Southeastern Guide Dogs Canine Fitness Program getting the year off on the right paw

The Southeastern Guide Dogs Canine Fitness Program is getting the year off to a good start.

The Southeastern Guide Dogs Canine Fitness Program is getting 2021 off on the right paw for many dogs in the southeastern Florida area, situated on the SE Guide Dogs campus in Palmetto.

The Canine Fitness Program was established in July 2018 with the goal of increasing the career longevity of their dogs by developing their mental and physical capabilities.

Physical benefits of the program include heightened muscle strength, better cardiovascular (heart) health and increased stamina and endurance, while mental benefits include increased confidence, proprioception (kinesthesia, or self-awareness of body parts) and stress relief.

There are four different areas involved in the Canine Fitness Program; the first of which s a physiotherapy center with a variety of inflatable equipment that strengthens various muscle groups; this part is very similar to an average human gym routine for general health (not training for a specific athletic activity). Positive reinforcement is highlighted here to help the dogs feel safe and secure, and the activities usually change on a daily basis to allow for optimum recovery.

An adjustable treadmill is also used, since a major part of a guide dog’s job is to assist while moving; sessions can last up to 20 minutes and may include inclines, which builds up cardiovascular health and stamina.

There is also a dog agility area, which consists of the usual obstacles of ramps, weave poles, and the rest. Unlike in racing scenarios, there are also army crawl portions, which help build a dog’s sense of proprioception.

Finally, the last section of the Canine Fitness Program is the Aquatic Center (officially the Stephen and Marcia Miner Canine Aquatic Center), which consists of a pool and hydrotherapy tank. The pool was finished in February 2020, and has been in major use since the fall. Dogs can enjoy swimming about the pool, while at the same time further developing chest, leg and core muscles to increase mobility.

Besides swimming laps like humans, the dogs also might perform a bodyweight exercise when harnessed to a large fishing pole-like device called a Super Swim, since, as the website School of Calisthenics notes, bodyweight exercises develop a more functional strength over time.

“I love seeing how each dog progresses,” Jessica D’Ambrisio, Southeastern Guide Dogs Canine Fitness Program Manager and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Technician, said in press release. “Fitness and health make their working lives easier. The idea is that if our dogs are healthier, they can possibly work longer continue with their handlers.”

According to Guiding Eyes dog trainer Nikki Wentz, the average length of a dog’s working career is around eight years, which is slightly longer than a human’s working lifespan, as that is about 55 years in dog years. So it definitely makes sense that their alumni would benefit from the Canine Fitness Program.

For more about Southeastern Guide Dogs and how you can help their mission, see their website for more details.