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Your Weekly Training Tip

March 21, 2010

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Brain Work is Exercise, Too! Warm Ups and Cool Downs for Your Training Sessions

Spring is finally here and with it, lots more opportunities for getting out with our dogs - training, playing, walking, running, showing, trialing, and just plain having fun! I know at this time of year, with the milder weather and longer days, I can get, ahem, slightly ambitious in my training plans. There's just so much I enjoy doing with my dogs! This gung-ho attitude can sometimes lead us to push our dogs a little too far, too fast, though. While we all know that we need to warm our dogs up physically before any strenuous exercise, we don't always think of it when working with our dogs' brains. It pays to remember that most dogs benefit from the training equivalent of warm-ups and cool-downs in their mental exercise, too.

Warm ups should be easy for the dog to do. Often the behaviors your dog learned earliest is what comes easiest, but not always. Ideally, warm-ups should be behaviors that foster focus and teamwork. Some of our favorites are:

  • Sits and skip-sits (doing a line of several tucked sits in a row)
  • Touch (hand targeting)
  • Tug and catch games
  • Line-ups (setting up in heel position) and Starts (line-up plus 1-3 steps heeling, then release)
  • Get-its (a running jump to get a treat or toy from my hand)

After your dog is mentally warmed up and flexible, this is the time to work on teaching new exercises, refinements of behaviors, and any areas that have been challenging for you and your dog.

Cool downs should be among your dog's more easily performed behaviors, too. They should not be mentally strenuous (remember to look at this from the dog's perspective, not yours!) and should be pleasant and enjoyable. Your goal should be to leave your dog - and yourself - in a relaxed, positive state of mind to finish off your session together. Because of this, what makes a good cool down will depend more on the individual dog's temperament and preferences than warm ups.

  • Tricks of all kinds make good cool-downs. Pick some of your dog's favorites to wind down your session.  
  • Try integrating some tricks or easy obedience behaviors into a relaxing game of fetch (one trick earns one throw of the ball or Frisbee) at the end of your training time.
  • A nice game of "hide and seek", or "catch me if you can" (your dog catching you, not vise versa) is a fun, good leadership, and good training.

Have a great week, and enjoy getting out and about with your dogs. And until next week, Happy Training!

Julie Cantrell BSc, CPDT-KA, CDBC
Canine Behavior Services



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Weekly Training Tips are Copyright 2010, Julie Cantrell BSc, CPDT-KA, CDBC, Canine Behavior Services. All rights reserved.