Monday, March 29, 2010

Canine Athletes - A Rare Breed

We know that all dogs need regular exercise to stay healthy and happy but canine athletes need further conditioning to build up their stamina and improve athletic performance.  If you've ever done a long hike or taken a long bike ride after being a lump on the couch for most of the winter, you know what I mean.   The soreness you experience the next day is a good indication of the importance of conditioning.  Sled dogs may race 1,000 miles in less than ten days and peak performance herding dogs can cover as much as 100 miles a day.  This information should really make you appreciate how much work goes into conditioning a dog for this type of exercise.  The average domesticated dog would not be able to handle this regime. 

If you are interested in helping your dog become a canine athlete, please help your dog avoid the Weekend Warrior Syndrome by gradually increasing their level of activity and length of time spent doing that activity.  It will go a long way in keeping your dog happy and safe from strains or potential injury. 

Along with the physical conditioning we need to remember the mental conditioning as well.

With both humans and dogs, stress is just a natural element in competition.  It comes not only from physical exertion but also from the psychological pressures of traveling in the car, noise, hot or cold temperatures and even the presence of spectators.  Don't think that your dog is not aware or influenced by those factors because they can effect them just as much and sometimes even more than with us.

The best canine athlete is a confident dog and is well socialized with both other dogs and humans.  They are comfortable with being handled by many different people from birth and they are exposed to all different types of environments, sights and sounds.  They are used to riding in a car, going to the vet, attending training classes and play groups and dealing with crowded places like an outdoor shopping mall with confidence.

By introducing them to all these experiences, you will help them become better able to deal with the stresses of competition.

Most importantly, you should be able to recognize whether your dog has a desire to win.  Just like we can "tell" with humans, we can too with dogs.  Some dogs just have an innate desire to win or push themselves, others just aren't that excited about chasing a rabbit or jumping through a hoop.  Those dogs can still have fun in canine sporting activities, just don't push them and expect them to be at the top of the competitors list if they don't have that drive.  It's up to you to recognize and not push if they are not interested.  Your ability to recognize their lack of desire will go a long way in avoiding stressful situations.

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