Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Training With Your Dog

In case you didn't know, I'm training for my first marathon.  I'm running to raise money for Henrico Humane Society.  To learn more about it, visit here.

Anyway, I'm training with Cody.  Now, due to heat throughout the summer, Cody has had to skip some of the longer runs, but he has run 7+ miles with me, and this is quite an accomplishment.  Seven miles isn't easy for anyone, but when you're also in daycare 5 days a week, 7 miles could be dangerous.  So, in case you're interested in running with your dog, I'm providing some tips for training with your dog.

1) Ease into it.   You didn't go from 0 miles to 20 miles overnight, and neither should your dog.  If your dog is new to running, start with just walking him.  Build up to running short distances and gradually increase distance and pace.  I was lucky.  Cody started training with me when I was first attempting a 5k.  I could barely run a mile, and that was at a slow pace.  Cody trained the entire time, and he even ran my first 5k race with me.  When I decided to start working towards a 10k, Cody trained with me for that as well.  He's basically been with me the whole way.  I'm a little farther ahead of him now, but I know he could easily catch up.

2) Hydrate- You know how, on a long run, it's important for you to hydrate before, during, and after?  Guess what.  The same is true for your dog!  Since dogs are built a little differently than people, and shouldn't take on a whole lot of water while running, hydration before is really key.  I actually heard a really great trick the other day to help your dog stock up on electrolytes AND water.  A few hours before your run, have your dog drink a bit of chicken broth (not too much as this will upset his tummy).  Chicken broth is salty, so this will encourage your dog to drink a little more water.  Slow down his water intake about an hour before your run, so he doesn't end up with intestinal issues.  During your run, you can let him have some water, but not full bowls.  That could cause him to get sick.

3) Fuel- Yep, food is important too.  I will sometimes bring a small snack for Cody (i.e. give him a few bites of what I'm having), but his daily nutrition is important too.  Cody is on a fairly high protein diet, with few fillers, and he gets lots of food.  He'll eat anywhere between 2 and 8 cups of  food a day with lots of snacks in between.

4) Crosstrain- It is important for your dog to strengthen other parts of his body as well.  If your dog plays well with others, day care can help with that, but there are quite a few other useful activities as well.  Cody loves swimming and he practices some mild agility from time to time.  Swimming, of course, is a great work out for him, and agility helps with focus, strength, and balance.

5) Rest- Some dogs can run 20 miles and feel like it was just a warm up.  Other dogs run 2 and feel like they're about to die.  If your dog needs a rest, let him rest.  Occasionally give him a day off.  Yesterday, Cody and I ran 3 miles together and then Cody came to the daycare with me.  This morning, Cody wanted to sleep in, so he got the morning off, while I ran 7 miles.  He was simply too tired to go for any sort of run.

6) Stretch- Dogs need to stretch out, just like people do.  The internet is very useful for finding different stretches for your dog, but I also encourage people to look into Doga.  It's quite useful and relaxing.  You may also want to look into other sorts of care for your dog as well, such as massage, chiropractic care, or acupuncture.  Your dog can have aches and pains just like you do.  He just can't tell you how or where it hurts.

As always, consult a licensed veterinarian before attempting any sort of exercise / diet with your dog.  If, however, you take care of your dog's needs, you'll end up with a terrific running companion.

Dogs Will Be Dogs

Yesterday I had a conversation with a trainer about dog behavior.  The topic of dog corrections came up, and she said that she does not allow her dog to correct another dog because she does not want her dog to think that the behavior involved in a correction is appropriate.  This is something I've heard a lot from trainers over the years.  Here are some of the arguments:

- Never wrestle with your dog.  This will teach him to play rough and to fight.

- Never tug with your dog.  This will teach him to not return things to you.

- Never allow your dog to correct another dog.  This will teach him that inappropriate behavior such as growling, barking, or showing teeth is OK at any time.

The first question I must ask you is this: Would you ever tell a young boy or girl that it is never appropriate to wrestle, play tug of war, or acknowledge his/her displeasure with something?  I certainly hope not, or else I would have missed out on a world of fun as a child.

As a young girl, I learned that when I was in my play clothes, I could wrestle with other kids, I could climb trees, I could play tug, and I most certainly could say when I wasn't happy with something.  However, I was also taught that there were times when playing was inappropriate.  There were times when I was at school or church and I had to sit still.  There were times when I could display my displeasure and Mom and Dad would tell me I was acting inappropriately (and occasionally punish me if I continued to display my displeasure).  I learned what was appropriate and when it was appropriate, and I believe it is important to teach our dogs the same.

As a puppy, Cody had very bad manners.  He nipped, he chewed, he growled, he stole toys.  He was a puppy, though, so I knew he'd grow out of it.  In the mean time, I worked on teaching him manners.  I taught him to play, but when things got too rough for me I taught him how to stop.  I taught him that chewing on his toys or on bones was fine, but that chewing on furniture was bad.  I taught him that growling at one thing or another was fine, but there would be trouble if he ever laid teeth on or growled at me (when he was not playing).  I worked hard to let him know what was appropriate and what was not, and I was rewarded with a dog who can play rough but who knows when to quit too.

The next argument I usually hear in this is, "Well, he's fine with you, but what if he was with a young child or an elderly person?  How would he do then?"  I used to wonder about that myself.  I've always played rough with my dogs, but not all children like that.  Would Cody be OK? 

Cody was only 9 months old the first time I saw him around young children.  We were at the local children's theatre (where Hans works), and there was a semi-large group of children ranging in age from 3 years old to 10 years old.  I watched carefully as the children started to play with Cody.  They made all the same movements that I would make when playing rough with Cody, but Cody was different with them.  He was obviously happy, and he was playing "rough," but it wasn't his usual level of rough.  He very much held back for the kids.  He ran around them instead of jumping on them.  He gave them kisses instead of grabbing at their sleeves.  I knew then that Cody was smarter than what most people would give him credit for.

Similar things like that have happened over the years, both with elderly and young, and it's made me realize just how smart dogs are.  They are capable of discerning between situations.  They are capable of making choices and making the right one.  Yes, there are some dogs that take a little longer to learn than others.  There are some dogs that you wouldn't want to rile up as much because they just haven't learned how to calm down.  However, with a little love and attention and a lot of time, any dog can learn how to play rough, or tug, or even correct another dog without taking things too far.  I think it's important to teach them how to make the right choices rather than not allowing them to make decisions at all.  It helps their minds grow, and it helps our bonds with them flourish.