Performance Tips
for your Working Dog


It's a hard life!

At Work

At play

Many pet dogs these days lead very busy lives! In order to perform at their best, they need to be cared for like athletes. There are several factors which affect performance, those that are internal to the dog, such as genetics, physiology and psychology, and those that are external such as food, training, and type of sport.

The first step is to evaluate what a dog is capable of. This requires looking at his structure and movement to see if he will able to stand up to the work required. An evaluation of his temperament and willingness to work is also necessary. Much of the basic make-up of the dog is inherited from his parents.

We can influence his structure by correct feeding and conditioning but the underlying anatomy and gait must be sound. We can influence his temperament and willingness by socialization and ensuring the dog understands what we require, that our training is clear and fair, but if he inherited shyness from his ancestors, he will never be bold and courageous in all situations.

Considerations and Discussion points for the Performance Dog:

Feeding Puppies
Don't feed puppies for rapid growth, there is no evidence to suggest that this will increase size at maturity, and there are correlations between speed of growth and developmental conditions in susceptible animals. You don't know whether your pup is pre-disposed to any of these conditions, so why take the risk!  Recent research has also suggested a link between over-supplementation of calcium and developmental problems. It has been suggested that care should be taken when switching a pup to adult food that the amount required to maintain the correct weight does not contain too much calcium.
Feeding Adults
Keep adults lean, this helps them to avoid unnecessary strain on the joints and helps them to dissipate heat while working. Many people disagree on supplements, but a boost of specific nutrients just after exercise has been shown to increase recovery rates, see links below.
Water should always be available except immediately after strenuous exercise. The dog can be given a little cool, but not ice cold, water just after the activity, but he should be fully cooled off and his heart rate back to normal before offering a full bowl. Sometimes a dog will gorge himself on cold water straight after exercise and bloat.
In warm summers (above 70F), the dog should be fully conditioned to the environment, work should be gradually built up. The dog should spend as much time outdoors, in the conditions he will work in, as possible, this helps him become acclimatized. Know how to cope with an emergency, see the links below.
Warm-up and Cool-down
It is important to warm up and cool down before and after exercise. Warm-up and stretching can reduce the risk of injury. If you do a lot of heeling, you should take special care to do some passive stretches with the neck and back bending in the opposite direction. If you stretch your dogs legs gently, you can also see if he is feeling sore, as he will try to pull away, a couple of days rest could prevent a much more serious injury.
Allow your dog to move naturally
Always heeling with the head in one position can lead to problems in muscles and joints, encourage your dog to stretch the other way while playing with a toy, maybe try different sports, or some TTouch ground work to help him with balance and independent movement.
Teach your dog to jump properly
Begin your dog jumping with small jumps and a favorite toy, don't drag your dog over the jump by a leash, this leads to him throwing himself over anyway he can. He will not learn to enjoy jumping and he may injure himself. Try not to do too much until the dog is a 12 to 18 months old. Try the Natural Jumping Method. This actually teaches the dog to jump, he learns to be more agile and to take off correctly.
Take your dog to a chiropractor
Don't wait until your dog is lame or injured before taking him to see a chiropractor. Often problems exist that the owner can't easily see, and a trip to the chiropractor can bring about amazing improvements in performance. One of our dogs used to lick her flank to the point where she had a red mark, we thought maybe allergies or an infection, she was not lame and showed no other obvious signs of injury. However, the underlying problem was in her back, after one trip to our chiropractor, the mark miraculously disappeared within two weeks!

Useful books:


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