When the mercury rises how do we keep our canine athletes in top condition?
Summer temperatures across the World dictate that harness work decreases. It’s not safe in the heat to run dogs far and it’s been common practise for mushers to give their dogs the summer off to chill. I do still run my boys, but it’s short and very early in the morning when it’s coolest. Major championships can be as early as October, so the pressure rises just like the thermometer to ensure your dogs hit the start of the season in peak form. So when you can’t run far, how do we do that?
Water that’s how. It’s a great cross training programme. with real benefits for the dogs. More and more you’ll see the most successful teams regularly posting pictures and videos of swim training. I’ve seen a really cool video of a guy in Norway paddling a canoe with a team of dogs moving swiftly behind him, like a torpedo cutting through the water. Just like humans, dogs can lose muscle and stamina during periods of inactivity, long breaks from training can be detrimental. I like to give my dogs ‘rests’ from harness work to keep them fresh and eager, but these aren’t usually longer than 1 – 2 weeks and they are in training blocks, with a break. It’s not haphazard, I keep an eye on the weather forecast, so I can plan breaks to coincide with the hottest days.
I’m lucky that my dogs absolutely love water. I start them young as pups, just playing around in the shallows getting their paws wet. Summer is best as they naturally want to get in and cool off. This also means that you can get the chance to paddle as well. A stroll along the beach is a great way to introduce them to running and playing in the water. If you have a water loving doggie friend then brill, it’s the ideal way to help a dog lose any fear of water, when learning from others.
Lakes can also be perfect. Some allow you to swim with your dogs in bathing areas, others may have special dog swimming zones, but always good practise to ask. I often squeeze into my wetsuit and take a dip as well. When you first take the plunge, make sure the water is safe and dogs can easily get out if they need to. Dog life/ floatation jackets do work and make life easier for dogs learning. I do recommend swimming with your dogs. It can help even the most scared dog give it a go, when they see their human enjoying the water. Dogs favourite toys can help encourage them in as well, but safety is always the number one priority. I always have someone on the bank on hand and try not to go too far out so the dogs can bail out and get to shore easily without panicking.
A few lessons I have learnt:-
- dogs tend to swim towards their owners in the beginning and may try to climb up on you.
- this can scratch, a wetsuit helps.
- don’t go out of your depth. Treading water with a dog on your shoulder is not easy or recommended.
- do check for wildlife. I avoid ducks, swans, etc.
- occasionally dogs only use their front legs. You can hold them up, supporting them and let them explore paddling or even move their rear legs to encourage this.
- know the water. Are there currents, blue green algae? Research where you go.
If you don’t want to try it yourself or your dog is really struggling then there’s always the professionals. Dog treadmills and hydrotherapy pools aren’t reserved just for dogs with conditions or recovering from injury, they can be a great conditioning tool as well. The water is temperature controlled, which is better for muscles and with a treadmill speed and depth of water can all be adjusted, so provide a more tailored exercise. There is also now a growing trend of dog pools, where you get in and swim with your dogs in a controlled and safe environment. There’s always the bonus of a member of staff here as well to coax your dog in or encase of an emergency.
However my dogs are water pups and they get a resistance workout either running through the shallows or having swim races to be first to the toy. They’re not gracefull swimmers and they do splash about, but I think that’s just them and they enjoy it. Swimming is hard work, so build up gradually and give frequent time outs. Dogs can inhale water jumping in and swimming and may ingest too much water. This can cause an imbalance of electrolytes in the dog and is called water intoxication and can lead to brain damage, heart failure and even death. Keep sessions short, swimming is both physically and mentally tiring.
Managed carefully water adventures can be great fun, great exercise and an awesome bonding experience for both you and your dog. After taking my dogs stand up paddle boarding (SUP), I’m now hooked and saving up for my own board. I’ve ambitious plans of gently paddling down the river with my boys swimming behind. We shall see, but a sleddog friend does this with her dog and they’re now up to around 2.5km. She’s trained him to place his paws on the board and she hauls him aboard when he needs a rest……how cool is that? If you’ve got a doggie ‘Micheal Phelps,’ or maybe fancy a challenge, then there’s even the chance to try a dog triathlon with Tri Dog. It’s a brilliant, fun event, which is held in September, whilst there is a competitive element it’s very much geared to having a go and getting stuck in.
Even if you don’t need water for conditioning, it doesn’t hurt for your dog not to be scared. My collie isn’t fussed about swimming. She loves to cool off and play in the shallows and really enjoys sitting on the SUP board, sailing around like Lady Muck and letting someone else do all the work!
For the boys though water is just another cog in our training wheel and one we hope means we can start the season in the best form we can. All this training does mean we need to fuel our dogs correctly. Training alone isn’t enough to bring success, we need top class nutrition. I power the team with Trophy Pet Foods Surf n Turf, which ensures my dogs are always refuelled and ready for action. You can find out more about Trophy Food here:- https://www.trophypetfoods.co.uk/