sunnuntai 12. huhtikuuta 2015

Creating dog’s physical condition, where to draw a line?

In dog skiing, a dog should be able to pull 15 kilometers as fast as possible from the beginning to the finish line. This demands excellent physical condition and good motivation from a dog. The exercise lasts about thirty minutes and it should not be, as a physical exercise, very demanding for German shorthaired pointer that runs several of hours during a hunting day.
So naturally a dog is capable of working for this lenght. And as we practice our dogs regularly a year round, it should not be a problem on a competition ski track. How to get the dog pass the length as fast as possible since it should not be a question of its qualities by nature? Speed and strength affect, of course, how fast the dog proceeds and how hard it pulls, for example, on an up-hill. These parts are easy to develop with different kinds of training methods.
As physical qualities are in order, we can move on to the most important one, the mental strength.
Once competing with only one dog, it doesn’t have a buddy next to it to encourage running but the dog must work with its own will as hard as possible. We believe this mental strength is developed during each and every practice during the year. This does not mean that one single bad training ruins dog’s motivation.
However, we plan the training so that dog is always well motivated, even though we were doing a practice to maintain the basic condition in which the dog runs free. It is frustrating to watch if a dog just walks along when it’s possible to run free. That is why we vary different kinds of walking grounds and speed, also on these trainings. That is the way dog’s condition can be improved as desired. For a hunting dog it is easy to add more speed just by walking on an area with a lot of interesting smells. It may be a bit more challenging to get speed with a working-dog. But at least with our working dogs it was easy to make them run with a mountain bike on different kind of grounds and increase the speed every now and then.
The same applies in pulling trainings. Those are planned with enough complexity and suitable for the existing condition so that the dog has the best possible motivation in each training.
When making too long and too often trainings for basic condition the only thing we achieve is a dog to work with the minimum effort. Its body gets used to work easier.
This is comparable with a human being that is practicing for a marathon with nothing but long and consistent speed exercises. Human body gets used to long-term exercise but the same time speeding qualities suffer. When doing pulling practices this is even more important. The dog learns with over long distances that it is working a long period of time and begins to slow down its efforts right from the beginning. Also too monotonous exercise decreases dog’s motivation. These are examples in cases in which a young dog runs really well but as the dog gets older the results become poorer and poorer.
Mental spirit is the engine for power working
The example dog before is working well for the entire competition but its speeding qualities have become poorer along with practices, partly because of physical and partly because of the mental issues.
Another example on dog’s mental side can be seen if a dog is taught to chase another dog. This is natural to a dog since it has existing hunting-/pray-drive. This is an effective method to get a dog working really hard and occasionally it works just fine. The hidden risk is that the dog gets satisfied once it catches the dog it chases and afterwards quits good working. A dog doesn’t chase a rabbit in the woods because of a desire to pass it.
If a dog has been taught to chase another dog you cannot proceed from the passing situation and the complete competition may be ruined. This is perhaps the most common problem; a dog requires a bait to make the best effort and very often it was trained to do so on purpose. A result can be really good if a dog gets a perfect start place. As the next in front has been passed there will be another one to chase and that makes a dog excited and continue with the full speed.
But, if you are not lucky and you are the first on a track or if dog gets satisfied to catch just the one in front of it, it may just as well stop and start eating the snow. Passing the finish line is a lot slower. It is very important for us that our dogs are taught to get the reward after the finish line and that the dog wants to run there as fast as possible regardless what comes along.
As a conclusion, in this sport a dog is usually not trained for over condition but dog learns to control its speed accordingly to the trainings.
For winter sports building the condition and strength for competitions begins during the summer with long basic condition exercises and swimming. As the weather gets cooler, there are pulling exercises 1-2 times and high speed running with the handler either by bicycle or kick-bike. We prepare endurance, strength and speed.
For the major competitions during the off snow-season trainings get slightly easier for the competition performances. After the competitions, we go back to the basic condition and follow the weather to start winter pulling trainings in which the pulling distance gets longer. Power trainings are not forgotten.
As major on snow competitions get closer the basic condition trainings are done and also free running trainings are shorter, mostly for recovery after hard pulling trainings.
For example in January we may have 3-4 times a week pulling trainings so that they are all different and that the pulling length is about 10 kilometers. Additional to this we may do a few free running exercises that last less than an hour.
Physical over condition turns easily into mental over condition. How to observe these boundaries is in dog’s everyday doings. Especially in pulling exercises you can notice that dog gives up and the speed drops remarkably. Or dog loses its interest totally and it stops.
These are moments to avoid and the practicing should be in such progress that the dog is capable of working at full speed for the whole way. Adding distance little by little is the key for success, in which the dog keeps the whole way a consistent speed and has given its everything after the finish line.
Also complexity in pulling trainings maintains dog’s interest. Also rest increases dogs will to run even harder the day after and gives its everything on a track. Too much of training eats up dog’s motivation that can be seen in a physical performance.
Our dogs’ performance lasts 20-40 minutes that we want them to go as fast as they physically can. Because of that we do not want to make a pull in an exercise that takes longer than that. It is very rare that we make an exercise that is even close to a competition length performance, but the desired endurance is built on pieces that come together in a competition.
There are dogs we know in sleddog competitions that could easily maintain a high speed the 30 kilometers, but the speed is not high enough to make the podium for 10 kilometers. In practices we teach the dog what are the lengths we want him to work. That is the reason we do not make a over length distances.

Kati Mansikkasalo-Jurvelin and Vesa-Pekka Jurvelin

Vesa-Pekka is four times world champion in sleddogskiing 2013 and his wife Kati is bikejoring world champion in 2013. More of these authors behind the link.

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