Are We Coddling Our Canines?

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Oh no, letting my 10 week old puppy Lana jump in the water–she might break!

I’ve been on the receiving end lately of some internet “dog trainers” who apparently know better about what I should be doing with my dogs than I.  I mean, clearly a snapshot of a moment in time gives strangers who have never met my dogs or me a better picture of what’s happening than real life. Unsolicited advice online is my favorite. It’s been everything from training to feeding and my personal favorite: exercise. I was recently questioned on taking my 10 month old GSD, Punk, for a run with me. While I find it incredibly rude the way people will publicly bash someone else based on a picture, and question one’s commitment and concern for the welfare of their own dog, that’s not the subject of this blog post. My question is: are we coddling our dogs?

In this day and age, dog obesity, fur mommies, and unsocialized asshole dogs are running rampant in the pet world, and that’s a topic in and of itself for another day. But even in the “dog snob” world of those who consider themselves more educated and in the know, I see just as many problems. While in the past decade alone there have been major leaps made through better food, advances in training, and products in general for dogs, I think with that has come a culture of being over cautious and even babying our dogs. I am certainly guilty in some aspects; I allow my dogs on furniture, some sleep in bed with me, and I’ve been known to put coats on my GSP’s in the winter. Those things are all pretty innocuous, but I think some coddling has potential health repercussions. In some cases we are over supplementing, over medicating, in some facets undertraining, and in my opnion, under-exercising.

Slowly more research has emerged demonstrating that hip dysplasia is much more complex and multifaceted than just a genetic disease. Environmental factors are also at play. Some of the more obvious are diet and nutrition, and dog weight. Of course putting more weight on the joints puts more strain thereby much greater risk for breaking down of joints. That’s a big DUH. Overweight dogs are bad all around for health and in my humble opinion a form of animal abuse, yet continues to be an epidemic in the pet world.

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This is ok but running to condition for this is bad??

On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that exercise is harmful. This is what I have a problem with, and where I think logic has gone out the window. So many dog people have developed this belief that exercise before the dog is a year old is unhealthy and steps are bad and I guess you should just put your dog in bubble wrap and do nothing with them? People who truly believe this have not owned a high drive, hunting or working line dog. They certainly have not had a high drive GSP. Little exercise before they are a year? Good luck with that. Here’s my high drive hunting line GSP with no exercise for ONE day at 9 months old. Please tell me more about how little I should exercise him (insert eye roll.)

I think a lot of this belief is rooted in a study that looked at environmental factors linked to the incidence of HD. What the study actually found was that light daily exercise decreased the incidence of HD, while daily use of steps increased the risk. What people forget is this study was in dogs up to THREE MONTHS OLD. Nothing in this study points to exercise under a year = very bad and causes HD. Nor does it say that dogs under a year should not go up stairs as I do often see people advising others.

More common sense is what’s needed in the dog world. Now should I be running 10 miles a day with my 10 month old GSD? Probably not. Is a 2-3 mile run at 10 minute miles going to hurt her and cause HD? Highly doubt it. If anything I think it will be good for her and help build her stamina and athleticism. Holding back on conditioning and exercising these high powered dogs and then expecting them to perform is irresponsible and failing our dogs. They need stamina and strength to do a lot of the training we ask of them, whether it be obedience, bitework, or field work. Watching out of shape dogs with big hearts and a lot of try attempting to do more than they can really pisses me off at the owners for failing their dogs. Not conditioning them and then expecting them to be weekend warriors and do these short bursts of work likely puts more strain on their joints and bodies as a whole than moderate exercise that will strengthen joints and build muscle.

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The GSP wasn’t going fast enough for the poor German Shepherd

I’ll keep on keeping on, and working my dogs as I see fit. It’s worked out fine for me so far. My first sport dog, though he now lives with my ex, is one of the most titled GSP’s in UKC and is now over 15 years old. He gets around better then dogs much younger than him despite all that horrible running and stairs he had early on in life. Haters with their fat low drive dogs: hate on.

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My old guy Oskar, very happy at nearly 15 last winter
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7 thoughts on “Are We Coddling Our Canines?

  1. Totally agree with article. Have owned racing sibes for 30 years. They go into harness at 4 months old (shock horror) and racing on main team at 12 months old. All were /are still quite happily running fast at 12/13 years old. Never ever had any problems regarding joint/muscle injuries. Even wroteabook about my experiences “Sled Dog Gun Aviemore Dreaming” (Amazon)

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  2. 4 decades of raising, training and racing alaskans huskies and still start harness training pups between 5 and 6 months and never had HP or other injuries – before harness training the pups are allowed to run as much as it’s possible – running properly. with a good stride, good coordination, like most things, is something that’s learned and practice makes perfect – I think it’s more likely a dog will be hurt if they don’t get a chance to run when they are puppies

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  3. I have a very high drive dog as well, and I do train him pretty hard but those growth plates aren’t formed solidly until 18 months. I avoid and street concrete running until after then.

    Mental work is also tiring to dogs so I train and hike until then.

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  4. I agree; working dogs were bred to work. My Malamute would lose his mind if he didn’t get to pack his 15# of water on hikes, or pull a load, or run in the snow. They’re not horses.

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