Un-Still Life With Cavaliers: Outside The Ring, The Inside Story On Handler Fitness

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Blog, General, Training | 10 comments

Believe it or not it’s time for another Dog Agility Blog Action Day!  Today’s topic is “Outside The Ring” and dog agility bloggers all over the world will be posting about what types of non-agility things they do to keep their dogs and themselves ready for agility.  You can read all the blogs here.   Please spend some time checking them out.

I was thinking about not participating in today’s event.  I’m sure a lot of writers will talk about everything they do with their dogs in between agility trials to keep them strong and healthy:  swimming, running, hiking, biking, mountain climbing, playing ball, herding, and healthcare.  The truth is I don’t do a lot of that.  My dogs hate the water and get every leaf and twig in the woods hopelessly tangled in their coats.  They don’t care about balls or flying discs that much.  They get exercise, but not with any sense of purpose or commitment.

But I did find a loophole, the topic today does include the human side of the team.  Notice I didn’t say “half” of the team, because with my dogs I am way less than half the team.  If they could read course maps and buy meatballs they wouldn’t need me at all, except maybe as a coursebuilder.

The great thing about agility is that anyone can do it. Older handlers with bad knees.  And I mean the term “older” with respect, like “seasoned” handlers.  Even people who use walkers or scooters or wheel chairs, I’ve seen lots of videos on Youtube.  But for the Sanflorian Cavaliers it’s a chase game, pure and simple.  I train them to perform the obstacles, but it’s do that (jump, tunnel, A-frame…) and find the quickest line to catch me where I’m headed next.  Although we’ve had success with the distance handling games, they really want to chase and not lead.  So the faster I go while still staying connected and giving timely information to my dog (both very important) the faster the run.

So let me open up to you about my history:  I have struggled with my weight and I have had to negotiate obstacles my whole life (obstacle pun intended, as always.)   As a 5’6″ adult I once weighed barely 100 lbs after an illness.  I have also weighed nearly twice that after too many holiday parties and a little winter depression.  I am now happily somewhere in between :-)

I have fused vertebrae in my neck.  I have screws and staples in my bones and an uncountable number of stitches in and on me putting tendons and skin back together.  Fractured fingers, hand, toes, foot, ribs, nose broken multiple times, more concussions than a pro football player, torn rotator cuff.  And to top it all off I guess I’m “middle-aged” too.  But I will carry on.  I can lift a rubberized pause table, dammit!

The point of sharing all this with you is to say that anyone can improve his or her physical and mental health and it will help your agility game and your life.  Here is what I have learned over a lifetime of abusing my body.  These tips are not meant to treat any illness and you really should talk to your doctor if you have any medical condition that affects how your body functions and does chemistry and stuff:

  1. Start now.  Don’t delay, don’t wait for some magic date.  Set your mind to it and go.
  2. Drink water.  Lots of water.  It’s easier for me if it’s really cold.  Every day.  It helps you feel full and you’ll get a lot of exercise running to the bathroom.
  3. Don’t go on a diet.  Eat good food.  Protein.  Fruits and veggies.  Not very much white flour and sugar.  Still hungry?  Eat more veggies and drink some more water.  And wait a few minutes before you eat more.  You might be full.
  4. Fall off the wagon from time to time.  Unless your an alcoholic then please don’t.  I eat anything I want (within reason) on agility weekends.  I don’t stop moving, so a couple of Twix bars or a small slice of cake won’t kill me.  Monday morning I’m right back to my regular eating pattern.  Sometimes even Sunday night.
  5. Don’t let yourself get too hungry.  Eat small meals or snacks every few hours.
  6. Exercise.  Move.  Walk, run, bike, kayak, hike, with or without your dogs.  Especially with dogs unless you have pretty dainty Cavaliers like I do.  Don’t take the elevator it was invented by the devil.  Don’t take the closest parking space.  Do whatever you are allowed to do at work, walk at lunch, rearrange the chairs in the conference room, borrow a wheel chair (not electric) or run laps around the drive thru.  Yes I even walk at lunch through the Vermont winters.
  7. Make your health a priority and stick with it.  Once you have done it for a few weeks it becomes habit, even addiction in some cases.  Give it a chance even when you don’t feel like it.  The best workouts I have had are the ones I initially didn’t want to do.  Excuses are too easy when it’s not a pattern yet, but it can quickly become an addiction just like agility.
  8. Be realistic and think long term.  Don’t weigh yourself every day or worry about numbers and goals.  Eat a little better, drink more water, move a little more and you will feel better and have more energy.
  9. You are not being judged (at least by people whose opinions matter.)  I don’t know what medical or genetic conditions you have, what your metabolism is like, your mental health or what the stressors in your life are.  I drink too much coffee and just the right amount of beer.  So sue me I’m not perfect either.
  10. If you want to make dramatic changes to your body find a good personal trainer.  Check references, ask about clients who have the same goals as you.  But it should be about health, speed, strength and endurance, not appearance.

For the first time I have not put any photos in a blog post.  I don’t want to create any kind of ideal or standard for you.  I want my dogs to be the best agility dogs they can be.  I want to be the best short bald middle-aged guy I can be.  And I want you to be the best you that you can be, and that will elevate your agility game.

You will probably learn a lot about dog conditioning and health by reading the other “Outside the Ring” blogs at http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/outside-the-ring/


As always comments are welcome for seven days following publication.



  1. Great post. I too have been up and down with my weight and my fitness. It’s easy to be unhappy with your body. No matter where I am, though, I remind myself that my body is an amazing thing. Every day my heart pumps oxygenated blood to my tissues, uncounted millions of synapses fire in my brain, my digestive system processes food into energy, my nerves transmit information. And I can see, hear, feel, walk, run – all wondrous things. So every day I am grateful for these blessings, and try to do things to help keep my blessings.

    • Agreed! One of my favorite quotes (which I learned from a friend on Facebook!): “When you arise in the morning, think of what privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” (Marcus Aurelius)
      It is about existential things, but it also makes me focus on how wonderful my body is, to allow me to be on the planet and experience these things.

      Great post, John!

      • Thanks Shannon!

  2. One of the things I love about agility is that it provides a natural core activity around which to remain fit. This body has been ravaged by Lyme for nearly 30 years, not yet successfully treated…there are so many days when agility is the thing that gets me to move! And the reality of handling better when my weight is decent is a nice motivator for that side of things. ;>

    • I admire your courage and it is nice to have something so motivating as agility with our best friends.

  3. Great post as usual John. And you’re right about it becoming addicting. Since I started running, even though I don’t love it *while* I am doing it, I can’t wait until the next time out. And now that I have done two 5K’s I want to do more and improve my time (although trying to find a free weekend is tough as we all know).

    However I am disappointed that there wasn’t another photo of the guns…. 😉

    • You are on your way to a new addiction, running. Maybe next time for the photo, I’m very shy you know. :-)

  4. LOVE your post! Upping my own fitness game has made all the difference in my outlook on agility and life overall. Being more “seasoned” myself, it was time to quit making excuses and get moving. Like you say, once you get started it can become a great habit. Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks Diane!

  5. Thanks Claudette, might be time to write a post about things I am grateful for! Especially the things you mention.


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