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The conditioned canine by Janet Lalonde, D.V.M.

Discussion in 'Sports & Activities' started by F.W.K., Aug 18, 2017.

  1. F.W.K.

    F.W.K. B.I.S.

    [​IMG] A well-conditioned seven-month-old Whippet puppy takes to the coursing field with abandon.

    The conditioned canine
    by Janet Lalonde, D.V.M.

    Peak performance comes only with a prudent exercise program.

    Over the centuries, the dog has evolved from assisting man in the hunting of game for food and the protection and herding of flocks to participating in the world of canine sports. These include activities such as racing, lure coursing, field trials, obedience, protection training, sledding, agility, flyball and conformation. Participation in any of these activities requires an owner's conscientious commitment to a well-rounded physiological and mental conditioning program for the dog.

    It would be a crime to expect a canine 'couch potato' to participate in these events and perform at the level expected of a conditioned animal. Condition refers to a level of quality of physical and mental development that allows safe participation within a particular sport to occur.

    Proper conditioning is paramount to the training of dogs for any event. Well-trained Border Collies competing in sheepdog trials often cover more than 100 miles in the course of a day. Sled dogs trained for endurance can maintain a trot of approximately 16 km/hour for 10 to 14 hours per day for several consecutive days. Greyhounds can attain speeds exceeding 50 km/hour during a sprint. A dog competing in conformation is often expected to work for periods of two to four hours (specialty events) under very stressful conditions. When you carefully consider all the variables, you begin to appreciate why conditioning is so important.

    Strenuous exercise places excessive demands on the body, particularly the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. Doctors Feldman and Lessard, in a study entitled 'Hematologic and Biochemical Analytes in a Sporting Breed,' state that the metabolic rate, which refers to the physical and chemical processes required by living tissue to function, must increase 50-fold from a state of rest to maximal exertion.

    Experienced mushers, race or lure coursing trainers, herders and handlers all agree that conditioning is essential for a sporting or working dog. Their methods of conditioning may vary, but all apply the basics.

    Initially, the dog must be genetically sound. A pup that is going to develop into a performing athlete requires a selective genetic background from sound breeding parents.

    Nutrition plays an important role in the conditioning program. Proper growth diets followed by maintenance diets off season and then enhanced-performance diets during competition are important.

    Mental conditioning begins at birth and continues throughout the life of the dog. A mentally sound puppy will have experienced frequent, quality human handling and repetitive exposure to other dogs and environments outside its own kennel or household milieu. Field dogs are exposed at an early age to the sound of a gun; coursing and racing pups to a plastic bag at the end of a bamboo pole; conformation and obedience puppies to the commotion of sanction matches. Repetitive and frequent exposure to potentially unsettling situations such as car rides, kenneling and noise helps to reduce the stress that influences the dog's performance.

    Conditioning also involves preventive kennel management with respect to vaccination and worming programs and general health requirements. Proper health management of dogs assists in peak performance during periods of greatest demand and stress.

    With the above elements in place, the focus then switches to exercise. Committed mushers, trainers and handlers maintain a year-round exercise program for their dogs. Lynn Cleary of Clearhound Whippets, an avid participant in lure coursing events (and a tough kennel to beat), runs her dogs daily in packs of five or six, loose in a 40-acre field. Her dogs run the entire winter unless temperatures dip below -20° C, as the cold will cause foot-related problems. She believes that running her dogs through snow helps to build stamina, lung power and muscle. She also feels that the winter months are the best time to condition the dogs for trials held during the spring, summer and fall. A month before the trials begin, her dogs enjoy a daily two-mile walk and individual play periods with a ball, in addition to the field runs.

    Mike and Val Ducross, Ambertrail Kennel (Golden Retrievers), consider nutrition and mental conditioning top priorities. Mental conditioning is primarily aimed at building confidence in their Goldens, thus ensuring the right attitude for learning.

    Once potential field dogs have demonstrated they are responsive to their handler and are able to cope with mental stress, work begins on physical conditioning. The exercise program includes running a known pattern to retrieve, lots of field running and, during summer months, a great deal of swimming.

    During the winter, the Ducrosses send their field trial competitors or "potentials" south of the border to a professional trainer who works them on a daily basis - this at a cost of $700 to $800 Canadian per month per dog.

    Mushers will maintain an exercise program during summer months using equipment such as a bicycle, cart, dog walker or leash. Winter training for sled dogs depends on the length of races run. 'Sled Dog Care Guidelines' states: "To run a thousand-mile sled dog race, you should have at least 1,500 miles of training in the season on each dog. These miles should be put on in no less than a six-month period. To run in a 200- to 500-mile race, you should have at least 750 miles of training on each dog. These miles should be put on in no less than a four-month period. Much of the training should be done to duplicate the racing situation."

    The canine athlete will be exposed to stress prior to, during and following the event. The dog's ability to handle stress will depend on temperament, age, health and overall body condition. Stress will be experienced physically from training or competing, or psychologically from transporting, adverse environments, spectators, noise and temperature.

    As does exercise, stress may affect a dog's nutritional requirements. Numerous studies conducted in Greyhounds have demonstrated that stress is linked to anemia after five months of training and racing. A watchful eye on dietary protein levels of the racing Greyhound is critical for peak performance.

    Stress can induce diarrhea and, in a nervous animal, may cause lactic acidosis, which is an excess of lactic acid in the bloodstream. Because lactic acidosis can be harmful, it is important to minimize stress experienced by the animal prior to exercise, as the race itself will increase blood lactic acid levels. The racing dog's nutritional balance must be altered to prevent stress-induced pathologic disturbances, which ultimately lead to inferior performance.

    Stress can alter fluid and electrolyte balances and lead to dehydration. Racing Greyhounds weighed prior to the race are not permitted water until the time of the race. The dogs, once weighed, are kept in a common kennel where two to six hours may pass before the race begins. The water loss from urine, environmental temperature and saliva, linked to the stress of waiting, are significant causes of dehydration in the racing Greyhound. Any dog worked during the summer months will be subjected to heat stress and possible heat stroke. It is the owner's or trainer's responsibility to ensure that all measures are taken to reduce and prevent the possibility of a dog collapsing from heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency.

    Injury and burnout
    Dogs participating in sport and training activities are subject to episodes of injury and burnout. The majority of injuries in sporting and working dogs are often the result of repetitive motion. Sporting, racing and working dogs have a high incidence of injury to the lower limb and foot. Good trainers and handlers learn to recognize the warning signs associated with lameness. Pain, soreness, inflammation and swelling following exercise are indicators of a problem that may develop into a serious injury if not managed properly. Rest, and the use of tensor bandages, when appropriate, will allow strained or damaged tissue to heal.

    Dogs that become burned out often suffer from a sudden, drastic decrease in their performance. Fatigue, lethargy and loss of interest are symptoms of oncoming burnout. I can remember a Whippet that, years ago, competed weekly in obedience trials or club competitions. She normally scored 198 to 199 out of a possible 200, but slowly she began to lose points for lagging and crooked sits. One day during a trial she was sent to retrieve the glove on the Seek back exercise. She walked to the glove, sniffed it, turned around and promptly defecated on it. She then sat down, looked at the judge and her owner, and yawned. The message was loud and clear. She was burned out, and never competed again. Avoiding burnout involves recognizing the early signs and then providing a suitable rest period to provide a physical and mental break from the rigors of training and competition.

    Human conditioning
    For every performance competitor, there stands at the end of the lead a two-legged athletic manager. It is essential that owners consider their own physical condition. Managing a kennel or team of canine athletes requires a lot of physical exertion. Stress takes its toll on humans as well.

    Are you fit to train, exercise and lead an athlete through a competition? 'Sled Dog Care Guidelines' issued the following as food for thought: "Before you think about preparing for and running a long-distance race for the first time, look over your skills carefully. You will need to be good at winter camping with dogs, starting campfires at -50° F with a strong wind blowing, applying first aid to dogs and yourself or another musher should you get caught between checkpoints." Take a hard look at yourself and assess your abilities, endurance, physical and mental health and, finally, commitment, before involving your dog in a program that will cultivate total body fitness for a chosen activity.

    The author would like to acknowledge the editorial and research assistance of Bonnie Bishop, St. Lawrence College, Cornwall, Ont., as well as information and photographs submitted by Lynn Cleary (Clearhound Kennel), Mike and Val Ducross (Ambertrail Kennel) and David Quaile (Evergreen Kennel).

    Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. It is the state of extreme hyperthermia that occurs when excess heat exceeds the body's ability to dissipate heat. When a dog's body core temperature exceeds 43° C, severe organ damage occurs and mortality increases markedly.

    Initial treatment involves cooling the body. In the field, an affected dog should be moved to a shaded area and the coat soaked with cool water. Ice packs applied to the inguinal, axillary and jugular vein areas will cool central venous blood and lower the core body temperature. The dog should then be transferred to a veterinary hospital. It will be the hospital's goal to reduce core temperature to approximately 39° C in 30 to 60 minutes.

    Common sense should prevail during hot, humid days. Keep your dog cool by providing shade (umbrellas, vehicles with tinted windows, use of reflector blankets). Provide plenty of water and utilize spray-water bottles or blankets soaked in ice water to help keep the dog cool. Minimizing stress (loud noises, spectators) will lower a nervous dog's level of anxiety and susceptibility to heat stress. Your dog's conditioning program should include adaptation to heat stress. A dog living in an environment of constant air conditioning will be more susceptible to heat stroke from prolonged exposure to extreme heat and humidity than a dog that has been acclimatized to the heat.

    Peak performance
    Peak performance will be attained with the proper balance of the following ingredients. Genetics: A prospective puppy athlete must come from a sound breeding program with sound breeding stock. The breeding parents should be screened for congenital disorders such as hip and elbow dysplasia, retinal and blood-clotting disorders.
    Nutrition: Adequate nutrition is critical for peak performance. The use of proper growth diets followed by maintenance diets off season and enhanced-performance diets during the course of events is a must.

    Mental conditioning: An athlete must be mentally sound. Confidence should be developed in the pup so that it will learn to obey its trainer and handle stress. Quality human handling and repetitive exposure to other dogs and environments as a puppy helps to build a sound character.

    Physical conditioning: Exercise and training develop and enhance your dog's ability to perform its particular sport or working task more effectively.

    Janet Lalonde, D.V.M., recipient of the 1992 CVMA Humane Award, a regular contributor to Dogs in Canada and breeder of Whippets, practises at her vet hospital in Alexandria, Ont.
    jma, houstonapbt, TriniBoy and 4 others like this.
  2. Davefre

    Davefre Pit fanatic

    Good sound advice
  3. mccoypitbulls

    mccoypitbulls Underdog

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