Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Running Mad - Kids And Your Dog

Photo Credit: USATF JO, Reno, NV, Kingstown, RI, JO Runners Up, warm up for Nationals. Photo: Lorraine Horton

For the most part the posts here have been centered around how you and your pet can benefit from healthy walks, and the assumption has been that the audience consists of adults. Doggie Sensei is going to depart from this standard to discuss the benefits of pets for children who suffer from Tourrette's Syndrome and ADHD, and how the same principles of consistent exercise discussed for adults can benefit children as well.

Your doggie is a wonderful therapist. The unconditional love that they give can become a source of comfort for children who have the extra energy resulting from chemical imbalances of the brain. Simply said, a dog can become a focal point for a child to distract themselves from excess urges, fears, anxiety and or emotional issues that can arise from ADHD. When your child has something external to fixate on, someone that they must care for, then their own worries are forgotten. The consistency required for keeping a dog healthy and well behaved require their constant attention.

If your child is old enough and is able to go with on the doggie walks or runs, have them go with you on a regular basis. Walking the dog is a gentle activity and gives you the opportunity to have conversations with your child. The process of walking, talking occasionally, and minding the dog have a marvelous affect on a child with ADHD, as the route will be a controlled, slow release of energy. Give them the leash, and make them walk at an even pace - your child will be amazed at how energy it takes to just mind the dog and NOT go running of down the path. When sustained over 20 minutes their energy is will be expended without the hyper jump in adrenaline caused by sprinting. This pace is best on an evening walk.

To get the day started, a run may be in order. A study conducted by Dr. Micheal Wendt reveals some insight on the affects of exercise and ADHD. For six weeks, Dr. Wendt led a group of children through a series of intense exercise, intense enough to "..increase the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are important for adequate communication between nerve cells." This burst of neurotransmitters, he notes, is the same result achieved with the medications many ADHD children take. A run with your child and the dog could be a better means of adjusting their brain chemistry without the side effects of a heavy duty medication.

There you have it. Good things come from walking the dog. No small surprise - that's why Doggie Sensei keeps writing about this wonderful relationship you can have with your pet.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Downtime and How to Keep Moving

Photo Credit: Ranger Gord

Sometimes your body just needs to recover. Yesterday Doggie Sensei twisted his ankle while running. This morning instead of running, Missy accompanied me on just half the route. Even when the owner is hurt the pet still has its needs that must be fulfilled, so when you have an exercise regimen with your your pet it's important to build in contingencies.

Talking half the walk is better than simply not walking at all because conditions are not optimal. Your dog will sense your slower pace and adjust. That's why they're such good partners. Keeping to your schedule will help you recover more quickly, as your mind is redirected from your injury. Your doggie can help you not think about the hurt.

This is not to say that your mind can overrule all injury. To the contrary, when you need to sit one out, you should do so you do not prolong your hiatus. The same holds true for your doggie, especially when their paws have been injured. Give them the proper care and time and you'll be back on track.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Something New (to me at least)

I just came across this site that trains using Pavlov's technique. It's called clicker training. Apparently you use a mechanical device that makes a click, and this deployed when you want to re-enforce behavior. This is called operant conditioning, and differs from classical conditioning in that the pet associates a reward with the repeated action.

The process works this way:

1. Your pet sits, you click.
2. You give you pet a reward.
3. Repeat multiple times.

This results in the pet associating the sound of the click with receiving food. The click is a unique sound that can not be misconstrued with spoke words. Interesting.

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sensei, Coach and Master

In a previous One Leash, One Mind, Doggie Sensei spoke about how the proximity of your doggie during your walk or run is very important. You will want to establish an awareness of where your dog is so that you can anticipate the situations where she / he may need guidance. This can prevent them from getting hurt or injuring other pets.

Photo Credit: Yersinia
With a shorter leash of 6 feet in length you will be able to keep your companion by your side. It's important that you lead them, and at first a new doggie will have some resistance to this. There are many schools of thought whether verbal commands should be taught first, or if you should physically take the lead. For walking, it may be best that you consider using your body and movement as the guide since this will teach your doggie that they should pay attention to what you are doing. The more focused they can be on where you're going, the less likely they will be distracted by squirrels, other dogs, garbage, noises, cars, kids, etc.

When you move chose the direction and just go. No warning, just move. If your doggie is new to you and this routine, they'll bump into you at first and that's ok. This process will teach them about the comfortable distance they need to walk with you. You'll note that you will be giving them the cues - for them to follow means they have to pay attention to where you go. In other words, they'll learn to follow you as the leader. To re-enforce this relationship you will have to walk your dog every day. Yes, every day.

Eventually you will notice that the dog will be in tune with your directions, your movements when you walk. You'll also find it will be easier to control them when you encounter other dogs. When you maintain their position at your side, you'll be able to sense when they start to tense and you can intervene and gently remind them that they should remain by your side, and be relaxed. It's a very rewarding and friendly relationship you will have and that others will recognize.

The Coach Does NOT Run

Photo credit: Laertes

For those of you who are avid runners you may find taking your doggie with you to be real challenge. When Doggie Sensei started, it became apparent that my doggie could out-sprint Doggie Sensei, but the differential in strides and rhythms meant that my doggie would speed up or slow down at different times during the run. Her sustained pace changed when mine wouldn't.

Dogs have a different pace, so when you start a jogging regimen with them, you'll have to to change your pace. It's just that simple. This will mean you'll have to do double duty running. In addition to the responsibility to your dog, you'll have to set aside time for your own sprinting or other human paced running activities.

For your doggie to keep a healthy pace, you should run no faster than your dog can trot. You recognize this as it is characterized by the rhythm of "tick-tick-tick-tick" as the front leg and opposite back leg move in unison. Next time you go out, listen for that rhythm. This is very comfortable for your doggie since they can sustain this without discomfort. Then to see the contrast, pick up your pace and watch them as they start that lope that is characterized by the head lifting up slightly as the front feet move followed by the back legs. It's like a ripple that moves through your dog and has staggered rhythm of "dugg-it dugg-it dugg-it".

Learn the sounds of these paces. Your doggie maybe your motivation for getting out there and movin' it, but they should not be running. Just a gentle trot as you both move together is what will benefit you both.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

One Leash, One Mind

The leash Doggie Sensei uses is a simple 6 foot leather leash connected via D ring to a 10'' nylon "short" leash. When worn around the shoulders, it is the perfect length for keeping my dog at my side while giving her enough slack to move to sniff or do her bathroom stuff.

There are many other products that will give dynamic extension, multiple rings to create a harness, and the ability to encircle your waste so that you can run hands free. I don't recommend these for several reasons:
  • The leather leash is "springy" and you'll need that extra elastisity when you dog charges, or worse, if you close-line something.
  • The leather leash will absorb all of your sweat. This may sound gross, but your dog, aside from being a surface learner, is driven by smell. The scent retained in your leash when you are leading will continue establish you as pack leader. The scent will be associated with the run or "hunt".
  • The leather will be smooth enough so that it can move quickly in your hands without very little to no rope burn. This is important, especially when running you may miss that squirrel hiding behind the tree and should your doggie charge, you'll be able to grab the leash quickly.
  • The length is perfect keeping your doggie close to you during a time when you want to take quick control. If you watch Cesar Milan at all, his perscription for a well behaved dog is for you to be vigilant and intervene before your dog gets into the "red zone" and you lose control.
  • Retractable leashes do not re-enforce the leadership role you need to assume over your dog. Out of reach, out of mind. Many times it is a simple touch on the flank that will dispell a dogs rush to the red zone. Close proximity during a walk or run only re-enforces the lessons you have been working on with your dog while at home. Retractable leashes do not give this ability.
I want to discuss proximity to your dog when you exercise in greater detail. With the leash draped around your shoulders and neck, you'll have to be aware of what your dog is doing. If you're not, you could get hurt. But think of getting hurt, rather, think of it this way: when you drive you're going at speeds that can harm you, so you pay attention. Awareness of what your dog is doing is enhanced when you are conscious of where the leash is going. When wrapped around your shoulders, you'll know right away if your dogs drifts of strays, and you'll be ready to quickly guide them. You'll know when the dog is looking to the left before she starts to pull away from you. It will all be communicated up the leash to your shoulders and neck, so you won't have to have them in sight to know what's going on.

The leash really becomes an extension of your touch, and in another sense, it communicates to your dog your intent. The more active you are with integrating the leash into your "tactile" senses, the more in tune you'll be with your dog. This physical relationship will strengthen your ties to one another.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Joy of Running on a Full Belly

Photo Credit: Chris Gin

One of the benefits of having a dog for a coach is that they are unrelenting. As people, we do have the ability to adapt our schedules. Dogs, God love 'em, can not.

Miss a morning run and, depending on the breed, you have to make up for it in a big way later on in the day. Like, after dinner, when you're tired, it's Friday, you're full, you want to sit and vegg in front of SciFi. Being the ever vigilant coach, your dog doesn't care about that stuff. It's time to get out there and stretch Doggie Sensei Daddy. Yeah, where can I chase some squirrels!!!

Once you give in, ignore all thoughts of "I'll just make this a walk around the block" and do the dance daddy. Go that whole route. For those of us who run, run that route. Your stomach will hurt, your sides will feel like splitting. Breathing is really hard, no rhythm, all steps jarring, when will this stop, I should have stuck with the schedule.

Sensei's theory is that when you complete the route in the most of sub-optimal conditions, and by that I mean fighting all the way against your dessert, you have added to your "Discipline Bank". That means the next time when conditions aren't as bad, you'll feel that progress come to fruitition. Effort banked from the bad sessions pays off, only later.