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Is your dog in good physical condition? We can purchase a vehicle for each aspect of our lives… work, play or business. If we need to travel a long distance we purchase more fuel. If we want to go fast we may purchase a sports car. If we want to climb hills we may decide on a 4 wheel drive. If our lives or work requirements change we can trade in our vehicle or purchase an additional model. Most handlers have what might be considered a normal vehicle when they first start working a dog. Clean windows, nice seats, average size trunk…a car you migh teven consider using to drive to a nice restaurant.
The transformation to handler is a unique process and we will not go into all the changes that occur as you and your dog become working partners. The fact remains that usually within a year you have a truck sitting in your driveway and it becomes increasingly loaded with equipment. Within a two or three year time period the designated dog vehicle is just that…used for training and transporting your dog. You can go to the hardware store if you want, but if you take notice no one else wants to ride in your vehicle. It simply becomes a dedicated mode of transportation for you and your dog.
You can use your significant other’s vehicle to go out to dinner or vacation. You can even rent a vehicle if your designated dog truck is too full/dirty/too hard tounload/smells like wet dog…or you cannot see out the windows because of the slobber blocking out the sun. Bottom line is you can get to a vehicle that meets your immediate needs at any particular time. Your dog is not that versatile.
We ask a lot of our dogs. They need to be dynamos of energy and be able to work for us days at a time in all kinds of conditions. Look at a normal group training session. Pulling up to the site Dog is ready to go…tearing at the door of the kennel.They do not care or realize it is 114 degrees or snowing outside. They do no differently for weather, they do not shiver and they do not sweat. All they really have going for them is drive, hopefully a good handler and their physical conditioning. They are going to give you all they have whether they are in shape or not in shape. Another problem is that if you have a good dog they are not going to stop giving until they have gone too far. You can basically work your dog to death and they are not going to complain and many times may not give you any subtle warnings.
You see it all the time…a working dog shows up to training, a local call out or a deployment and they are flat out heavy, nails may be too long and more times than not their handler is looking to borrow equipment, water or maybe even dog food. Twenty minutes into a search and the dog is showing signs they are stressed and the handler is pulling outall the usual excuses….I think he ate something that did not agree with him…He pulled a muscle the other day…He fell last week and is still a little afraid.
We usually only see each other’s dogs at training or maybe occasionally at work. If we had a camera attached to each dog would we see a dedicated and professional workout schedule? Not just throwing the ball for a few fetches and calling it good, buta comprehensive program that continues to build and maintain their physical conditioning in a professional manner? This program may include a variety of activities. Making sure they are not working out on a full stomach, progressively building on a number of activities that gives them a broad workout and CONSISTENCY. Every day we are exercising with our dogs in a very planned and thoughtful manner.
Do you as a handler take into account surface conditions like cement and asphalt vs. grass? Hard packed dirt and sharp rocks vs. softer dirt with moisture? Exposure to different surfaces helps the dog adapt and build up their pads, but strenuous exercise on a regular basis on cement may harm your dog. The bottom line isthat we have to make sure our dogs are ready to safely and effectively work with and for us. This is not an easy task and if done right requires a significant commitment from us to our dogs, our training group and our Task Force.
Playing fetch because it is easy and does not take a lot of time may not translate to searching the coast line of Texas or Louisiana for a 12 hour day in 92 deg heat with tremendous humidity. We know how to pace ourselves once we reach 35 to 40 years of age…most dogs are not able to reason and prevent a self induced physical exertion that could be life threatening or at best cause them to be unfit forduty on day two, three or nine.
More times than I care to remember we have run routine blood work on our dogs and an abnormality is documented. All kinds of additional tests are performed and we worry about all the pending possibilities. The cause may be over exertion of an out of shape dog. While there may never be a definitive answer it is my feeling that we ran our dogs too hard at training or allowed way too many fetches because we are lazy and the dog paid a higher price than we ever imagined. What if we had run this same dog an additional two or three days with minimal water/fluid and little rest? The dog will give till it cannot run another foot.
Besides extreme physical abuse through ignorance or a lack of conditioning…if there is a difference…our dogs can also get dehydrated even with a full water bowl available to them. A dog may not be able to take in enough water to adequately hydrate themselves when worked hard and exposed to extreme environments. Sub Q fluids may be necessary to allow our dogs the opportunity to stay close to even on their fluid intake. The administration site has not been shown to be a source of infection. If the dog needs the fluid it is absorbed. If the dog is hydratedand does not immediately need the fluid it remains under the skin and available for later use. This skill can be learned by a handler in less than 15 minutesand should be something you and your Veterinarian discuss before your next callout.
The debate on electrolyte supplements may never be solved. The fact we should remember is that dogs do not sweat. Well maybe a little between their pads, but not enough to result in an excessive loss of fluid and electrolytes. Now slobber is another issue and we all know from experience dogs lose fluids from saliva. I sit enough that maintaining a good diet during a search and/or deployment will coverthe loss of electrolytes from saliva? Can we go too far and give them too many supplements provided in energy drinks? All these questions are for you and you’re Vet to work out before game day.
Now back to conditioning. Again, you need to talk to your Vet about the proper way to build and maintain canine conditioning. If wide area searches are a possibility you may want to consider walks…lots and lots of walking. Will you be searching with the dog on lead? Off lead? A dog walking on lead with a handler that puts in 5 miles walks 5 miles. A handler walking 5 miles with a dog off lead will see their dog putting in at least 8 to 12 miles. Once the dog settles down they will stay much closer to you. This lack of ranging can be an important indicator of the dog’s physical status during a search. While we are not hitting on heat emergencies here one HUGE RED FLAG is when the dog walks or even runs from one area of shade to another. That is dog language for I am way too hot and you need to take care of me!!! I am trying to do it myself, but without your help in allowing me to cool off I am going to run myself into serious problems within minutes to less than an hour.
If collapsed buildings will be your main search area on your next deployment rubble work maybe your gym. Running rubble for more than the 10 minutes you will take during your turn at group training is not enough. Remember a CE is simply a minimum opportunity to show you and your dog have the basic skills to work in a real environment. The physical condition of your dog is a responsibility shared by you, your canine coordinator and your team mates, not our USAR system, FEMA orthe canine sub-group.
What is enough…
The answer for this question may have to come from within. My guess is not all certified dogs are in the best physical shape possible. How many dogs retire early due to an extended lack of physical conditioning? How many dogs should be retired, at least temporarily until they can physically do the work? Your vet may take your dog out of service for a limp or a documented illness, but would they take adog out of service for being too heavy or out of shape?
Do we pace our dogs while searching/working? Are rest/work cycles planned for in your daily briefings and search plans? If we become tired we usually rest. Do most handlers take a dog’s temperature during training on when working? Respiratory rates…pulse rates??? What is your dog’s blood glucose levels? We have cooling pools during CE and CPs to use after 20 minutes of searching. Do we set up cooling pools during searches? Will a garden hose work?
Bottomline…figure out what you are going to ask your dog to do during the next callout or deployment and make sure they are ready…good luck!!!!!