Come this October 12 – 17, some of the finest German Shepherds and their owners/breeders will be gathering in Springfield, Ohio for the “greatest show on earth” known as the GSDCA National Specialty show. They’ve come to strut their stuff, show off the best of their breeding programs, see old friends and make some new ones. They’ve come to exhibit, to watch and learn and to PARTY! You’ll see some dressed in their finest while most are dressed casually and comfortably. This is where you’ll see some of the top handlers in the country doing what they do best…..making your dog look good and doing everything they can to win top honors. This is where you’ll see the big shots and the “wanna be’s”, the little guys and those who just love the heck out of this breed. This is the National. This is what we’ve all been waiting for all year long. We’re ready to rock and roll! But what about the dogs? Are they ready?
Most breeders will feed the best food that they can afford to give their dogs. Maybe they add supplements to his food. Maybe they give him some special oils for his coat. They invest in the best shampoos and conditioners and sprays for grooming him to perfection. They bathe him, brush him and comb and fluff up his coat. His toenails are cut. His ears are cleaned. Yup he’s looking mighty good. But what kind of condition is your dog in? Is his back going to be rolling? Is he overweight? Will he be able to endure running around a large ring for a longer time than usual? Can he keep up or will he tire too easily?
Conditioning and exercising our dogs is important under normal circumstances but even more so when you are showing your dog especially at a big event like the National. So what are some of the things that we can do to insure that our dog looks like an athlete and not a couch potato?
The German Shepherd dog loves to be worked and exercised. Going for a walk with us is one of their favorite things to do. This is not only good for his body, but his heart as well. This is the simplest of exercises that one can do with their dog. Taking them for hikes is even more rewarding where he can utilize and keep his muscles toned. Playing fetch, running after balls and Frisbees is always a fun type of exercise where he gets to use more of his muscles and tone up his body. This kind of exercise is something that you would normally do anyway. But for getting a dog ready to exhibitor in the show ring, will take more than this to make him a top competitor.
To help build muscle and endurance there are more rigorous activities you can introduce to your dog. Some people will use a bicycle, golf cart, jogging, or the side or back of a car. Other great exercises for the dog is swimming or using a treadmill.
From what I’ve learned from my research about treadmills, it says that the treadmill should be long for the German Shepherd dog. If it is too short, then the dog can develop a short stride and the German Shepherd is a long striding dog. I found this advice excellent when considering this type of exercise. It’s probably something most of us wouldn’t think of. There are a few treadmills that can be bought for the dog and many of them are very expensive. Also the treadmill can become boring for the dog, so I wouldn’t make this his only form of exercise.
Using a bike, golf cart, or the side or back of a car is the type of exercise that you need to take a little more caution with. The dog needs to be trained not to pull you over, not to get too close to you and to gait at a comfortable pace. I’ve never used a golf cart but I did use a bike and a car. A bike can be a little clumsy at first, but once the dog knows what you expect of him, you can get a nice work out for the both of you. There are actually some companies that sell something to keep the dog away from the bike while exercising with him.
Using the car for conditioning can be beneficial. I used this method quite often, but mostly off the back of a car. Obviously you’ll need two people for this. One to drive and one to sit in the back of the car with the hatch door open while you gently coach the dog to follow you while holding him on his leash. You can really get the dog to do a nice easy pace this way and can adjust the amount of time until you build up his endurance. You want him to be trotting, not running! Very important to remember is the surface that you are exercising him on. Doing this on a street surface is not a good idea. Pounding into the pavement can be painful for the dog. A dirt road is better and naturally if you can do it on grass this would be the best way to use this method. Good luck with looking for grass to drive your car on, but sometimes you can run the dog next to the car so he can trot on the grass.
Having a swimming pool in your backyard is an added bonus if you want to give your dog a full body workout. If the dog loves the water, you might find it hard to get him out. The only problem with exercising a dog in the water is that too much of this type of exercise can bulk him up adding too much muscle and overloading his shoulders thereby restricting his movement in the front.
Alternating his exercise routine is ideal. Which ever way you choose to exercise your dog, it is probably one of the most important things that you can do to prepare him to step into the arena at the National level. This is where he’ll be on center stage for an audience of your peers to perhaps see him for the first time. It might be an old saying, but as far as sayings are concerned, “First impressions are lasting impressions” and no where is it more true than at a National specialty show! If he doesn’t have the muscle tone and endurance that his competitors do, he may tire more easily and his lack of conditioning may cost him the highest awards!
Expenses for exercising: walks, jogs, hiking – nothing! Swimming pools, treadmills, bikes, golf carts, cars – thousands! (But most people own many of these things already).
My rating: walks, jogs, hiking: (4), swimming: (3), treadmills: (3), bikes, golf carts, cars: (4)