Care of the Athletic Dog
Many dogs these days lead very busy lives. In order to perform at their best,
they need to be cared for like athletes. There are
several factors which affect performance, those that are internal to the
dog, such as genetics, physiology and psychology, and those that are external
such as food, training, and type of sport.
The first step is to evaluate what a dog is capable of. This requires
looking at his structure and movement to see if he will able to stand
up to the work required. An evaluation of his temperament and willingness
to work is also necessary. Much of the basic make-up of the dog is inherited
from his parents.
We can influence his structure by correct feeding and conditioning but
the underlying anatomy and gait must be sound. We can influence his temperament
and willingness by socialization and ensuring the dog understands what
we require, that our training is clear and fair, but if he inherited shyness
from his ancestors, he will never be bold and courageous in all situations.
Considerations and Discussion points for the Performance Dog:
- Feeding Puppies
- Don't feed puppies for rapid growth, there is no evidence to suggest that
this will increase size at maturity, and there are correlations between
speed of growth and developmental conditions in susceptible animals. You don't
know whether your pup is pre-disposed to any of these conditions, so
why take the risk! Recent research has also suggested a link between over-supplementation
of calcium and developmental problems. It has been suggested that care should be taken when
switching a pup to adult food - that the amount of food required to maintain the correct weight does
not contain too much calcium.
- Feeding Adults
- Keep adults lean, this helps them to avoid unnecessary strain on the
joints and helps them to dissipate heat while working. Many people disagree
on supplements, but a boost of specific nutrients just after exercise
has been shown to increase recovery rates.
- Drinking Water
- Water should always be available except immediately after strenuous
exercise. The dog can be given a little cool, but not ice cold, water
just after the activity, but he should be fully cooled off and his
heart rate back to normal before offering a full bowl. Sometimes a dog
will gorge himself on cold water straight after exercise and bloat.
- Hot Weather
- In warm summers (above 70F), the dog should be fully conditioned to
the environment, work should be gradually built up. The dog should spend
as much time outdoors, in the conditions he will work in, as possible,
this helps him become acclimatized. Know how to cope with an emergency.
- Warm-up and Cool-down
- It is important to warm up and cool down before and after exercise.
Warm-up and stretching can reduce the risk of injury. If you do a lot of
heeling, you should take special care to do some passive stretches with the
neck and back bending in the opposite direction. If you stretch
your dogs legs gently, you can also see if he is feeling sore, as he
will try to pull away, a couple of days rest could prevent a much more
- Allow your dog to move naturally
- Always heeling with the head in one position can lead to problems
in muscles and joints, encourage your dog to stretch the other way while
playing with a toy, maybe try different sports, or some TTouch ground work
to help him with balance and independent movement.
- Teach your dog to jump properly
- Begin your dog jumping with small jumps and a favorite toy, don't
drag your dog over the jump by a leash, this leads to him throwing himself
over anyway he can. He will not learn to enjoy jumping and he may injure
himself. Try not to do too much until the dog is a 12 to 18 months old.
Natural Jumping Method. This method actually teaches the dog how to jump, he learns
to use his brain while jumping, so he is not just throwing himself over.
- Take your dog to a chiropractor
- Don't wait until your dog is lame or injured before taking him to
see a chiropractor. Often problems exist
that the owner can't easily see, and a trip
to the chiropractor can bring about amazing
improvements in performance. Click
here for the American Veterinary Chiropractic
Common Health Problems
Shepherds have mild health issues which may lower their potential
for work. This is a collection of some of the problems I have had experience
with and have found alternative treatments to help conquer. Sometimes
a change in location, food or supplements can help.
Note: This is not a substitute for veterinary advice!
- Many dogs and humans currently seem to be suffering with allergies.
These often manifest in dogs as itching, dry or red skin, and may be
a factor in recurring ear infections or hot spots. Allergy tests can
be done at a veterinary clinic to pinpoint food or environment related
causes. An elimination diet may also be useful in diagnosing the cause.
In the case of mild itching and scratching, moving to a raw
or BARF diet can help and sometimes cure completely. With more severe
problems, where the dog is clearly uncomfortable and has open sores
or large red areas you should see your veterinarian.
Supplements which have helped many dogs include the addition of Salmon
Oil capsules which can be added to the food up to a dose of 1000mg per
10lbs body weight. Borage Oil can also help, the dose for this is typically
1000mg per 50lbs body weight. Borage Oil has been wonderful with my itchy dog
to ease the itches in the hot Texas summers. A
good article about skin problems can be found at
A probiotic/enzyme blend can also help alleviate some symptoms
of allergies. Some people have found dried nettle leaf helps given at
a rate of 1tsp per 50lbs. Yucca can also help in the short term to
reduce inflammation and halt severe itching episodes.
Dog Journal contains very good articles on these and other alternative
remedies. Obviously you should not try all these supplements at once,
start with adding salmon oil for a few weeks and see if scratching decreases.
You may also want to find a veterinarian who practises alternative treatments.
Shampoos which can help with the itching include oatmeal and tea tree
preparations. One of these is Purepet
Herbal Skin Therapy Shampoo which can be bought online and at various pet stores.
A tea tree rinse after shampooing can also help. This is made by adding
½tsp Tea tree oil to one pint of water. This rinse is poured
over the dog and left on.
- Hot Spots
- Hot Spots can be caused by bites by insects such as fleas, mosquitos
etc or spiders, or by the dog scratching or biting a part of his body.
They are particularly common in hot and humid places. They begin as
a red inflammation, then quickly get larger and often yellowy or crusty.
The quicker you can apply treatment, the better. Cut the hair away all around
the spot so you can see at least half an inch of normal skin. The best
treatment I have found is Witch Hazel, Aloe and Tea Tree. I mix 4oz
Witch Hazel with Aloe with 10 drops of pure tea tree oil in a small
spray bottle, and squirt that on to the hot spot twice a day. This
mixture is excellent for drying up hot spots and wounds. If the hot
spot is over a joint, it may be that the dog is experiencing some discomfort
there, a trip to a chiropractor to remove the root cause can prevent recurrence. Hot
Spots can also be caused by collars, so be sure to check the dog's neck
regularly and cleanse and thoroughly dry any rubbed areas. With my Golden
Retriever, I found Sulfodene very useful if applied quickly, but his
hot spots would spread very quickly and often required a course of the
antibiotic, Cephalexin to clear them up.
- Ear Infections
- Some GSDs are very prone to ear infections, usually one particular ear. Again, the best prevention is
keeping a close eye on the dog, and treating as soon as any symptoms appear. Black goo in the ear, scratching, and
the ear appearing to be set on the side of the head are indications. Keeping the ears clean, and removing grains from the
diet can help, be gentle when cleaning the ear, and try not to clean too often as irritation might be a catalyst for infection.
The mix that I use for hotspots also works well to clean ears and for mild infections. I mix 4oz
Witch Hazel with Aloe with 10 drops of pure tea tree oil in a small
spray bottle, and pour it into the ear twice a day for 2-5 days. This will usually clear mild infections, but if there is no
improvement in a couple of days, a trip to the vet may be in order.
- Not a condition in itself but a symptom of illness or stomach upset,
diarrhea is more common in some dogs than others. Some dogs are sensitive
to very fatty meats, or a change in diet from cooked to raw and vice-versa.
The most effective way to stop diarrhea is to withold food for 24 hours,
and then offer half a can of pure pumpkin with 2tbsp of yoghurt (for
a 50lb dog), an additional enzyme/probiotic might also help. I love
B-Naturals Digestion Blend
for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
- Many German Shepherd pups experience pano during their rapid growth in the first year or so. My experiences
have been between 4 and 11 months of age, with between a week and two months duration. Pano is considered to be self limiting,
so while it is distressing for an owner to see, a sore pup will rest more and recover quicker. Make sure your pup
has a comfortable bed, and limit his exercise. If your pup looks a little chubby at this point, cut down his food a little, this
may help to slow his growth and limit the time he is sore. A glucosamine chondroitin supplement may also help. I currently use
B-Naturals Flexile Plus for my
- German Shepherds seem to be prone to disorders associated with the immune system. One possible cause of Hypothyroidism is thought
to be autoimmune disease. This is also thought to be hereditary. It often shows up between the ages of 2 and 5 and has many disparate symptoms.
If your dog shows a strange change in behavior, gains weight or has skin and hair problems, it may be a good idea to have a simple test done to
see if thyroid dysfunction may be a cause. The medication is inexpensive and effective but the dog must be monitored with regular blood tests
to ensure the dosage is correct.