A Interview with COL
6. Do you have any strategies to prevent physical injuries to you and your dog? How do you prepare for the mental and emotional challenges that are part of training and competition?
Noreen Bennett: My dogs get regular massages and chiropractic adjustments. I also massage and lightly stretch them before competition and cool them down after their performance. I also get massages and chiropractic but not as often as the dogs! They also just get to be dogs by going on walks, etc. For the mental challenges, I try to expose them to as many things as possible, starting when they are young puppies. Noises, textures, animals, etc. That being said, many aspects of a dog's personality is part of their DNA. You can work through many things like a fear of an obstacle but if the dog is not outgoing, you will never make it outgoing. You can train it to be MORE outgoing but it will never be naturally outgoing. Same thing with a dog with a ton of personality. I can train a dog to behave and listen but the basic personality is still going to be very showy.
Jolene McCuaig: My dog is cross trained, meaning he does a variety of activities every day -- it might be walking, running beside my bike, swimming, fetch, along with agility, jumping, etc. In a trial for agility he is warmed up before the event with stretches, as well as, jumping and running. For obedience, we try and train in a variety of different places with different sounds, distractions, smells, etc, plus we attend numerous "Fun Matches."
Barbara Corriveau: Exercise to stay in shape for both handler and dog are very important. I think long walks off leash are excellent for both dog and handler, both mentally and physically. The dogs can play, run and jump as much as they want. We walk in the woods and on the beach at low tide. Staying motivated to train and practice is one of the biggest mental challenges when we have other important things going on in our lives. I think the only way to keep motivated is to enjoy the training itself so practice becomes something to look forward to -- in other words -- to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Michelle Shoemaker: I think the best way to avoid injuries is to stay in shape. I run every day, the dogs hike most days and also train. Keeping the dog's weight at the appropriate level is very important -- especially for stamina and jumping.
Carol Lariviere: The dogs see a chiropractor periodically and they get supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin as well as fish oil tablets. They keep themselves somewhat fit by running around, playing chase in the yard and Soleil's favorite game is chasing the ball. We take them hiking in the fall and in the winter. I've been trying hard to keep my weight down and would still like to lose a few pounds. I try to walk a few times a week and throw a bit of running in when the weather is cool. I'm planning on adding weight training shortly.
As for the emotional and mental challenges? I'm a pretty optimistic person so I try to take things in stride. I'll often get upset with myself for mistakes I've caused in our runs, but I try not to belabor the mistakes. I try very hard to not let the dog's think they've done something wrong if it's my mistake.
Judy Belluomini: I have been tracking since 1983. There have been challenges in tests, such as crossing creeks, going over logs or fences. One tries to address that in training, so I never have really thought about the physical aspects. I am sure every tracker has taken a fall now and then. My biggest challenge was getting comfortable with sheep. Last week with Brett we worked thirty sheep, and I felt pretty comfortable. It is all what you get use to. In training I am very relaxed and comfortable. I enjoy that aspect the most, because you see the dog grasp concepts. Puppies, especially are like sponges and to watch them grow mentally and physically is so exciting. I think I enjoy the training so much, because it is teaching that which I did for 44 years. It was exciting to watch my students grow from kindergarten children tossing a beach ball over the net to fourth graders bumping and serving a volleyball with great dexterity. The same holds true with my Collies!
Erin Gorney: My dog: physically, I try to make sure that Ellie stays in top shape and have her regularly adjusted by a chiropractor. Mentally, I make sure she's happy doing whatever venue we are working in, always trying to end with her wanting more. Me: Emotionally, I constantly remind myself that there are going to be highs and lows in training and trialing and focus on the highs to get me through the rough patches. Mentally, I'm still trying to figure out how to conquer those darn ring nerves!
Marilyn Clayton: To prevent injury to my dog, I use both a western and a holistic vet (traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathics, etc.) as well as a canine chiropractor; massage therapist and an osteopath. I ensure my dog is well-muscled (gets lots of regular exercise – no weekend warrior stuff); I feed raw; and use high-quality supplements including preventative joint support. I don't treat myself as well although I try to remember to stretch daily and go to massage monthly.
Most mental and emotional preparation is with myself -- to stay in teaching (guiding rather than correcting) mode when training (reduces frustration when things don't go as planned); grounding myself prior to entering the ring and remaining calm, confident and, most of all, connected to my dog the entire time I'm in the ring. Many handlers make the mistake of disconnecting between exercises.
To keep my dog up and enthusiastic, I don't train very often (so he doesn't get bored) or for too long (so he "wants more") and never the day before a trial – people tend to put too much stress on their dogs prior to trials. I'm basically lazy so most training occurs during daily activities – for example, most of my dogs learned their out-of-sight long sit/down during human potty breaks while on long walks – I think dogs learn faster if they see a purpose to an exercise. I never drill a dog – if they do it correctly once, I move on (otherwise they often think they're doing it wrong and create new ways that are usually not what we want); I use positive reinforcement and remain as supportive as I can (Collies are very sensitive); give lots of verbal feedback where allowed; show my sincere appreciation of my dog's work and visualize the performance I want before trialing – I should also do this before training but I usually forget. Keeping a diary is also a good way to keep my expectations in check; "see" progress when it doesn't feel like it; as well as spot the reason(s) for a problem so a solution can be found.