IWDA’s Farr Assesses Working Dog Fitness

Is your working dog performing at its optimum ability? IWDA member and United States Army Major Brian Farr, DVM, as part of his engagement with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia, has designed a Fit to Work Foundational Fitness program to assess the level the canine you count on is performing.

Farr, after completing his residency at Penn Vet, was returned to active military duty at Joint Base-Lackland in San Antonio, Texas, this past summer.

“Our assessments help us individualize a program for each dog, not a cookie-cutter approach that might not be optimum for each,” Farr said during his presentation at IWDC 2021.

Farr, along with Penn Vet colleagues Dr. Meghan Ramos and Dr. Cynthia Otto, developed a two-level Foundational Fitness Test that assesses a dog’s present working fitness level and, in cases where a dog has not been able to work, its readiness to return to work.

“I have worked with fitness assessments with troops climbing walls, carrying heavy objects and squats, and many of these tests can be fit to working dogs,” Farr told his IWDC 2021 audience. “These tests can also be performed by handlers and, after a period, trends in fitness can be produced.”

Level One of the Foundational Fitness Test features two exercises:

  • Sprint Test, a quick run over a course of three-plus seconds that measures whole body power and hindlimb extension strength.
  • Progressive Plank Test, a process of increasing heights the dog is asked to scale on planks to measure core stability and strength.

Level Two of the test also consists of two exercises:

  • Progressive Pivot Test, an exercise measuring hindlimb stability in which the dog approaches and climbs, in repetitions, a set of blocks from different directions and increasing heights This test can assess a formerly injured dog’s ability to return to work.
  • Progressive Squat Test to measure hindlimb extension strength. Like the pivot test, the dog is asked to squat in repetitions, at increasing heights. This test can assess injury risk.

Penn Vet developed this program to address the needs of working dog handlers, trainers, and programs for simple, effective, and efficient methods to develop and assess working dog physical fitness. The program was piloted over three months with a closed population of 31 working dogs in training.

Fit to Work, as explained by Penn Vet, consists of posture development and maintenance, warm-up and cool-down routines, training exercises, and assessment methods. To simplify implementation for dogs and personnel, the foundational training program incorporates a discrete number of exercises, standardized progression steps, defined criteria for progression, and a reduced emphasis on learned behaviors. The program also enables safe and progressive assessment of foundational fitness through a tiered and inexpensive process. Future research will focus on validation of training and assessment methods, development of assessment standards, and correlation of physical fitness with operational performance.


By Jed Weisberger