DEAR OLD TRAINER: Rebar is a year-old border collie/blue heeler mix. I just started him on Frisbee. I’ve been told Frisbee is hard on them because of the high jumping and landing. Is Rebar too young for Frisbee? My last dog was the same mix and he caught a Frisbee and lived to be 19?
A: Border collies and heelers are born and bred to run and jump. One year is old enough for Rebar to start learning Frisbee. Use a cloth Frisbee and hold short sessions until he gets in shape and starts to muscle up.
Dogs, like people, get aches and pains when they get old whether they play sports or not. The fact you had a dog that lasted 19 years while chasing a Frisbee is proof that running and jumping is healthy for Rebar.
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The one thing I do to protect my dogs as much as possible from wear and tear is to only throw a ball or Frisbee on grass, never on concrete or black top (see question below), and never let them get overheated.
DEAR OLD TRAINER: I wanted an agility dog so I went to the pound and found a beautiful 3-year old Australian shepherd mix named Ellie. I have videos on how to train her and I’d like to take her on my five-mile run four times a week, but a woman at the dog park said keep Ellie in her pen except for practice so Ellie will work harder when I let her out. Is that good advice?
Anita, Denver, Colo.
A: No, it’s nonsense. Being locked up is the exact opposite of what Ellie needs. Dogs love agility work, but it’s demanding. Only physically fit dogs can compete.
Ellie has to get in shape before she starts agility training the same way a football player spends months running and lifting weights before ever taking a step onto the field. She needs exercise every day.
Take Ellie with you when you run. She can run 20 miles a day when she’s in shape, but start at one mile and add a mile a week until she is running the five miles with you. You and Ellie will both last longer if you run only on dirt, sand or grass. Dogs and humans have a high injury rate when they run on concrete or black top.
Agility trials require sprinting as well as endurance, so in addition to – not instead of, in addition to – distance running hit a tennis ball as far as you can with a racquet and let Ellie retrieve it. If you have a hill, use that. Running up an incline is excellent training for a working dog.
Mental training is as important as the fitness part. Ellie has to know you so well she can intuit what you want next without a word from you. You develop that in the hours you spend together. Being locked away inhibits mental acuity the same way it does physical fitness.
So even when fitness training is over, do not lock Ellie in her pen. Have her with you so she can observe you and see how you think and act. The more Ellie is with you, the faster she learns.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.