środa, 25 grudnia 2019

Long walks, happy dogs...

Suprisingly enough, this is a controversial topic 😂but then perhaps maybe not so suprisingly, since everything related to dogs seems to be controversial topic (seriously, enter any dog related FB group or forum and you'll learn that soon enough). 

Anyway, when as a child I pestered my parents for a dog, one thing I heard every time was: "But the dog has to be walked. Every day, in every weather, for all of his life". Of course there were also other concerns and in the end I only got a dog only when I was living on my own, but the point is that those 30+ years ago even non-dog people, like my parents, understood that walking the dog every day is like a pillar of dog care, apart from feeding it, training it and providing vet care (seriously, my parents are totally smart people as there is not much I could add to this list). Actually, one of the main reasons why I wanted a dog was so that I wouldn't have to walk alone anymore. 

Somehow, what was obvious all those years ago, is no longer obvious, especially when it comes to puppies. I was blissfully ignorant and just walking my puppies from day one (that is, when I got them from their breeders at 8 weeks of age). The first one got shorter walks initially, since I never kept quarantine (except with Vigo - my vet scared me that there was some vicious diarhoea attacking puppies at that time - I regreted it later and never made the same mistake), all the others had normal walks from the beginning, just with an option to rest when needed (Brava got in the baby pram, since my son was a baby then, with the others I used puppy backpack for a couple of weeks), nevertheless, all my puppies walked the whole distance with the rest of the pack by the time they were 4 months old (yes, they also got special walks just with me for training, bonding and socialisation reasons). 

Mojo at 8 weeks during walk with Brava 

3mo Mojo swimming

If I had entered any (particularly UK based) FB groups before, I would have learnt that I was a bad owner, ruining my puppies' health and future, since (and this is an actual quote from British Kennel Club site):

 "Puppies need much less exercise than fully-grown dogs. If you over-exercise a growing puppy you can overtire it and damage its developing joints, causing early arthritis. A good rule of thumb is a ratio of five minutes exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown, i.e. 15 minutes (up to twice a day) when three months old, 20 minutes when four months old etc."

Fortunately I haven't read anything like that until quite recently, so I managed to raise 7 healthy dogs from puppy to adulthood (the others came to me as adults, so I have no data on how much exercise they got as puppies), walking them from day one, teaching them to retrieve, allowing them to play with my other dogs , starting agility training way before their growth plates closed etc. Some of those dogs are old now - Sunday is no longer with us, but when I x-rayed her at the age of 12 yo, the vet said if she didn't know her from puppyhood, she would have never guessed those were the joints and spine of an old dog. Vigo is 15 yo, so obviously he has some ailments - but most days he still goes for a long walk with us. Brava was x-rayed in spring, as a 10 yo, no sign of any arthitis. 

4 mo Zelda chasing daddy Evo

3 mo Brego retrieving

So when I found out such puppy exercise recommendations, my approach to them was rather of advanced skepticism, not religious devotion. 

You might of course question my qualifications here. I'm no vet, I'm no physiotherapist either, my evidence is purely anecdotal (plus I own dogs who are medium sized - the biggest breed I've ever raised was a Dutch Shepherd). But, as I mentioned before, I am quite skeptical and down to Earth, I also cooperate and consult with a very good vet and physiotherapist that deals with sport dogs, and I will provide some sources that I trust at the end of the post, so what I do and how I raise my dogs is based on more than just "it was always done this way and it works for me".

Very often you might see the diagram of when particular growth plates close in a dog. You might also see completely misinterpreted picture of a new born puppy, claiming the puppy has no joints when born and the bones have to grow a lot to form them (😂 the emoticon is quite appropriate, since I really can't decide whether to laugh or cry when seeing this). You also see totally stupid posts like "you wouldn't ask your 6 mo baby to walk 2 km, so why are you doing that to your 6 mo puppy" (duh, because puppy rate of development is EXACTLY the same as human baby rate of development, right?). You also see super detailed charts of what and when can you do (some are downright ridiculous, like actually listing the number of steps you can walk your puppy on leash), some of which are at the same time promoting advice which I find harmful - like letting the puppy explore the garden without limits (wait, what? do they actually expect a puppy to EXPLORE the garden on their own? Now I no longer wonder where all those posts about "My puppy is digging in the garden" or "My puppy has eaten stones" come from) or doing kibble trails in the garden (yeah, right, wonderful idea to teach your puppy they can eat anything they find in the grass and start looking for it). But basically the common thread through all this advice is LIMITING puppy's activity. Avoid the stairs (yes, there is actual research you should to do... until the puppy is THREE months old, later it doesn't matter at all). Avoid the slippery surfaces. Don't let the puppy jump on and off the furniture (the Puppy Culture website actually claims they do it until the dog is two year old! I don't even know how to comment). Don't jog. Don't go for long hikes. Do not throw the ball. Do not... the list just goes on and on and on.

I wouldn't be discussing it if I didn't think it's actually harmful advice. First thing, and this is something you really notice if you come from stlightly different cultural approach is how understimulated lots of those puppies are. Seriously, through all the years with dogs, I've never seen that many posts about puppies destroying the garden, eating socks and having to be operated, biting hands, vocalising during the night etc. as I do regularly on (again) particularly British groups (I guess the responsible Polish owner still thinks it's mandatory to walk the puppy, whereas the responsible British owner reads the KC recommendations). Secondly, to give good support for the joints, the muscles need to develop somehow - it won't happen properly if you stick to 5 minutes per month of life / 1 minute per week of life rule (and I also seriously wonder how on Earth anyone is realistically able to do it and not get mad). 

Human growth plates close in the late adolescence, in some bones even later, around 30 years of age. Did you ever hear anyone actually telling you to limit your children physical acitivity? This is obviously very different from generation to generation - my generation couldn't be kept inside, whereas now we have huge problems with children using the electronic devices all the time and not getting enough exercise at all, having problems with obesity, proprioception and many others. Bear in mind I'm not discussing professional sports here, as that might actually not be so good (moderation in everything). Still, noone in their right mind would tell you: don't let your son play football with friends, his growth plates are not closed yet! Don't let your daughter ride the bicycle, she is not physically mature to do so! Sounds absurd, right? Moreover, has anyone seen a mother wolf telling her children - enough of that running and wild play, let's explore in slow pace? Or adolescent wolf that he cannot hunt just yet, as it might get arthritis later? (BTW, if you're interested, some info on wolves development - here).
So why would anyone think similar advice concerning dogs is reasonable? (also, and that's a philosophical question, why doesn't anyone try to sell the same advice concerning cats? oh yes, because good dogs do what they are told, whereas good cats do whatever they want). 

I seriously wonder if anyone writing "puppy needs much less exercise than fully grown dogs" has ever met a real puppy older than 5 weeks or so. 

You know, there was an experiment conducted once in which the researchers asked a group of physical education students to follow and repeat the activities of kindergarden children on a playground... guess what, the students were soon exhausted and couldn't do it.

I found similar to be true when it comes to puppies. My adult dogs are happy to spend most of the day napping, whereas with every puppy that I've ever owned I wondered if there is something wrong and they forgot to equip it with the snooze button (oh yes, they got tired now and then... they also recharged awfully quick). 

Honestly, I think any formal recommendations for puppy exercise are not necessary if you own a couple of brain cells and a bit of common sense. It boils down to the following guidelines:

A/ Observe the puppy. Puppies vary in their temperament, structure and rate of development. When the puppy seems tired (that might also mean getting more hectic, barky or nippy), let it rest. If the puppy is reluctant to perform particular movement, don't ever force them to do it and consult a smart vet. Maybe there is something wrong with the puppy or maybe there is something wrong with you to ask that of a puppy. 

B/ Avoid drilling and repetitions of the same movements (drilling is stupid and boring anyway). Best what you can do is let the puppy move offleash in varied environment, but if you need to walk the puppy on pavement to get to the park or wherever, don't obsess about the number of steps you need to take. 

But if you feel you need more detailed guidelines and from an actual authority in the field, here is the website and chart you can consult.

EDIT: if you also need a bit more of actual research, take a look here (and I was so glad that was published AFTER my blog, because some arguments sound awfully similar... common sense?). 

czwartek, 5 grudnia 2019

Three days, three weeks, three months...

The title of this post refers to how it is said a dog adapts to his new home. Pucek has been with us for a little over than 6 months now, so perhaps time for a little summary 😃. 

Three days... the beginning was totally honeymoon 💙. As I wrote before, the circumstances were sad, since we got Pucek after death of his owner, who was our friend, but Pucek seemed to fit right in. House trained, crate trained, with perfect recall, nice loose leash walking skills, friendly with people, nice with dogs, tons of drive and being super cute on top of that - we could hardly wish for a nicer dog. Some years ago I've met Nanga's brother (Nanga is mother of Zelda and Puck) and he was so totally beatiful that I've dreamed of having a dog in this type ever since. Well, Pucek is even more beautiful (of course). And since he did a bit of agility before, I started with some training with him right away - wow, tons of speed and enthusiasm, really nice reaction to handling, super potential in general, awesome, just awesome in every aspect. 

Three weeks... the reality hits. I guess Pucek realised that it is not just a holiday🏊 and he's here to stay and then suddenly he became a bit stressed. It didn't help that Zelda got in season and he started fighting with Brego over her. A bit later he started having some minor health problems (everything under control now) and it turned out he didn't like going to the vet at all, we had to use a muzzle to do a blood test.  At the end of summer I also wanted to start a bit more "serious" agility training, weaves and contacts and initially that wasn't going so well either. Even though as I said, he was really well trained in general, and was physically mature to learn "adult agility stuff", he lacked the kind of preparation I normally do with my puppies and at some point I realised he lacked some skills that I assumed were there. Sometimes he got frustrated, started biting me or barking like crazy 👾, sometimes he struggled with coordination or compression skills, sometimes after he made a mistake he couldn't really get over it and would just repeat it again and again. Obviously, he was still super cute and super nice dog in general and we also understood that some of those things were to be expected, as he underwent a major change in his life, so we just started working on the issues step by step.
Lots of socialisation with our vets, just coming along for visits with our other dogs and getting treats. Teaching him I can restrain him and nothing bad would happen. Fun activities alongside with Brego, so he had positive associations with him. Lots of shaping games, some tricks to help him with coordination and body awareness. Physiotherapy to get rid of some ugly tensions of the muscles. 

I needed to work on myself as well - on how to best explain behaviours to him, how to schedule sessions, how to reward, how to keep myself from getting into similar frenzy as he did (not so easy, when you're trying to think while someone screams in your ears or bites your hand). Sometimes I got frustrated as well - methods and ways that were tried and proven with my previous dogs didn't really work with him - so I made notes, I experimented, I tried this and that. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. It's still work in progress, though progress I see. And a lot of it. 

Three months... or actually a bit more. We have so many successes together. He doesn't fight with Brego anymore, they can walk, train, be in the same room together at home. There is still a bit of tension between them, but now they can communicate, say a few insults at each other and then go away rather than actually fight. He doesn't need a muzzle with our vet anymore and he even started enjoying his physiotherapy sessions.  He learnt to weave and then all of a sudden he can do even quite difficult stuff, work distance etc. His contacts training is still work in progress, but we're getting there. We competed in jumping competition last weekend and he was perfect, doing sit stays, listening, paying attention to bars even on slices <3 It was so fun to run him!

At some point I checked my messenger history with Jitka, Zelda and Pucek's breeder, and I saw that when she was sending me puppy videos, I always liked the boy in the red collar. So guess who is that puppy now? Yes, it is Pucuś and I feel like we were meant to be. Now I cross my fingers for our next thirty years together 🐕👧😍

Photo: Leona Ortenberg