Last season, I made a conscious decision to avoid the intensity of competition during the warmest part of the summer. We did one or two shows a week and did a lot of swimming, hiking and running on wooded and shaded trails. The results were amazing as my pups were refreshed and performed in stellar fashion during the fall championship season. This is not to say that we did not have a couple of health issues. Fire developed a nasty hot spot on her hind leg in mid September that required some serious care and effectively ended her season. Stanley had 3 weeks between State Finals and USDDN Finals where he was nursing some front end soreness followed by some hind end soreness. Fortunately, lots of stretching, chiropractic, acupuncture and controlled movement fixed him up in time.
Despite these issues, I noticed that my dogs were FULLY engaged when the time came to perform in September and October. In the past, I frequently struggled to keep my dogs from flying into auto-pilot during late season events. It seemed that they had caught so many discs throughout the summer that the activity had lost some value. They still enjoyed playing, but the combination of too much repetition and my stressed-out attitude affected our teamwork and thus our overall performance. By building in a mid season break, my dogs had a chance to heal up from the rigors of show season and be READY TO GO when the results mattered most.
Moving forward, my strategy is to plan out the to or three times a year when I want my dogs to peak in their performance. It is not reasonable to expect your canine athlete to perform at peak levels at every event all year long. Decide what events you want to do your best at and lay out a training strategy that helps you and your dog go into those events feeling SHARP and REFRESHED. A couple of guidelines might include:
- Peak your training a couple of weeks before your target event and then slow down so you and your pup can go into the event fresh and recovered from the training process.
- Remember that during qualifying events, your competitive goal is to qualify. Don't worry about being the best on the qualifying day. Be good enough to qualify and congratulate yourself and your dog if you are successful. Some qualifiers may require you to be at your absolute best in order to get a qualifying slot. Do your best and see where the chips fall.
- Training gains happen during recovery from training, not during the training sessions. Pay attention to details around nutrition, body work and mental rest in order to accelerate recovery.
- Make sure your dog has lots of opportunity to just BE A DOG. This might mean playing with other dogs, hanging around the yard as you mow the lawn, going for walks etc. Being a happy dog is foundational for being a great canine athlete.
As I write this morning Stanley is under my chair, Mojo and Motley are laying to my right, Fire is on the porch keeping a watchful eye over her kingdom while Stella is walking around the house collecting tennis balls. Today's dog agenda includes a trail run this morning and trick training after work this evening, followed possibly by a swim. Gotta love summer in New England!!