We’ve been discussing adventure dogs and how they don’t just magically form out of thin air. We have to build their recalls until they are absolutely bomber, and we have to put in time to build value in engaging with us when we’re outdoors. But what else do we need to consider if we want the ultimate adventure k9? The answer is: fitness.
Just like us, our dogs have varying levels of fitness. Many of us will take six hours to hike up a trail that others will take two hours to run up and down. Everyone and every dog has a base level of fitness that is unique to that dog based on their age, breed and genetics. We all know that some dogs can run a 20km trail and others can’t.
So what is critical to know in adventure dog fitness?
Athletes need to train. You can’t expect your dog to start with a 15km hike when all they’ve done are city walks. Work up to a bigger objective by training it in the same way that you would train yourself. You want to build endurance and it can’t be done instantly.
Cross-training is important. Just like us, our dogs should be cross-training to ensure they are training all muscle groups and not just the ones they use on adventures. That means working on balance training, stabilizer muscle training and building proprioception. Hind-leg awareness is hugely important for k9 athletes. Our dogs tend to keep a lot of their weight on their front legs. We can encourage them to carry that weight more equally by improving their hind-leg awareness and their confidence in their rear-ends. A great way to get some good training exercises is to visit a canine physiotherapist before you have an issue.
Puppies aren’t adventure ready. I hate bursting the bubble for puppy owners, but puppies are not good adventure buddies. Sure, they can come on short hikes. But their growth plates are still forming in all of their limbs. Increasing their fitness beyond a level that is appropriate could lead to life-long injuries. If you want to adventure with your puppy, I recommend speaking to your vet first to get an estimate of when their growth plates will close (size and breed impacts the timelines). Or alternatively, be prepared to carry them in a backpack. Let them see the environment you want to adventure with them in, but don’t expect them to keep up. They don’t know their own limits and they will go harder than they should.
Don’t create an athlete you can’t keep up with. This is a common saying in the dog training world. If you’re a runner who runs from the spring to the fall and runs a lot, and you want your dog to run with you, that’s okay. But what are you going to replace the running with in the winter? Humans are super adapted to slowing down quickly. We can run a marathon then turn into a couch potato for the winter without a problem. Our dogs are not programmed that way. If you suddenly change your dog’s physical regimen, you can expect that extra energy to come out in other ways. Often with chewing, hyperactivity, barking, and general restlessness. Factor this into your decision making when you’re considering how much you want your dog to join you on adventures.
As we’ve seen, adventure dogs are created through work on core skills, engagement and fitness. If you want the ultimate adventure dog, you need to approach it with some planning and forethought to make sure that you get it right.
Be the rad team that adventures in a way that is sustainable, respectful to others and that has the most fun!