Friday, September 21, 2012

A Healthy Dog Begins on the Inside

Ever eat a whole bag of chips and feel so sick afterwards? Junk food is nutritionally void – it has no nutritional value and your body is forced to process the “food” and received little to no benefit from it.

Regardless if our dogs (us too) are athletes or not, a balanced healthy diet will contribute to overall superior health. Wondering what a balanced healthy diet is? Well, for our dogs that is whole meats (muscle meats), vegetables, fruits, and if appropriate some grains.

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of manufactured dog foods. It’s not hard to believe that some are superior over others. It’s also not hard to believe that some are the human equivalent to a bag of chips.

I am in no way against feeding kibble, or wet foods, or even RAW. You as a pet owner are free to choose what you feed your dog, however, I implore those of you that feed a manufactured food to find out EXACTLY what you are feeding your loyal companion.

There are enormous advantages to feeding kibble – I myself have fed kibble. If you choose to feed kibble choose a highly rated kibble to ensure that your dog is receiving the best nutrition possible. Often the cost of feeding a superior kibble is only a small percentage more that the less desirable kibbles.

There are two online dog-food-review sites that I recommend you use to see how your dog food is rated:

There are also “alternative” manufactured dog foods available in your local pet store (not a big chain though). We currently feed our boys “TheHonest Kitchen” Force variety. THK is a dried food (ground up) that you rehydrate with water. I wont lie, we chose Force because it was the cheapest of THK’s grain feed varieties. The boys absolutely LOVE this food. 

As the protein in THK Force is only 21%, I also supplement with Dried-N-Alive – all 4 varieties – when Indie is looking a little underweight or both dogs have been training especially hard. I also use it as a training treat for both dogs. They go ga-ga for this food! I highly recommend it for anyone doing recall training!

So, what made me choose these foods? Whole muscle meats are the first ingredient. Quality fruits and vegetables. I can also pronounce and identify all the ingredients. I also like the idea of feeding a food with a higher water content as I am not convinced that Travis drinks enough water. THK must be rehyrated but DNA can be fed dry or rehydrated.

Our dogs are our life-long companions, we owe it to them to feed them the best food we can find and afford. I’ll never judge you or anyone for choosing what you feed your dog – it is your right. I do however want you to make the best choices for them. Educate yourself, read online reviews and visit your neighbourhood pet store for more information. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by what you learn.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Keepin’ Fido Fit

Agility requires cardiovascular endurance to maintain a crazy fast pace for 30-70 seconds, core strength to perform crosses and turns with accuracy while maintain balance, leg strength to push, pull, take-off, stop and turn around the course, and flexibility to ensure muscle can work at their peak performance without breaking down. This is true for both you and your dog.

I went to a trial this weekend with my dogs and was astounded by the number of dogs that were overweight but still competing at the higher levels. Yes, fat dogs doing Masters level agility.

We all know the aliments that follow us people around who find themselves with spare tire around their waist – pain in the feet, ankles, knees, hips and lower back. Three of those I suffer from myself. So, I can only imagine how chubby puppies feel as they haul all that extra weight around the agility field – climbing contact obstacles, pounding the ground jump-after-jump-after-jump, trying to run faster, turn tight and weave through the poles. What an incredible stress they are under – much more than us chubby folk who just run along with our dogs. If I am huffing and puffing I can only imagine what fat dogs are feeling like after a run.

Obesity is rampant in our country (I carry a few too many myself) and this problem is becoming more and more prevalent in our family pets. Agility can be a great avenue for both a handler and dog to get in to better shape – but it won’t happen overnight. The pound went on slowly and they will come off even slower.

So, how do you know if your dog is overweight? As each dog is built differently, even within a breed, you must use your hands to tell you. Use this chart as a guide and it will help you determine if your dog is at a healthy weight or not.

I am constantly evaluating my dogs weight. Each week, after they get a brush out (the hair can be misleading if there is too much bulky undercoat) I feel them all over to evaluate muscle mass and overall weight. Travis puts on weight easily. If he is feeling a little “rounder” I’ll cut back his food and increase his cardio exercise a little and revaluate the following week. Indie, on the other hand, is very hard to keep weight on. He gets the same food as Travis, but also another food with higher protein and fat for additional calories. Even though Travis is on average 2kg heavier than Indie (both dogs are also built very differently) Indie frequently gets about 20-25% more food than Travis.

Our agility (and flyball/obedience/tracking/rescue) dogs are athletes and should be trained just like any human athlete would. A big part of the dogs training regime should incorporate building cardiovascular endurance (distance running), core strength (balance exercises) and increasing flexibility. There are so many fun things we can do with our agility dogs that will keep them in the best shape possible, while still teaching great skills that will be indispensable in agility training. If you too are overweight (statistics indicate that overweight dogs frequently have overweight owners) this is a great opportunity for the both of you to lose that extra weight together!

Until our dogs are in a healthy enough “shape” to compete, they should not be competing. Remember, we have the choice to say “no, my knees are too sore to run this event” but our dogs do not, and will often run in pain simply because we asked them too. In ensuring our canine athletes are as healthy as possible we are increasing the length of their agility careers and life expectancy, decreasing the likeness of a crippling sports injury (a very costly expense), building immunity and ability to recover from injury/illness faster, and building a great relationship with our dogs.

Remember, our dogs are our pets first, agility partners second.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back in the Game!

Monday was the day…back on the contacts! I’ll admit I was really nervous, super nervous. Seeing as I hadn’t kept our retraining a secret, I think this added the pressure of my peers being able to witness first hand my ability as an agility “trainer”.

It was a huge project, one which I ended up only putting about 80% of the effort I should have in to. But let’s face it, agility is not my life; I am not retired, I work full-time, commute, go to school part time, commute, a one day a week part time job, commute, other doggie activities (tracking, obedience, hiking), have a husband-family-friends, commute, hobbies to keep me sane, and a teeny-tiny back yard that fits either 6 weave poles or a teeter. Plus, I try to blog about all my shenanigans. Hardly the ability to put 100% effort into anything. I’m happy with the 80% effort – it is still more than most others would be able to do.

Now I’ll explain the basics of our retraining the 2-on-2-off (2o2o) contacts. There were two separate “lessons”. First, build the dogs value for being “on” things and specifically the end of the contacts. Second, build value for a nose touch. When you put them together you should get a stellar nose touch off the end of the contacts. The reason you teach them separately is that if the dog is over-excited, then the nose touch weakens, but the value for the end of the plank should remain.

So how did it all play out…

Let’s start by saying that the people at Guides Canins know how to run an agility trail. I ran in 6 back-to-back events that started at 10am and we were in the car by 2:15pm…that is unheard of. Now, there weren’t that many people there, but there were still 20-25 dogs in each event – pretty impressive. We will defiantly be going back there! There is nothing I hate more than lots of down time during/between events – there are some venues that could take a lesson in time management and organization from these people!

Indie ran in 3 steeplechase – a first for both of us. Now, my memory isn’t the best, and competing in two different organisations (AAC and CKC) with two different sets of rules, two dogs in two different levels and [technically] 9 different “games” classes is a lot of rules to remember. So to keep everything straight the goal is just to run perfect and if we don’t, we just check for a Q on the score sheets later.

Indie’s first and third runs were spectacular. He nailed his contacts three times with a solid end position on the a-frame.

His second run did not go quite as well. His contacts were still great, but along the back of the field was the 12 weave poles. Some nice competitors were packing up quite close to the ring side, making lots of noise. Just as Indie was part way through the poles they shook out a blank. Indie stopped dead, but didn’t bark, but didn’t manage to forget that we were in the middle of a run. When Indie loses his focus it is hard to get him back to his A game quickly – he’s still a green dog. I started the poles over again but then he ran past the next jump in the sequence. After that the run was great. No Q because we were over time.

Just as a side note – it appears as though we were the only team doing a stopped contact in steeplechase. I am not sure how many dogs were doing a true, trained running contacts though…seems like a lot of “cross your fingers and pray the dog hits some yellow” training. Many dogs were hitting high on the contact as opposed to low where you’d expect with trained running contacts.

Travis ran in three master standards and earned 1 Q. There would have been a second, but he ran past the last jump earning us an E. Well, I earned us and E because I stopped handling him on the 180. My bad. His times were also EXCELLENT! His fastest in master standard ever…a good 5-10 seconds under SCT. Usually we’re around 1-2 seconds under time. I attribute it to Val’s flowing course design…still challenging (more decoy, obstacles discrimination type challenges) than twisty turn-y course which really slow Travis down.

His contacts in the first two events were solid, but he did half slip off the dog walk, but got back on to end position. The judge didn’t fault us for this – not sure what the rules say about that anyway. His last event was a disaster. I think he had 3 refusals and 3 really, really, off courses by obstacle #10. He was simply not interested in participating and barked at me relentlessly. He never barks at me – ever. I tried playing with him to get his mind back in the game (I grab him in a bear hug and growl at him – he loves this) but he just wasn’t having it. It was so weird. I pulled him out about half way through – no sense me getting upset (he is really sensitive to my moods, which don’t seem to faze Indie at all) and he is just practicing being wrong again and again. The first words out of my husband were “…that was weird”. Good, it wasn’t just me. I asked him if it seemed like I was handling badly and he said that it really seemed to be Travis not listening to me.

That was the last event of the day, so we packed up and headed home. Travis was himself by the time we got home, doing tricks and obedience games. We figured it was the heat – or the pressure – maybe he crumbles under pressure. Maybe it was my mood too – I was a little frazzled from things going so fast, running two dogs in two rings and 6 events. Maybe he knew something I didn’t.

We’re at All Dogs on Saturday – hope things go just as well, or better, there too! I am really happy with the boys contact training.