  The point is – if you overload your schedule with exercise and really do not like exercise – then you will only do it for a few weeks.  But take it slow and take on what you can manage for long term and your overall fitness will grow.

The list of workout exercises is not exhaustive in number.  I am only including those exercises that are easy to do, require only dumbbells (barbells not needed), and do not require a bench.
Let’s get started.

You will need the following equipment:

1. Decent pair of running shoes (if you cannot run at all – you do not need to be working K9 and likely not even police work).
2. Two (2) five gallon buckets.
3. A set of dumbbells ranging from 10lb to 50lb (the select adjustable type are readily available now and for a reasonable price).
Fill both 5 gallon buckets with water (oh, we dog trainers are familiar with this) and carry one per hand 100 yards and back.  The shifting water and weight will allow a very good drill for the demands a large dog puts on us when the dog is pulling.

ENDURANCE (might as well say it like it is – RUNNING!)
How you reach it is up to you but here is the goal: be capable of running 1 mile in less than 10 minutes and be able to do it at anytime called upon. I suggest running/jogging/walking 5 times per week for training. Do what you can but do something!

Sets & Repetitions: For what we are looking to accomplish, endurance and range of motion, I suggest going lighter on the weights.  Start with 10lb.  Once you can complete FULL RANGE

MOTION for 12 reps for 3 sets – increase the weight a little.  Do not just go heavy.  You need FULL
RANGE OF MOTION during the exercise to really offer injury protection and reduced fatigue.  Ideally, we would like to have a cardio workout as well.  To achieve that, simply reduce rest time between sets until you can run through 3 sets with little of no rest. Monitor heart rate if you wish.

REMEMBER! Keep it simple. The more you have to keep up with the more demanding the time and you just want to workout. Right!

Alternate Dumbbell Press – no need to go too heavy here.  What we are looking for is to prepare the body the K9 demands. Obviously the stronger the muscle the better but don’t forget that a range of motion is Key.  Without the full range of motion with the weight – we cannot prepare for the stress of fast actions and jerking motions of dogs.

Lateral Raises – these are extremely important to help prevent torn rotator cuff and separations.

Front Raises – these help very much with any situation where pulling the dog up or carrying it is needed.

Upright Rows

Dumbbell Curls
Reverse Curls
Triceps Extensions

Bent over Rows
Bent over Lateral Raises
Crunches – yes working the stomach actually protects the back.
Dumbbell Squats – I know, this is a leg exercise, but it really helps the back and trains us to lift properly to protect the back and that is much needed when working K9’s.
Lunges – this really helps work the quads and strengthens the protection for the knee.  Be careful with lunges though that you do not put too much weight onto the knee or you’ll develop serious soreness.

That’s it!  Simple!

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