Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Keeping dogs fit in the cold

Probably the hardest thing about living in Vermont are the temperatures and snow-cover. OK, all of the things that tourists and 'true' Vermonters cherish, just make it tougher for me to get the dogs out and properly exercised. Agility in and of itself is not conditioning - it's training, it's an activity, it's fun for the dog and it is exercise - but agility requires fitness and you won't get and stay fit training agility alone. In the summer, 90% of conditioning around here is in the pool - without a local underwater treadmill or indoor doggie aquatic center we have to work a little harder to keep everyone in shape.

I've (we've) been super lucky this fall and winter - we've had a grand total of 8-10" of snow (in about three storms) here in the valley, followed by warm spells into the 40's and even 50's. The ground is not yet frozen and the snow has melted quickly. Oh, true winter will (and to some extent HAS) come soon enough with highs in the single digits and lows well below zero.
Air Kippie out for a run - Murphy grazing in the background.

Case in point:  Monday morning before breakfast, the dogs went for a run in 40 degree temperatures. Monday afternoon when we trained and I was out teaching it was 36 degrees, bright sunshine, no wind - perfect winter weather as far as I'm concerned...By Tuesday morning it was 12 degrees, Tuesday at 5pm it was 2 degrees and this morning (Wednesday) it was zero. Too cold to take the dogs for a romp - they'd go, they'd probably still have a blast - but I don't want the dogs exerting themselves when temperatures are so cold. Cold air isn't great for our lungs, it 'ain't' great for dogs' lungs either.  

So, what do I do to keep three very active golden retrievers fit and happy all winter? Well it's a lot of what I do to keep three very active golden retrievers fit and happy all spring, summer and fall.
Pretty typical 'free' gallop. Murphy in the lead.

First, when temperatures are above 20 degrees (and not raining, sleeting, dumping feet of snow on us), I aim to get the boys get out for a run every single day. That's my goal anyway, in practice with early darkness and busy mornings they end up getting 4-5 days a week for 45 minutes to an hour - on the field, on the turf, on the trail, etc. 

As much as I can I want them to self-exercise, their own play. Gallop, bitey-face, gallop, wander, trot along after a good scent, gallop, chase, be chased, wander, etc. When time is of the essence to get dogs exercised, I do break out the bumpers and chuck-it for retrieve sessions which leads to sessions that are more gallop than anything else. Even my fittest dog (Teller) will be tired and panting after 20 minutes of long retrieves. I don't generally run them when there is deep snowcover on the ground, but snow settles and packs pretty quickly around here and I found a place to run them outdoors, on grass that is well-plowed down to the turf.
Kipling working out on the ball...

On the days that we can't get out for a run, the boys take their turns with ballwork - initially pioneered by Debbie Gross Saunders in her "Get on the Ball" series - there is an entire line of ball products by FitPaws. We have the pods and the peanut - we generally work on the peanut, but we travel with the much more portable pods.

If you're thinking about getting on the ball there are a few things to know - first you need to make ballwork safe. Nails should be trimmed (dremeled is preferable), the ball, peanut or egg needs to be stabilized when the dog is on it - so that the ball is stable and that the dog doesn't hurt himself getting on or off the ball.

You can start small with a fit-paws disc, or a donut. I find that the peanut is very easy to control with the aid of a coffee table or a sofa and my feet. 

Good Job Kippie!!
Start with really short sessions - this is hard work! Initial sessions include just getting the dog's front end on the ball and then building confidence, stamina and skills from there. 

Lastly, and I can't emphasize this enough - before you go out and get a peanut or a ball (etc) order the "get on the ball" DVD so that you can learn to use the tool correctly. If you order your product from fitpaws they do include an instructional DVD with the peanut and eggs - watch it.

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