Ok I admit to being a bit of a fair weather walker. I am lucky, we have 28 acres here and I just have to step out the door to get to the “park.” But still, I have been known to skip a walk, much to my dogs displeasure. Even though I love to watch them rip through the fields each day, and of course I absolutely enjoy the break from this computer, I just hate the mess they end up in when the weather is crap. Mud everywhere, requiring everyone getting a bath when we get home. Yuck! However,
I do recognize these walks are good for the dogs (and me) for more reasons than are obvious. Sure the dog needs some exercise, has to potty, needs the fresh air and the mental break from looking at the confines of the house. But there are also other, less obvious benefits. First of all there is the development of good proprioception as they run across uneven surfaces. This is particularly good for young puppies as they improve their sense of balance. Hills are another good challenge for the dog as the terrain forces the dog to use different muscles, perhaps those he doesn’t use on a regular basis.
For me, I had an “aah haa” moment this summer why these walks are so important to our agility dogs. I was thinking about why some student’s dogs never really dig in and rip it up on course. Why do they canter but not run the way my dog’s do: like their ass is on fire. And then it came to me. So I started asking this question to students: how often does your dog get a chance to run as fast as he can? Not with equipment around, but just freaking run. You know, like he was chasing-his-supper kind of running. Not surprisingly, many of them told me rarely, like once or twice a month at most. Their dog may run a few steps if he was chasing a squirrel up a tree in the yard, but that is about it.
As long as I have owned dogs, they have always experienced running as fast as they can, pretty much daily (yes even if I don’t take them walking, John has them rip around every morning). Sure my dogs know how to run fast, they rehearse it over and over, every single day. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not believe this is the only reason I have fast agility dogs, but I think it contributes, that is for sure. Remember though balance is important. I will try to address this another time, but for now, I wouldn’t recommend you allow this all-out running with other dogs until you have a full proof recall.
When the weather is really crap, I admit I won’t walk my dogs. Yes I take the easy route and pack everyone into the car and we all go to the doggy spa. Dr. Leslie has the most amazing facility (near Hwy 6 and the 401 for anyone local to me) and my dogs just love it! I can’t recommend this enough, my dogs love to swim here and it is so good for them. I don’t let Buzzy swim with the group anymore but he loves it when we fill the underwater trendmill and just turn on the jets without the treadmill part moving (his own little hot tub). My guys go here year round. Even though we have a pond on the property my dogs use in warmer weather, they get the really exhausted swimming when they go to “Auntie Leslie’s” to swim against the jets in her doggy re-hab pool. Check it out, you can book swim time throughout the week, it is great exercise for him and your dog will love it!
At this time of year my competition dogs get time off. So no course running, no A Frames, no weave poles for 8 weeks. I like to give them this break to heal any soft tissue issues that may be brewing that I don’t know about and also to keep their brains fresh. We may work obedience or other flatwork and near the end of the 8 weeks I will set up some of Susan Salo’s low jump grids but that is it. I have done this for as long as I have been in agility and I think it is good for the dogs. Of course Feature is now getting more work as finally Encore’s busy year of 2 World Championship (IFCS & FCI) and 2 National Championship (AAC & USDAA) is finally over. Feature thinks it is about time agility is all about her!
Today my dogs and I are grateful for some awesome walking weather we have had here lately. Cool enough to freeze the muck but warm enough to enjoy the early winter sunshine.