For our four-legged friends, winter means sleeping by the fire, short walks, and a slower pace to the day-to-day happenings of life. Often it means gaining a few extra pounds and losing a little muscle tone. It can also mean less time using their basic obedience commands around the off-lead park or during on-leash street walks.
Then spring hits and it is all about getting outside and having fun for both the furry members of the household as well as the two-legged, non-furry variety. How many of us do humans overdo our first long walk on the first warm, sunny day of spring? How many of us look and feel as fit and toned in shorts as we did six months prior, before bundling up in sweaters and long johns? Those short days and times sitting by the fire reading a good book took their toll on our health and fitness level, and the first few weeks of spring usually come with a series of aches, pains, and injuries.
It is no different for our dogs except often, the injuries are far more serious. Easing your dog into spring can alleviate those sore, stiff muscles and help guarantee your dog does not suffer any unnecessary accidents!
Obedience Training ‘Refresher’
Why do dogs need an obedience ‘refresher’ after the long, sedentary winter? Even an older dog who has many years of training under their collar can lose their ‘edge’ when it comes to obedience if they have not used it for a while. ‘Sits’ are slow, ‘stay’ means only for a moment or two, and ‘come’ is easily ignored, at least until the human resorts to bribery. And this is all while you are still in the house!
Now add the fun and excitement of a green grass on a sunny day and there is no way your dog is going to be spot on with their commands! Even the best-trained, most obedient dog may think twice about coming when called if they are in the middle of a good tear around with their long-lost doggy friends at the off-leash park! And do not bother to try to explain that you have to get to work – most dogs do not understand the human need to leave the house and punch a clock.
Do you need to take your pooch back to class? In the case of a one or two year old dog, it is actually an excellent idea! January or February is a perfect time to ‘upgrade’ your dog’s obedience level as not only does it help prime him for the upcoming spring, it gets you both out of the house one evening a week and working together to strengthen your bond. For most people, the hectic schedule of the holidays is over and yet you are not quite into BBQ and family picnic season. Then when spring approaches, you can trust that your dog is on top of his obedience commands and already mentally prepared for the coming of spring!
Fitness for the Couch Potato
Even young dogs can become couch potatoes during the winter, usually because we become couch potatoes! Depending on where you live, snow levels and severe cold may hinder how long you want to be outside or you may see so much rain each winter that you wonder how no one ever drowns. Some of us combat our own couch potato tendencies to get soft by heading to the gym but most fitness clubs do not allow dogs on the equipment and few of us can afford a doggy treadmill.
Ease your dog into an exercise routine gradually by incrementally increasing the length and speed of each walk, much like any beginner exerciser would do for their own fitness routine.
Sometimes we have to think for our dogs – they do not know our plans! For example, are you planning on taking your dog for a long hike in an off-leash area? Keep him on-lead for the first mile or two until he calms down enough that he will be able to maintain his pace for the full distance. Taking him swimming? Take turns giving him water throws and beach throws for the first few sessions to ease him into the more strenuous swimming as rescuing your tuckered out dog is far more difficult from the water then it is on shore.
Common sense is vital during spring training your dog. Too often the number of dogs brought into veterinary emergency rooms from torn knee ligaments or hit by cars spikes during the spring months only to flatten back down again when the novelty of warm weather wears off. Make sure your dog stays healthy and injury free by double-checking that collars and leashes are in good repair, that tags are current, and that you remember to bring water on each walk or K9 first aid kit on hikes while easing him into exercise.
Enjoy spring with your dog happy and healthy by your side!