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Exercise programs: On the road again

6/15/2004

Whether you are working your way over the midseason hump or pushing on toward the finish line, proper conditioning of your dog can help them maintain their intensity during a long hard season.

It is not uncommon for field trial and heavily hunted dogs, to experience a slump sometime during the season. As the anticipation and excitement that permeated the preseason wears off and the wear and tear of events take their toll, many dogs will begin to loose their edge.

One reason for this results from shear physical fatigue. Repeated workouts and hunts that take a dog to exhaustion can burn a dog out if they are not prepared. To combat this, consider getting ready before the season begins by instituting an exercise program for your dog.

Roading

Professional trainers and dog trialers have long recognized and promoted the development of their dog's aerobic endurance. Many respectable and successful kennels utilize the practice of "roading", where dogs are exercised by a combination running and pulling to improve and maintain their endurance.

Some road their dogs off horseback while others use four-wheelers with special harnesses and riggings to run several dogs at once. To increase a dog's endurance, run them for long distances. When on an ATV give the dogs slack in their lines, allowing them to run full speed. To increase their strength they need resistance to pull against. Here use weights or let the dogs keep tension on their harnesses, pulling most of the way.

Whatever the method, roading can be a very effective way to build endurance in dogs.

Treadmills

If you cannot get outside and you have a treadmill at home, you can use it to condition your dog. Most sporting dogs take to them like a duck to water.

It's best to get the dog on the treadmill a couple of times while it is not moving before asking them to walk on it. When you're ready, hold them with a leash or by the collar, and slowly start the treadmill. As they begin to accept the movement of the belt under their feet, you can increase the speed.

After they are comfortable jogging with little assistance, you can rig up a line to keep them on the treadmill. For safety sake, it is best to attach the line from above a harness on the dog. This keeps it away from the treadmill belt and from becoming tangled in your dog's legs.

Swimming

Another effective exercise is simply swimming. Consistently getting your dog in the water is a great way to maintain or improve their shape.

Be careful if your dog has not done much swimming. Five minutes of true swimming (meaning they are in water deep enough that they can't touch bottom) may be all some out-of-shape dogs can handle. After several days, maybe even a couple of weeks, you should be able to gradually lengthen the time until each workout is 10 -15 minutes long.

In general, it takes less time in the water to provide an equivalent workout to that of land exercises. In addition to this, another advantage that swimming has is that it avoids the problem of sore feet that running exercises can cause.

Exercise programs for dogs will vary widely. Retrievers will likely have programs that include water work, while upland dog owners may strictly use a schedule of roading for their dogs. Whatever the method, a dog in good shape should help you finish the season strong.