Functional Training has been around for a long time in the human fitness world, in and out of favor. I remember when I was on the swim team in the 60's and how it seemed that every year something would change in the fundamental exercises we would do to improve our speed, strength and stroke. Many times it would fall out of favor to what appeared to be the smoother paved roads that promised faster and easier results. This deviation from the functional and the fundamental almost always led to an increase in injuries and failures.
This same path has been followed in the dog world as well. It's a longer path however and spans centuries rather than years or decades. Originally dogs were merely there to assist with the hunt and little actual training was done. Then man discovered that dogs could be trained to assist in other areas like herding domestic food animals, marching with armies and guarding the home place. The training that went along with these activities was all functional. Each dog was paired with another dog who already knew the job. With mimicry and observation, the new dog learned the ropes.
As a dogs role changed over the centuries, so did the manner of training. Man started taking a hand in teaching dogs the different jobs they were to perform. But dogs were still there to assist man for the most part. Eventually, most of those tasks were eliminated or changed and the dog became more a companion with no tasks at all. There were still groups of dogs that worked on farms, for the authorities, service and therapy, but for the rest, work became sport or in most cases there was no work at all.
With this major change in the role of a dog in our lives, strange behaviors and aggression started to explode. Companions dogs had little to no training; no purpose other than to just be there; and most humans did not take the time to educate themselves on what a dog is. Enter the training of police and military dogs into the general society. This training was rigid and rigorous and most dogs failed at this training because of the methods. Due to the nature of these training methods where quick results were necessary in times of way, the dog was treated much more as a machine then a thinking being.
But as history shows us over and over, things change and the circle comes around again. People are becoming aware that their dogs are more capable then they could dream of. Television and the Internet are creating a plethora of canine sports and the awareness of service dogs and the apparent freedom they have. But the quick and dirty methods are still there, the myth that the six major obedience commands are necessary for every dog, and the need for instant gratification which these methods appear to promise. The dogs know their jobs, but those jobs are done to avoid the rough handling of the training methods, and they have no clue how to live in a human world otherwise.
Functional Training changes all this. Functional training takes us back to the roots of our association with canines and getting back to the basics of movement, body awareness, the flow that should be inherent in moving from space to space and when navigating obstacles, balance, coordination, flexibility and agility. Functional Agility helps provide your dog with the strength, stability, power, mobility, endurance and flexibility that s/he needs to thrive as s/he moves through life and sports. Using basic functional movement patterns like pushing, pulling, lunging, squatting, rotating, carrying and gait patterns, Functional Training utilizes exercises that improve movement proficiency, enhance performance and decrease injury.
In Germany there are two activities (Degility and Jagility) for dogs that encompass Functional Training. Using agility, flexibility, strength, balance, coordination, scent and cooperation with humans as the basis for these two activities, I call these activities collectively Functional Agility. There is little need for speed in these two modalities, but speed can be built in at the higher levels and that adds a third activity that is rapidly becoming a sport in the US - Canine Parkour.
Life is unpredictable and unstable. So why would you develop your dog's training using stable and predictable routines and equipment? No matter your fitness goal with your dog is, treat variety and practical application as critical components of his training. You don't live in a vacuum; your dog doesn't live in a vacuum, so why would you train him in one?