Finally, after writing about journeys and theories, I need to start talking about proper training.
I would like to start from something I feel very passionate about – body awareness and conditioning. I only became aware of it when I started researching physiotherapy for Yarpen’s hip dysplasia. Since then, it is one of the key areas of my interest. I believe that in our breed we need to be particularly careful with the muscle development and body awareness, as most RBTs are not long distance runners by nature. They don’t naturally build muscles and stamina like some smaller dogs who find running to be hugely reinforcing. When let alone to play, they will most likely play a crouching tiger, hidden dragon game, with a lot of pouncing and wrestling. All that is associated with exercise of course, but it’s also highly strenuous on joint, with loads of rotary movement. Not to mention the injury risks… When out and about and not playing, they will also most likely just leisurely trot, or even sit and monitor everything from a stationary position. They can be fast, VERY fast, but it’s not a calm and steady exercise, rather a quick burst of high power. On top of that, they are a bit like true Russian tanks – not really bothered what’s on their way, if they are walking ahead, they will not stop even if there is a wall in their way. As I want to maximise the chances of injury-free career for Falka, I have already started some very light work with her. Obviously, until her growth plates close there is no chance for any heavy conditioning work, we are also limited with the equipment we can use. In addition, we’ve learnt from a very experienced physiotherapist that an exercise which may be ok for a 3 month old pup is not necessarily going to be ok for a 6 months old pup. It all changes super quickly with pups so extreme care needs to be given when planning sessions.
But it doesn’t mean we can’t do anything! Our goal now is to increase body awareness, more specifically, teach Falka that she has 4 feet (rather than front two and an adage of bum which just follows wherever front takes it).
We started very simply, from getting into a box. The goal is to get her to walk (not jump!) into a box, with all 4 feet consciously placed inside. With time, we will be getting the box smaller so it gets more difficult (warning! This exercise is not only conceptually, but also physically demanding, so it is safer to stay with larger boxes until pup is a little order). As usual, I did everything touchless. I shaped it, but I guess the reward placement (in the box) was a little bit of a lure. Teaching the front was easy-peasy, it took a little bit longer before I could see that the placement of back feet was a conscious effort. But overall, it took her FAR less time than it took Yarpen.
Another aspect to healthy joints is of course body weight. I remember that with Yarpen I was religiously studying the puppy growth charts, checking if he “should” be lighter or heavier. With Falka, I completely ignore charts and instructions. The most important thing is her body condition… I want to be able to feel her ribs and I want her to have on obvious tummy tuck (from the side) and waist (from above). I adjust her food intake based on that. (Her weight at 15 weeks was 20.4kg, so still a big girl!!)
Finally, one of the most debated topics – puppy walks… The most widely known recommendation of 5mins of walk per month of life is in my opinion completely unrealistic. Sometimes it takes us 5 minutes to get out of a driveway! For example, our morning walk today lasted 40mins. But, the distance we covered, walked at a steady pace, would take only 7 mins – there and back! (checked it without the pup!) For us, every walk has about a million of training opportunities, sometimes we stop just to admire the world together, sometimes we stop for a little play session, sometimes we meet other dogs and train impulse control. That obviously stretches our walkie’s time. To me the distance and intensity of the walk is FAR more important than the time it takes.