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      News — Conditioning

      Dreams do come true - Westminster

      Biddy and I at the Westminster Kennel Club

      Mammal, Dreams do come true - Westminster

      Well...we didn't get a prize but I was so proud of my girl! She showed beautifully on the biggest dog show stage! I'll be posting tomorrow on our full experience....I'm still digging my way out of a pile of laundry, work and all that goes with being gone a week...my awesome husband vacuumed and cleaned up while I was gone...which was a huge help too....so I wasn't overwhelmed by dog hair when I came back! Just glad to be back in my sunny S. Florida home and not digging out if snow...Flip flops rule! My friend Sherry Foster took this photo off her computer while watching the live feed for me and I love it!

      4 Easy Warm Up Exercises

      4 Easy Warm Up Exercises

       

      Dog stretching and warming up exercises

       

      Warming up, stretching and cooling down before and after exercise is just as important for dogs as it is for humans. It helps reduce the risk of injury and as an added bonus gives you a little bonding and training time too.

      Sometimes when I am taking Biddy and Tristan for our morning jog, I am short on time and just go out there and hit it really quickly. I usually end up having to stop shortly after we start because my body is not quite ready to go yet (I am the one that is the most out of shape!). Even though we think dogs are ready to go all the time, a routine of warm up, stretch and cool down before and after exercise will reduce the risk of injury while you are working to keep your pet fit and is even more important if you are competing.

      I am a big fan of Dr. Christine Zink, DVM and have summarized her warm up and stretching suggestions from a recent article in Clean Run.

      Quick Warm Up 5 - 15 minutes of light walking gradually increasing our pace. For me, this is one loop around our block, and a chance for Biddy and Tristan to check their neighborhood mail! Once our muscles are warm, these Active Stretching exercise do double duty by stretching your dog, and getting him focused on you.

      4 Easy and Fun Active Stretching Exercises

      Play Tug: this stretches your dog's hamstring and groin muscles.

      Cookies-at-the-Hip: lure your dog's head back to his hip area on both sides with a cookie. This stretches his muscles along the spine.

      Paws-on-Chair: lure your dog's nose and head up while his front paws are balanced on an object the appropriate height for him. For medium or large dogs, about the height of a chair. For small dogs, a small box or stacked phone books. This is a great exercise for stretching your dog's back muscles, quadriceps (upper leg), and iliopsoas (lower back and hip).

      Play Bow: this front end stretch focuses on the triceps and the weight bearing muscles on your dogs front piece.

      Make sure you do these AFTER your warm up walk. After a good run or workout, cooling down is just as important. Slowly decrease your pace over a 10-15 minute period, all the way down to a relaxed walk for the last 5 minutes. After cooling down, if it was a strenuous workout, Passive Range of Motion (PROM) exercises are recommended. These consist of moving each limb through the normal range of motion, then flexing and extending. To be honest...I don't do these because I feel that our workouts are strenuous for me, but probably not that strenuous for my dogs, but maybe I need to try to work these in. I regularly practice cooling down and monitoring my dog's body temperature...but we haven't been to the PROM yet... Check our Dr. Zink's article with great photos and in depth instructions on how to prevent injury when exercising. I am a big fan! Do you have any warm up and stretching exercise you do with your dogs?

      Shop Dog Mamma's Oven Baked Treats      

      Treibball - you gotta give it a try!

      Okay, I confess...I am a dog class junkie. I've always got at least one dog enrolled in something, whether it is agility, obedience, conformation, Pet Therapy, clicker...you name it, we like to try it. There are a lot of new, fun sports for dogs catching on, and since Biddy's show career is going to start slowing down a bit...I'm starting to look around for something new.

      The one that keeps popping up and I had no idea what it was all about is Treibball (pronounce Try-ball)   What is it? How do you do it? Can all dogs participate? I took a visit to the American Treibball Association's webpage to see if this was something we might want to try...and wow does this look fun! It is a positive reinforcement based game that became sanctioned for competition in 2008.

      The game originated in Germany and is popular with the herding breeds, but dogs of all ages, breeds and sizes can participate. In a nutshell, the dog needs to push or drive a series of eight inflatable balls from the center of the playing field into the goal area at the end of the field. Think of a soccer (or hockey) field with the goal net at the end. It can be played on an outdoor field or an indoor ring. The eight balls are set up in a triangle pattern (4 at the base, 3 in the middle, 1 on the point) similar to how you would rack billiard balls. On cue, the dog must drive one ball at a time into the goal net. The handler must stay at the net and give commands or cues to the dog.

      One of the things I like the most about this sport is that the focus is on POSITIVE reinforcement and a handler can be DQ'd if they use in appropriate force with their voice or other cues. I like this...this should be a rule for parents at Little League too! The size of the balls and the size of the field is based on the the height of the dog...so the toy breeds are just as competitive as the bigger dogs. In a competition, your dog has 10 minutes to drive all 8 balls into the goal, the lie down in front of the goal. Points can then be added or deducted based on performance. As you move up the ladder in competition there is Beginner Level with Divisions A & B, Intermediate, Excellent and Champion Levels that dogs of all breeds can earn titles in. Division A competitors can use a clicker in competition in addition to verbal, whistle and hand signals. Division B can only use three things: verbal command, whistle and hand signals. In the Beginner Level the dog can bring the balls into the goal in any order, but must be under the full control of the handler at all time.

      Remember - you are staying at the goal and using cues to encourage your dog to drive the balls toward you to the goal. It gets a LOT harder at the Intermediate Level. The Handler is required to call out the order that the dog has to bring the balls in (either by color, size or shape, or position) so that the Goal Judge and the Ball Judge can clearly see that the dog is bringing in the ball it was instructed to bring in. In Excellent, it is the JUDGE that signals to the Handler which order they would like the dog to bring the balls in and the Handler then needs to cue the dog based on the Judge's order. In Champion Class, the Judge can decide how the balls are initially positioned on the field and obstacles can be placed at the Judge's discretion in the field of play. The Judge then directs the handler of the order to cue the dog to bring the balls in.

      The Judge is also allowed to place or reposition the obstacles in the field as well. Dog and Handler teams can earn bonus or demerit points. Each point is equivalent to 15 seconds either added to or subtracted from the team's final time.  Bonus points can be earned for reducing the number of cues the dog is given before it begins pushing the first ball from the peak set. Demerits can be given for the dog biting the ball or using it's claws to push the ball forward or the handler putting too much pressure on the dog - this is defined as physical punishment, threat, verbal abuse or berating. Teams can also receive a demerit if the dog approaches the wrong side of the ball set triangle, the handler moves into the field of play or the ball is pushed out of bounds. That is one smart dog to be able to do that! While this isn't a huge physical work out like agility or lure coursing, to me this is a great way to strengthen your bond with your dog, play, and give them a mental workout.

      Even without a training room or a large amount of space, you can begin teaching your dog how to focus, target and move a ball around on command. You don't need a special ball...a light weight ball of any kind will work to get you started (think Toys R Us, Wal Mart etc). Biddy and Tristan are going to start out with the Disney Princess ball that is in my emergency stash from when kids come to visit. Some of the videos from the American Treibball Association show how they teach the dog to move the ball, back up  or walk backwards and then be sent out to go get the ball. If you notice in the videos with Ella - he is asking her to "back up" and she does! This is a skill I want to work on with my dogs. Being able to walk backwards helps build rear strength and awareness in your dog and is also a mental workout.  

      One of the best free resources that I found for getting started and teaching your dog the ground work is from the Whole Dog Journal. The How to Train section of this article takes you through how to send your dog out to the ball and begin to bring the ball back. If you and your dog are new to shaping behaviors and targeting, click on some of the other links in the article for great tips on how to start teaching these skills to your dog.

      I don't really see myself entering in a competition for Treibball since Biddy and Tristan both  compete in other sports.  I do see it as something that I want to teach my dogs and add to their skill set. I think it is great to have it as an activity you can do with your dog that doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment or space, since you can practice in your own back yard. I like the mental and skills aspect of this game the most. I think it breaks up the weekly exercise routine and really makes your dog (and you!) think. It is also a great alternative for bad weather days. If it is cold or rainy,  you can practice the skills inside. We are always faced with the heat. If you don't get that good run in early, it is way too hot for the dogs (and me!) and now we need a way to burn off some energy. This is something you can do outside without working your dog so hard physically in the heat. Big dogs, little dogs, old dogs and young dogs can all learn how to play this game - even if you never enter a competition. Have you ever tried Treibball? Do you have a story to share about shaping behaviors?

      Where have you been all my life?

      I just bought Biddy and Tristan (and myself!) the best Christmas present ever! The Spindrift Daisy Runner from The Dog Outdoors. We've gone on one test run and I'm already telling myself I should have gotten this months ago! Essentially it is a belt with clip ons for two dog leashes so that you can run hands free. Yes...you could fashion this for yourself, but the Spindrift Daisy Runner has a padded neoprene lining, which really makes a huge difference when you are running and sweating. It also has a reflective strip on the back which is nice for early morning/evening runs.

      I got the leashes that come with it which are bungee style...again can you use your own, yes, but I wanted to try the bungee style which gives a little more shock absorption and I am glad I did. They don't stop your dogs from pulling, but they do cushion it a lot on both ends of the lead.

      The truth be told, my dogs are super fit, but unfortunately I'm not and over the last 10 years or so I've gradually let the weight creep on. So here I am today at 47, 25-30 pounds overweight and not getting any younger (which continually surprises me...since in my mind I see it differently!). The only exercise I have ever been able to stick to has been running.

      Running with two Brittanys is a bit of a challenge to say the least. It takes us about 3/4 of a mile to get the edge off and settle in to a pace that we are all comfortable with, especially me! I had been just holding both of their leashes, but this resulted in me running most of the time with my arms pulled forward, and torso pitched forward as well, which put a lot of stress on my knees, which are not in bad shape, but the extra weight has been hard on them. It is a struggle enough without adding anything else to it!

      The Spindrift Daisy Runner gets it done by really doing two thing in my opinion. It helps keep your torso upright instead of pitched forward, and it kind of puts and end point in how far the dogs can pull. Throw in the bungee leashes and we are moving along a lot more smoothly. The challenge, especially with more than one dog, is keeping each dog in their lane. Since the leashes have attachment points, if Biddy is attached on the left, she needs to stay on the left, end if story (well sort of....).

      So this took a little bit of time to get worked out, but by the end of the first run, they got it. I think with practice this will solve itself. The bungee leads I chose are 4' long with stretch, so they have room to move and sniff, they just can't cross lanes. If they do, you need to stop and guide each dog back to their side. I made the mistake of putting them on the wrong sides at first...Tristan always walks on the right, Biddy on the left...they let me know this wasn't going to work right away. While the belt is easy to clip, you want to have all of this worked out before you start for sure.

      The bungee leashes have handles up at the top so if you do need to guide along, which I suggest especially in the beginning. You can guide the dogs in a similar fashion to a horse's rein. They also have control or city loops down closer to the collar which are adjustable as well. These worked really nicely when I wanted to reel the dogs in and have them both right next to me. I was able to walk in a comfortable position, holding each control loop and have the dogs right there. Especially helpful in the presence of squirrels! Oh and you can clip your poop bag holder in as well without any interference!

      If you haven't shopped at The Dog Outdoors, check out their website, awesome selection of things to get you and your dogs in action! They have great videos on all the products so you can really see how they work and if it is right for you. The price tag on a lot of the items is not cheap, however, they are designed to last. They are a family run business with incredible customer service. I got the Spindrift Daisy Runner plus two bungee leashes. The entire set up was around $63, so I wanted to make sure it was going to work. I sent Scott an email with my questions and he answered me back right away. Between their videos and his quick response I felt good about my purchase. I had it in just a few days and now we are off and running! Right now I am at my limit of about 2.25 miles doing the Galloway walk run.

      My goal is to get back up to about 5 miles on each run. About 3 years ago I did a half marathon...which I am glad I did. I finished in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 28 seconds...mission accomplished! But, and this a big but (butt?) I didn't lose any weight and when training for the full hurt my knee at around 20 miles. For me, in order to go that far I was constantly re-fueling so as a result I never lost the weight. At the end of the day...if I can get to a steady 5 miles, I think that will be good. Now I just need to practice some of that portion control I do so well with my dogs!


      Shake It Up on the Walk ~ How to find the right spot for Spot

      Biddy and Tristan LOVE to go on walks, but I've realized that I need to shake it up a little bit each week to keep it interesting for them. I find that if I do the same neighborhood walk/run every morning it does't really "wear them out" as much as if I do something different a couple of times a week. 

       

      Tristan anticipating the walk....2 dogs, the camera and a lot of squirrels...not a good mix!

      Tristan anticipating the walk....2 dogs, the camera and a lot of squirrels...not a good mix!

      I  truly believe that they get bored with doing the same thing each morning. I also find that if I just walk in the neighborhood - it is really easy to not "go the distance" (and to be honest - I get bored too!). I've mapped out 4 different walks for us to take during the week. Two are versions we can do without getting in the car and the other two are quick car trips.

      I have a GPS watch that I wear - so I can track how far, how fast and all that good stuff. Sometimes I get a little lazy and just rely on them to play with each other or me with the ball for exercise in the yard. I think it is great for them to just be able to play...but they both really need a good solid 30 - 45 minutes of walking and running each day to stay fit and also to help keep their behavior in check! Two of my three walks take us out of the neighborhood and around other people, dogs, bikes, squirrels and other distractions. I find when they get home from those walks, they really rest up and don't spend the afternoon pacing and asking to go in and out of the house to the yard.

      Neither one of my dogs are great leash walkers even though we practice all the time. The only time I ever really have a loose leash is when I'm running and towards the end of the walk when all of their frantic energy is worn off! Biddy can also be a little reactive to other dogs. I think when she sees other dogs she gets over excited and wants to play, and sometime is a little uncertain about them too. She does't bark a mean, aggressive bark, rather I very high pitched, relentless bark (nice huh?!) - so the more I have her out and about the less she seems to do it...so leaving the 'hood and doing something new is really important for her for a lot of other reasons as well.

      I am lucky that I have two really great parks with nice trails super close to my house. Our favorite park is on the river, and is about a 1.5 mile loop that takes you down to the beach and the river, around a pond and in and out of all kinds of shady spots. Our other favorite walk is the park downtown on the river front. Shady trails, out on the river and next to our little downtown where we get some big time exposure to people.

      I checked my spots out really carefully before I brought my dogs. Here are some things to check out before you go: 1. Parking - is it really busy where you need to get your dogs in and out? If so - are they solid on their "wait" command before getting out of the car? 2. What kind of trail is it? Can your dogs walk on the grass or something soft? Be aware of blacktop or other hot surfaces that can damage your dog's paws. 3. Are dogs required to be on a leash - I find that at the busier parks around me, people keep their dogs on leashes...at the quieter parks - they let them off even though they are not supposed to. Make sure you check it out and are comfortable with what other people are doing. 4. Is there enough shade? I live in S. Florida...to much heat/sun is not a good thing especially when you are moving. I always travel with my own water for everybody, collapsible bowl, poop bags and doggie first aid kit. Where do you like to walk/run?