Part 2 – Fitness through Proper Evaluation, Socialization, Nutrition & Exercise
By Kathy V. Moll, Deep River Collies
In Part 1, the August, COL Performance Week article, we discussed form and function and examined some specifics of collie physical structure as they relate to performance and overall beauty in our wonderful breed. As promised, in Part 2 we’ll examine fitness and its role in structure, including sound mental and physical growth and development and fitness in the adult Collie. A puppy may have inherited a sound structure, but that soundness can be ruined by improper attention to fitness. An adult collie may have received proper early care but need reconditioning. Nature and nurture go hand in hand in developing a structurally sound collie for performance. Form, function, and fitness are inextricably intertwined!
First, let’s take a look at what we can do ourselves to assess our collies, both puppies and adults, to determine what type of fitness program will best suit them. Pat Hastings “Puppy Puzzle” has been invaluable to me in understanding 8-week-old collie puppy structure and how it will relate to the collie as an adult. The evaluation is only an accurate predictor if two requirements are met! The evaluator must be knowledgeable about what he/she is seeing and feeling when examining the puppy, AND the nurture that the puppy receives during puppyhood and into adulthood is optimal!
If you are a litter owner, ask for help with evaluating your 8-week-old litter, even if you are very knowledgeable yourself, making sure that any bias you might have doesn’t influence the results. Use a chart similar to the one in the August article to critique all the parts effectively. A good eye for a dog is a must and a great sense of feel for proper structure a requirement. As the litter owner, watch your puppies as they play and move around the yard. The old advice about puppies that trot without fatigue is a good indicator of proper structure and balance. Breaking into a gallop is reserved only for necessity. A brisk trot is the preferred gait – remember what we said in Part 1. The Collie is a “trotting breed”!
Once a puppy passes the 8th week, structure is a little more difficult to assess because the parts often begin to grow at different rates. If the 8-week evaluation has been properly done and the puppy receives correct care, then it will return to its 8-week balance once growth is over. However, as a new owner, you can still make observations about structure and balance as the puppy grows. If you see any possible problems, ask the breeder for an analysis about what the puppy will outgrow and what it won’t. Ask for help from knowledgeable dog friends. Be sure that all relevant veterinary evaluations are done. Be certain that your Collie has the proper temperament for performance. It’s instructive but often frustrating to have a dog who does not want to be part of the team!
An adult Collie is usually a finished product. Go to someone you trust for an evaluation if you’re not sure yourself. Ask what problems might improve with different exercise and nutrition and which will not improve. Be realistic about asking your dog to perform beyond his physical capability. Remember, Collies with drive and heart will often exceed their physical limitations, but can only do so for so long without injury regardless of how well managed your fitness program is.
PHYSICAL SYSTEMS & FITNESS
A Collie’s physical systems fall into the following categories according to veterinary sports medicine expert Dr. Robert Gillette: muscular, skeletal, nervous system, cardiovascular & respiratory. Let’s define these systems so that we may later discuss how a fitness program should support them.
The muscular system is the propulsion and navigation foundation. The muscles propel or drive the body and chart the course the body takes in accomplishing tasks efficiently. The muscles are essential for both energy production and waste removal. A genetically sound musculature, coupled with optimum conditioning, will pay off in performance whether it’s herding, obedience, agility, tracking, carting, flyball, freestyle, backpacking, therapy dog work, search & rescue, conformation or any combination of these endeavors.
The skeletal system is just as vital to a sound Collie as musculature. It is the underlying structural support. Support is an absolute, supplying the means for the body to endure all physical challenges. The skeletal system is the main weight bearer and bracing system for the Collies structure. I know it’s a cliché, but strong, healthy bones are a must! (Got Milk?) We discussed the skeleton and its relationship to soundness and balance in Part 1.
The nervous system stimulates and balances the body both hormonally and metabolically. The nervous system is made up of the cells and fibers that transmit signals throughout the body. It is the control center that asks the body to perform specific functions. Hormones are substances produced to help regulate physiological activity. Metabolism is the process by which the dog converts food into energy, synthesizes substances necessary for performance and manufactures tissue.
The cardiovascular system includes the heart and the ducts and vessels that support it and the overall well being of the body. A strong system that pumps blood and conducts it efficiently can be enhanced by proper nutrition, fresh air and exercise. Having both physical and mental “heart health” is a paramount importance in dog sports.
The respiratory system is the O2 and CO2 delivery and exchange service as well as the Collies thermo-regulator (allowing panting). The respiratory system oxygenates the blood. Proper lung capacity gives our dogs their stamina and endurance.
All five physical systems are interrelated and dependent upon each other. A problem in any system will impair the others to one degree or the other. All systems must be cared for and developed through exercise, nutrition, environment, medical care, training and socialization. All systems must be working properly to minimize injury and illness. Developing a program to enhance your Collie’s performance also involves understanding the requirements for the types of activities that interest you and suit your dog as well as the level of activity and the strength and endurance needed. Remember, your expectations should not exceed your collie’s physical abilities dictated by his genetics, but you can expect to maximize what your Collie can accomplish through fitness.
Performance Collies must manage their activities under varying circumstances and conditions, in all kinds of weather, over differing terrains and surfaces. They must be familiar with a multitude of sights, sounds, and smells and be accustomed to being touched by people, other dogs and possibly livestock. If the litter owner has done a good job, your Collie should be people and dog oriented and have been exposed to various situations such as a puppy play yard with appropriate obstacles and toys, car rides, and surface exposure. Sunshine, exercise, good nutrition, playtime, and a little training for conformation and simple obedience are appropriate and a good idea!
Begin with household and backyard sights, sounds, smells and surfaces. Once your puppy is ready, make a weekly trip to a new location. High quality puppy training classes are good socialization tools (check out some in your area). Puppy matches, while few and far between these days, are very helpful also. Toys that require the puppy to figure out a task and problem solve are readily available. Buy some and use them, especially while you’re crate training. Simple, consistent obedience training and show posing, as well as examination experiences (also brushing and nail trimming) on a grooming table are appropriate for puppies. Puppy socialization teaches Collies how to learn.
Puppies can usually handle weekly short training sessions with ducks and/or lambs. Correctly supervised sessions can work well and can prepare your puppy for participation in herding trials later. Watching you train your other Collies for herding, agility, obedience, or any other activity can be beneficial for puppies. Watching often enhances interest, and the “monkey see, monkey do” factor kicks in.
Give your Collie every advantage but use common sense, and don’t overdo in any area! Formal training and any structured exercise should begin gradually as the puppy matures. Bear in mind that the growth plates in Collies may not close completely until 14 to 16 months of age. Early stress on joints, muscles and bones is NOT a good thing and can cause injury. You can certainly do some kinds of formal training levels fairly early, depending on the Collie, but jumping, twisting and so forth should be saved for later or done at very low heights (for puppies under a year, most trainers say jump no more than ¾ their height at the withers and not too many repetitions). Gradual is always best with any training, even with an adult Collie.
Roly-poly puppies are cute, but excessive body fat at any age after newborns reach their adult body temperature at 3 to 4 weeks of age is bad for the puppy. Feed to develop strong bones and muscles, not fat. In young puppies, overdoing nutrition is more common than not enough. If your puppies are fat, try going down one level in nutrition levels using the food you normally feed. If you’re using puppy food or performance food, mix it 50/50 with your brand of adult food. Actual bone and muscle abnormalities can occur if you overdo the type and amount of food. If a hint begins to appear, feed adult food alone until the problems disappear.
Foods with animal protein as their first ingredients are best. Unless you are a nutrition expert and can completely balance a diet that relies on other non-animal protein sources, stick with foods with high quality animal protein. The puppy food I use is 14% fat and 28% protein with lamb as its first ingredient followed by lamb meal and ocean fish meal. The primary grain source is brown rice. I use a vitamin/mineral/enzyme supplement that contains seaweed and flaxseed meal as its main ingredients. During times of especially high growth stress, I add an omega 3 fish oil supplement.
Once your Collie is competition ready, plan ahead. If you have a particularly difficult, action filled period in performance lined up for your Collie, begin 4 to 6 weeks ahead of time if you plan to alter diet. It will take that long for added performance benefits to manifest. Vitamin B complex aids in minimizing stress; Vitamin E reduces cell damage; Vitamins A & C maintain muscle integrity and a boost in minerals promotes proper digestion.
The day of your activities, your Collie may benefit from some of the following suggestions depending upon the strength and/or endurance required for the day’s events. Provide a small carbohydrate meal 2 to 4 hours prior to the activity. A glucose/sucrose boost less than 15 minutes prior will increase blood glucose. Pedialyte is a good choice for electrolyte balance and glucose. Give frequent, small amounts of water prior to the activity and small amounts post-activity. NutriCal at the end of the day’s activities (30 minutes to one hour afterwards) provides immediate protein/glucose replacement.
Don’t let your collie become overweight, even a little, if you want peak performance. Go over your dog daily checking rib and pelvic coverage. These bones should be covered; however, you should be able to feel the bones with only light pressure. Collies vary in their metabolic needs depending on heredity, metabolism, and activity level. Dieting can be made less stressful if you use the pumpkin diet for reducing weight. Feed plain canned pumpkin (no sugar or spices added) 1/3 pumpkin to 2/3 dog food. Pumpkin has the consistency of canned food and fewer calories than dog food. It has vitamins and roughage.
EXERCISE & CONDITIONING:
Of ultimate importance in enhancing your Collie’s natural structure and preparing for performance competition is proper exercise training and conditioning. Exercise may be categorized in three ways: stretching exercise, endurance exercise and strength exercise.
Stretching training helps warm up and cool down your dog while providing flexibility. Flexibility is what allows a collie to change direction quickly and is essential in such performance venues as agility and herding. Teaching your collie a stretch producing play bow early on is a type of stretching exercise. Another trick to teach that is really a stretching exercise is a figure-8 between your legs, which stretches and bends the spine. Another great exercise is the 360 degree spin taught in both directions.
For more spinal flexibility, stand your Collie sideways in front of your body, with one hand holding the hindquarters against one of your legs while the other hand gently bends the front section and head around the other leg holding for a few seconds. Turn the collie in the opposite direction and repeat. Stand straddling your dog behind his withers. Place your right hand on his right leg at the elbow. Slowly raise his leg parallel to the ground stopping just at the point before the other leg begins to lift off the ground. Hold for a count of 5 seconds. Do 4 repetitions on the right leg and then do the same with your left hand on the left leg. Since the dog’s front is muscle to bone rather than bone to bone, you will achieve muscle flexibility, improving your collie’s front reach over a few weeks time.
Endurance training is aerobic activity and may be done on alternating days rather than daily. Activities such as swimming (really the best of all exercise) or road working at a trot using a bicycle, golf cart or tread mill are types of endurance training. Puppies should take walks rather than doing road work.
Always begin at a low level and duration and slowly work your way up to higher level and longer duration over weeks of training. If you chose road work, be very careful that your Collie stays on a non-abrasive surface and that you start with short periods and very gradually work your way up. I’ve seen well-meaning individuals make their dogs lame – the problem – rough surface or long duration training without proper prep wear the pads right off the bottoms of the dog’s feet!
Strength training is best done only on 3 non-consecutive days a week working up to 15 minutes per session. Types of strength training include short sprinting, retrieving repetitions, short uphill fast trotting and stair climbing. If you chose retrieving, throw low to minimize jumping and twisting in the air, which is one common cause of canine spinal injury. Avoid retrieving on wet or slippery grass. If you chose uphill or stair climbing, walk on the down portions.
Gradual weight training is also an option to strengthen front reach and rear push. Use a small tire or log to begin, increase weight gradually. Pulling a cart can also be useful especially for teaching lateral movement and backing.
Always incorporate some play in your conditioning program. Some of these activities resemble play and are interpreted that way by the Collie; the ones that aren’t should be interspersed with brief play periods and praise.
As usual, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Watch your Collie carefully for any signs of injury or illness. There are some minor problems that you can treat yourself; however, when you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and see your veterinarian. A full physical twice a year is a good idea for an active Collie participating in competitions of any kind.
Early injury recognition and treatment shortens recovery time. Returning to activities too soon or resting too long will both impede recovery. The time your Collie spends recovering is a least the amount of time it will take to recondition your dog. Don’t make the mistake of trying to go too fast. Your Collie’s age and type of injury will dictate the recovery and reconditioning time.
My goal in writing these two articles was not to recommend or discuss particular training methods or tout specific Collie lines. Instead, in Part 1, we emphasized collie structure, gait and balance as they relate to performance activities. We examined the standard and how it meshes well with what our breed requires to be a beautiful example of form and function. Understanding how the parts of the dog fit together in harmony for ideal function is of utmost importance for the future of our breed. That was goal #1.
In Part 2, we scrutinized fitness and its relationship to structure and performance and made conditioning recommendations. It is paramount that we avoid injuring our wonderful companions and allow them to achieve their optimal level of performance by doing what we know is right for them. That was goal #2.
As with any Collie endeavor, hard work and a passion for dog sports are required to get the desired results. Best of luck to you and your Collies in making all your plans a reality and in making all your dreams come true!
> Performance Article: Making A Performance Collie -- Part 1 - Structure, Performance and the Collie Standard by Kathy Moll
Kathy Moll of Deep River Collies has been showing in Conformation since 1975 and breeding Collies since 1978. She and her training partner, Janie Bristow, (multiple OTCH Gordon Setters) taught training classes from 1979 through 1991. Her first show prospect collie earned his CD in 1977 and her last show/obedience titled collie has earned Obedience and Rally titles in 2007. She is currently training two collies in Obedience -- one in Novice and one in Open and two in Agility. She began taking Herding lessons with her collies after retiring from teaching in 2004 and currently owns a rough champion and a smooth champion with multiple AKC & AHBA Herding trial titles, one with two AKC HXA titles. She is the breeder of 12 PT collies, and eight collies with Started titles and Q's. She has owned or bred numerous breed champions in both varieties and Top 10 collies in both varieties. She also earned the Collie Club of America Presidential Award for Smooth Collie Breeder of the Year for 1998 and 2006 and was tied for the award for 2007 and for Rough Collie Breeder of the Year in 1999.