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That Thing You Do!
Posted on 11/09/2012 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

You went to the top (or as close as you could get), and the dog you got has the bluest blood known to the free world. You’re now the proud owner of that wonder pup you dreamed about owning. All the work is done and the two of you are ready to burn up the rings - right?

I assure you there’s a whole lot more to winning than simply owning a top quality dog. In athletics an individual’s genetic make-up provides the potential. What an athlete does with that potential determines how successful he or she will be in their pursuit of the gold. Show dogs are no different.

Even Michael Phelps, the Olympiad’s greatest medal winner, would have been forced out of competition if it weren’t for the fact that he did his utmost to remain in the peak of physical and mental condition. When he faltered in doing so, it showed! The combination of physical and mental health, regular conditioning and an effective training regimen is what it takes to get to the top.

“Athlete?”, you’re probably asking yourself? Peppe, my Chihuahua, is an athlete?
Norton the Newfie, that big lug stretched out on the sofa, is an athlete? Plain and simple - yes! That is, if Peppe and Norton are show dogs.

Soundness, coat condition, muscle tone - the whole works; they count and in more ways that even some long time exhibitors understand. If you don t think those factors count in having even the best rise to the top, think again. While it’s our responsibility as dog owners to keep any dog we own healthy and fit, doing so becomes particularly important in the case of dogs we might want to breed or show.

The judge’s decisions are based upon both the written and unwritten standard. The written standards state, or at least imply, and the UKC awards the fact that our show dogs should be mentally sound - good canine citizens. The written standard is also the primary source for the physical characteristics of a given breed. It’s a description of a dog’s anatomical parts and how the parts should fit together.

The unwritten standard is the one that demands that a show dog be sound, healthy and well-conditioned. The latter is very often a determining factor in close call decisions.

Good breeding determines whether or not your Pit Bull, Greyhound, Poodle or Boxer is a quality representative of the breed. However, if your dog spends its life lounging on a chaise lounge, muscle tone, stamina, coordination and foot timing suffer severely and the dog becomes incapable of performing in the manner for which the breed was created.

This doesn’t t exempt the toy or purely decorative breeds either. Keep in mind that the judge is looking for excellence. When it gets down to keen competition - even if two outstanding dogs were identical in every other respect - the more physically fit of the two would prevail.

Folks who are campaigning dogs for those top awards know it is absolutely impossible to achieve the condition and muscle tone required of their top level dogs with a few quick turns around the show ring on weekends.

Common sense applies here naturally. The kind of exercise a German Shepherd requires to remain in top notch shape is not what is suitable for a Pug. The complex breathing system of a Bulldog prohibits any kind of exercise in hot and humid weather, and good judgment tells us a little Chihuahua will not survive a forced march through snow drifts in subzero temperatures.

That said, it is up to the owner to determine how and when their dog can be properly exercised. Some of the dogs in the Companion and Terrier groups are so active that their constant household patrols and hair-trigger responses keep them in fine fettle. However, in dogs of just about any breed there are the born couch potatoes.

Don’t assume that because Peppe the Chihuahua has a ten-bedroom house to patrol or because Big Red has a whole yard to chase imaginary rabbits in, that they will do so.

Without another dog around that is very pro-active about exercise, you’ll find most dogs become less and less inclined to be self-starters in the exercise department. It is always best to supervise your show dog’s exercise, and that way you’ll be sure the dog is getting enough of the right kind.

Fortunately, you do not have to become a marathon runner to give your dog the exercise he or she needs. Walking at a pace that keeps your dog moving at a steady trot (not a gallop!) over a sensibly extended period of time is the best possible kind of exercise you can give your dog.

Veterinarians caution against feeding immediately before or after strenuous exercise as they believe it definitely can lead to Bloat, a condition that affects many breeds, particularly the medium large through giant breeds. Bloat can cause extreme pain and, in most cases, the death of the dog.

Age Appropriate Exercise
Exercise must also be geared to the age of the dog you are conditioning for the show ring. What’s appropriate for the young adult, at the prime of its life can be harmful to the young puppy or fatal to the older dog.

If you watch puppies at play with their littermates, you will note there are frequent but brief bouts of high level activity. This is nearly always followed by a good long nap. Puppies need exercise but only as much as they themselves want to take, and then they should be given ample time to rest.

Some breeds are very deceiving in that they reach full height and develop luxurious coats by the age of six to seven months. Trust me when I caution you not to judge this maturity. It is only skin deep! Inside that adult size frame, and perhaps lavish coat, is the developing body of a baby. Forced exercise - even short periods of jogging on pavement - can permanently damage the growing bones and muscles of the young dog, and I seriously advise you to proceed with caution and restraint until your developing youngster is at least 12 to 18 months of age.

This doesn’t mean the two of you have to sit on the sofa waiting for your dog s first birthday in order to get moving. Easy, sensibly timed periods of exercise will keep your young dog in fine fettle until he or she is in need of an adult workout program.

Exercise For Young And Mature Adults
Once out of puppyhood, your dog will probably be able to out walk you any day of the week and still be have energy left over for aerobics. Afterward as well. Just like what is appropriate for yourself, starting a new exercise program requires that you do so gradually and increase the duration very slowly. If you live near a lake, most breeds of dogs love to swim and there couldn’t be any better exercise. Any place that is safe for you to swim will be safe for your dog as well; however, don t throw your dog out into the middle of the lake for the first test swim. Some breeds (most of the bull breeds for sure!) have the aquatic ability of millstones, so be on hand and in shallow water for those first few tryouts.

On the one hand, a swimming pool offers you more control, but all swimming pools are chlorine treated and chlorine can be anathema to a dog s coat. It can bleach out the blacks and dark colors and make other colors turn peculiar shades of green and auburn. Proceed with caution.

Not all dogs musculature is obvious to the eye because of their construction or wealth of coat. Don t mistake fat for muscle. It is up to you to keep your show dog in real show condition.

Your Dog’s Veterinarian
Athletes have their professional Sports Medicine practitioners. Your dog has his veterinarian. Your vet will help you determine if your dog is healthy enough to get into proper condition. Good breeding and good health are what allows a dog are what allows a dog to get in top physical shape. The rest is up to you, and regular veterinary check-ups will keep your dog in the state of health that will in turn allow you to pursue the steps that add up to top conditioning.

There is no one who knows more about the best veterinarian for your breed of dog than the breeder from whom your dog was purchased. If you are fortunate enough to live in the same area, your problems are solved. You can continue right on with the vet that has known your puppy since birth.

Unfortunately, that may not be possible because of distance, and I do recommend that you have a veterinarian you can get to in a hurry. As good as any veterinarian might be, if he or she lives hours away and you have an emergency situation, it may cost your dog’s life.

I am not a veterinarian and avoid advising treatment of any kind outside of regular care and maintenance. Beyond that, your veterinarian, accustomed to dealing with your breed of dog, knows best. I cannot caution you strongly enough regarding the importance of using a veterinarian who has had experience with your breed.

It may be perfectly all right to shave the hair off old retired Rover’s leg for a shot, but not so great to do the same to the dog you plan on taking to a show the next day or next week. The show dog savvy vet will ask about such things or automatically administer treatment in an as unnoticeable as possible area of the dog s anatomy.

The Olympic athlete prepares to compete in the peak of physical condition. You cannot rely on your dog to accomplish this all by his or her self. Arriving at a show in Olympic condition remains wholly and entirely on - That Thing You Do!

Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.