K9 Coach – From Snowflakes to Flowers in Bloom

GILLIAN RIDGEWAY

When winter is upon us, it is difficult to imagine that it will ever turn into spring. At the beginning of winter, it is hard to believe that we will ever see the snow melt.  The winter doldrums seem to be inevitable and every year we wait for sunshine and BBQ season.  You never see it happen, just one day it is there.

One of the best ways to cure the winter blahs, and to get ready for Spring, is to start an exercise program. Our dogs are great companions for one of the best fitness programs around…walking.  In fact, many people find it easier to make a commitment to their furry companion than to make a commitment to themselves.

Starting a fitness program with your dog should be done step by step.  It is not a good idea for either of you to overdue it at the beginning.  Start slowly with a warm up, and work your way up to a brisk pace over time.  Watch your dog for signs of fatigue, panting or slowing down and rest at appropriate times.  Let’s face it…your own signs of fatigue may be evident long before your dog shows any

As we are now aware, this type of sustained aerobic activity can help reduce stress levels in humans.  This type of exercise also affects dogs in a positive way. Many of us would prefer to spend the first couple of months of each year in hibernation, and during these times our television watching and Internet surfing becomes a larger part of our day.  Our dogs do not have this type of distraction and therefore devise other ways to amuse themselves.

Many family pets become destructive during the winter months, often chewing household furniture and belongings.  Dogs do suffer from stress related disorders, often from a change in routine.  Getting your dog out, rain or shine or sleet or snow for regular daily exercise should help his stress levels and curb these unwanted behaviors.  On top of that, a dog that is physically tired will have a lot less energy to spend chewing the table legs.

So, how much, and what type of exercise is required for your own dog? In some cases, there seems to be a point where the dogs get hyper active. Dog parks are great fun for dogs and people but sometimes can be too much of a good thing.  They get into these groups and instead of “wearing out”, actually reach a point where they get into a frenzy.

One suggestion would be to watch your closely at the dog park and take notice of when his behavior changes.  You can then use this guideline to cut your park visits a bit shorter, or to take a break from the group. Using your break to work on some obedience exercises to re-focus him can often help.

Given the correct amount of exercise, with a cool down period, you will notice that your dog should return home in a more relaxed state.  The best idea when visiting the park is to walk there and back home.  This walk should be about 15 minutes and on lead.  This will provide the warm up and cool down periods needed.  Many people drive to the park and home and the dog comes back into the house still in “park mode”.

It is important to remember that the cool down is equally important to the warm up.  If your walk has been particularly strenuous, take an extra lap around the block at a slower pace.

The second part of an all-encompassing exercise program is to wear your dog out mentally. Using any obedience words, you have in your repertoire is a great way to tire your dog.  Have him work for you. Have him do a nice heel to the park and back, sitting at all the curbs.  Do a 15 to 20-minute obedience lesson each day, separate from your walks. Perhaps enroll in an advanced obedience class or get involved in a dog sport.  Even teaching your dog tricks and putting him through his paces will help to tire him out.

The hardest part is usually getting started. Once you have settled into an exercise routine, the benefits will be so great that this habit will be hard to break, especially when you consider how important this time is for you and your dog to spend together.  Come spring the pair of you will be in great shape and who knows, a marathon may be just around the corner.

 

K9 COACH GILLIAN RIDGEWAY

is the Director of Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres in Toronto and Ajax, Ontario.  She has been featured on many radio and television programs and penned  a monthly column in Dogs in Canada Magazine for nine years.  Gillian is also a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto, using dogs to shed light on learning theory to psychology students.  She shares her home with two dogs, and is involved in dog sports and canine performance teams.

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