Conditioning Your Dog For Trials

By Patrick Shannahan

When they started the first sheepdog trials, the purpose of the competition was to show whose dog was the most useful in farm work. Most of the dogs back then, came from working farms, so conditioning wasn’t usually a big concern.

Today, most of the dogs in competition come from farms and homes that are actually don’t make their income from livestock. Most of the handlers consider the competition a hobby, a very serious hobby, but a hobby no less.

So one of our main concerns is how to keep a dog in peak condition to do the huge amount of physical and mental exertion that will be asked from the dog during an event. It is very difficult to condition a dog that doesn’t live on a sheepdog farm to the level of conditioning that is actually needed during a major trial.

After a dogs initial and basic training, most dogs don’t actually need to be put on livestock to be kept in condition. As long as the dog is in good shape physically, and exercised on a regular basis, the need to work livestock depends on the individual. Some dogs still might require lots of work on stock, while other actually might do better with minimal stock work, but kept in shape through exercise.

Exercise alone can come in many different ways. Some people have gotten great results by exercising their dogs with a 4 wheeler or bicycle. I have had some of my best results when I was running on a regular basis and having the dog run near my side. The amount of exercise with each dog, just like in people, really depends on the individual and their physical condition.

Heat can play a large factor in our dog’s ability to work long periods of time. Some of our competitions are held during the summer or early fall. The warm temperatures during the middle of the day, takes its toll not only on the dogs, but the sheep as well. Since we don’t have any control over the sheep, we need to make sure our dogs are “acclimatized” to warm temperatures, and learn to not stress themselves due to heat exhaustion. I have learned to put my dogs out in the warm part of the day at home, just to acclimatize to the heat.

Another type of exhaustion is one of metal fatigue. Many young dogs don’t quite have the experience and scope to learn to pace themselves during a competition. Experience and time are the best teachers for this type of conditioning.

Feed plays a large role in our conditioning of dogs. An old time farmer once told me, “garbage in….garbage out.” It is very difficult to train a skilled athlete without a nutritious and complete diet. Most dogs require a source of high quality protein, along with sensible fats and carbohydrates.

Supplements can also help make sure the dog is getting all the needed vitamins and minerals that are needed during times of stress. After trying several different types of supplements, I have found Canine Essentials have helped my dogs during periods of physical and mental stress. The Canine Essentials gave me a much quicker recovery time as well, so the dogs were ready to go again the next day of competition.

As our National Finals competition begins, most of us will have spent countless hours making sure our dogs are in top shape to become the top dog. It won’t matter if our dog is the most talented, if he doesn’t have the conditioning and stamina to last through the competition. Look to see the most talented and best conditioned dogs in the Finals on Sunday.