Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ah, the happiness of training your puppy

This blog entry is a part of the dog agility blogging event, "Health and Happiness"

I got a BC puppy "Hoot" less than a year ago.  A very high drive, fearless, loves to work, agile, soft yet pushy kind of a girl.  I adore her and love to train her.  As with all my dogs, I want to keep her best interests in mind, but be able to train and play with her.

Hoot is my 4th agility dog and the 3rd I have started as a puppy (Tip was 18 months old before I discovered agility) and I navigated these waters with each pup.  In the past year I have been trying to research (daily) the right answers to the question "how much and what kind of agility/exercise is appropriate for my puppy".

There are a ton of diverse and strong opinions on what is good for agility puppies.  I believe in part, due to the fact that there aren't that many *FACTS* published in this area.  There are not many public studies** nor are there a ton of experts out there who are speaking up.  There is no data that says BC puppies that were jumping heights greater than 8 inches at the age of 7 months develop osteoarthritis at the age of 8.  This kind of quantitative data would help us all.

I am not one to base everything in life on scientific studies and fact, probably far from it.  But I do like to be presented with some logic and common sense to bit my teeth into when forming an opinion on anything.  This topic is hard.  It is hard partially because dogs are very diverse in size, weight, temperament, drive etc.. and one size fits all training rules don't apply.

Hoot on the Dog Walk

I think that most everyone has a puppy's health in mind and is trying to do what is right. So really my point is how do you know what is right?  This is how I navigate this topic and arrive at a plan that puts us somewhere between do no harm and put my puppy in bubble wrap.

The pack running in fields
The guidelines that I use to develop the plan and make my daily decisions.
  • I look for advice from people who's dogs are still healthy and active into their later life.  They have probably done something right!
  • We know that exercise is healthy for forming and maintaining joints, muscles and coordination which helps prevent injuries.
    • A good read is Agility is good for the dog.  Again, not based on studies but someone who has older dogs who are still very active and probably has done some things right.
    • If I am taking my puppy for walks/jogs I make it off leash.  They are free to pace themselves (and I can practice their recalls).
    • Only do longer walks on soft surfaces (not sidewalks)
    • I vary the terrain when possible, it helps them learn coordination.  There was a study done (wish I could find it) that puppies who ran and played in hilly terrain where less likely to get hip dysplasia.
  • We know too much repetition is not good.  It isn't good for the mind or the body.
  • Any of these factors combined with repetition is probably not good either. 
    • Height
    • High Impact 
    • Severe angles (like full height A-Frames)
  • Quit your training session when the puppy is still totally engaged or in Hoot's case 10 minutes (she would work for hours even as a young pup).  When anyone gets physically tired you begin to make mistakes, are not as engaged, and can be at risk of injury.  So, odds are in your favor, if you quit while the pup is still happy, they are physically in good shape.  The added bonus is that I am leaving that puppy wanting more and they are eager to play again.
  • Each dog is an individual, don't use the same plan for each.  I have 4 high drive border collies and each of them is so different in terms of their physical and mental exercise needs.

 I am not sure what the right answer is, nor do I believe that there is one right answer.  No matter your goal, always train smart, efficient and with health in mind.

**I am hard pressed to find great facts and public studies on this topic on the internet for children or K9.


Doranna said...

I've got a youngster, and am just now facing the "do no harm and put my puppy in bubble wrap" equation, starting with vaccines and socialization. That's a really good way to put it--and to think about it. Thanks!

Mary said...

It is a hard topic. Also, I do believe in vaccines but I only give one at a time (so most are late) and rabies only when the pup is about 8 months old. I don't vaccinate for anything that can be treated fairly easily.

noa safra said...

Hi Mary - I am a follower of your blogs - silent so far but feel like I may be able to rise to the challenge of finding scientific literature on the effects of exercise in dogs - here is a first abstract - if interested in the full article I could email it to you...Thanks for blogging! Noa.

noa safra said...

And here is a free text:

It has been shown that keeping puppies lean reduces HD...

Mary said...

Noa, thanks so much for contributing. It really helps to have information available to use in decision making!! Love it.

noa safra said...

Here is another one: A review article that links to potentially relevant references and summarizes some basic ideas (with references)