Road Working Your Doberman

by Michelle Santana
Foxfire Dobermans

Depending on where I lived, I have road worked in a myriad of places. Here are some of them;

  1. Office Building parking lots (after/before hours & sometimes the more deserted ‘working’ ones.
  2. Side streets that have a dead end. (even in residential neighborhoods, the least crowded streets.)
  3. Fairground parking lots, church parking lots. virtually any road that is least traveled (and yes I’ve come across my share of cars and I pull over to make way, then continue on).

About comments while road working:

It would seem that almost everyone has to stick their noses in everybody else business. That is a fact of life, so grow a thick skin and close your ears. You don’t owe anybody an explanation as to what you are doing as long as you aren’t breaking the law or abusing your dog. IF people are pleasant and just curious, not bashing you for your method of exercising your dog, I would certainly explain the process of road working to those passers by.

In order to deal with a dog who puts up a fight about road working, I always try to start a beginner dog with an experienced dog. They learn by the example of the dog next to them. If you have no other dog available try to find someone that already does road work and tag along with them for the ‘beginning’ outings.

When I am doing one dog by themselves for the first time and they seem particularly resistant, I just reassure them everything is okay, give them the command ‘trot’ and go very slow, for short distances (1/4 mile) encouraging them the whole way. We repeat this for a week. They usually get over the ‘fear factor’ after the first week. As with ANY new experience, be patient and persistent.  It is common for them to resist this form of exercise until they understand what is expected of them and the what the routine is … AFTERWARDS THEY LOVE IT, I can guarantee it!

If you sit in the back of the car while someone else drives, assuming there isn’t a ‘rim’, you can put your legs up in a “V” and have the dog run between your legs (this also helps to break side winding) it will be impossible for him to jump in the car because YOU are there. This position also allows for maximum praise/guidance from you. As the dog catches on you, you won’t have to keep your leg’s up anymore.

I recommend not starting road working until a dog is at least 18 months old.  Sometimes, if done correctly, it can be done a little earlier to teach a dog ‘poise’ and carriage and correct moving habits (the distance would be Short and Slow).

If the dog is a puppy I recommend free running exercise on grass/dirt or swimming.


QUESTIONS RE ROAD WORKING WITH A CAR

Question:
In my area, weather and my current work situation prohibits outside road work. The dogs play in a 70′ x 50′ enclosure. I have a people tread mill (I couldn’t justify buying a doggie one @ $2000 plus) that is long enough for them to trot (not full extension). Is this adequate for inside road work? I have heard different views. If you set the treadmill uphill you achieve what? If at a level setting you achieve what? Which type of work affects what muscles? What is a good speed, duration, and frequency?

Answer:
Personally I find some dogs don’t do well with tread mill exercise. It makes them move funny in the rear. If I noticed this with one of my dogs I discontinued the use of the treadmill and switched to the car. Actually I never use my treadmill anymore because I can road work more dogs at a time with the car so it’s more time.

The funny movement that can occur doesn’t happen to all Dobermans.  All breed handlers especially like treadmills because their coated breeds don’t damage any hair and it’s easier for their small breeds.

So, try it out with your Doberman.  The bottom line is, one way or another, a Doberman has to be conditioned to be competitive. Nothing helps a Doberman look more ‘Muscular and Powerful for Great Endurance and Speed’ as per our Breed Standard, than to have a well-built, rippling, smooth-muscled body!  If your human treadmill is what you’ve got then you have to make do with it!  You can always discontinue using it if you find it is affecting your Doberman’s trot in a detrimental way.

Where I road work the road naturally inclines. I believe this enhances the development of the rear muscles, both inner and outer.  I think road working flat really helps enhance the back muscles but I don’t think it’s necessary to have one over the other.

I also used to throw a stick up a hill for one of my dogs.  It really helped develop his chest area. I don’t know that the incline derived from a treadmill would do this though because it isn’t as steep as a hill and the dogs are trotting versus really digging in at a gallop.

The frequency, duration and speed that you roadwork really depends on each dog. Some dogs have a natural faster trot and most dogs, after being road worked awhile, will trot faster naturally. So, as a result, you may find that you are continually adjusting the speed. Just make sure the speed is a nice, fluid, even, balanced motion. Something similar (maybe a little faster) than what is expected in the ring.

Duration has to start out slow if your dog isn’t used to road working.  I’d go 1/4 to 1/2 mile for the first two weeks, eventually working up to two miles and sometimes more if your dog has a particularly ‘mushy’ muscle fibre or a weak top line and if this is usually it’s only form of ‘exerting’ exercise). Ideally, I think most dogs, by and large, need both road work and free running for conditioning. Even if the road working isn’t for conditioning, it’s an invaluable tool to teach a dog proper carriage and a free-flow, fluid, balanced trot such as that needed for an impressive ‘show gait’.

I have some dogs that road work every day. I have others that road work every other day. For now I would suggest every other day for you. The in-between days should be spent with extra emphasis on free running. A tennis racket and ball are great to entice all out galloping in a enclosed area.  You will start seeing changes almost immediately but don’t expect anything dramatic for at least six weeks. Then you can reassess what changes should be made, hopefully with a mentor looking on (more/less road work/free running).


Question:
Do you think an inexperienced person can road work a Doberman with a car and alone or do I need to find someone to help me? I don’t want to run.

I also heard that having the dog run up and down stairs is good exercise to tighten the muscles in the back and the top line. Care to comment on that? Can you compare the two methods of exercising?

Answer:

Well yes, I think am inexperienced person can roadwork a dog!  I was inexperienced once and haven’t run over any!  Now I do THREE at a time! (LOL)

It’s pretty hard to ‘run over’ a dog while road working if you road work properly.  I once heard of a man that did run over his dog because he had his dog on a flexi lead while trying to do it!  If you roll down the window of your car, depending on its make, most tires are in front of the door area. This door area is ‘exactly’ where your dog should stay. It should have just enough lead (tightish) to stay next to your car and trot. If the dog stays in this position it is really pretty difficult for it to fall and then slip sideways under the rear tire. Physically it’s hard to do!

Now, the key is your dog. Some dogs get out of the car and take to road working like they have been doing it their whole life.  Others are more ‘resistant’ and will jump and look at you in the window while you are getting back into your position behind the wheel. Some lag behind until they build up stamina
, confidence, etc.  This is okay.  Just be patient as eventually your dog will be able to keep up with the pace and may even ‘set’ it!

I have never had a dog that did not, eventually, LOVE road working. I recently had a ‘resistant’ one but now he loves it!  Some take a little more encouragement than others; some need pinch collars because they are sure they can drag your car, (LOL) but they all end up loving it.  No matter how resistant some of my clients are to the fact that they are going to have to road work their dog in order to win, the client always comes back to me and says how much their dog enjoys road working, and even when they finish the owners say they continue to roadwork the dog!  Yea right, say I…it’s a tedious job and I don’t believe anyone will do it unless forced to by their handler.

Finding someone to help, initially, isn’t a bad idea. That way you and your dog will be more comfortable when your helper eventually can’t go. I often show my clients how to do it while we’re at a show or, I take their dog and train it and then hand over the job.  The problem I found with a helper is usually they will not be as dedicated as you.  Dedication is a must in this sport!  For instance, in the beginning, my mom was the helper.  She drove the station wagon and I sat on the tailgate. Eventually it was harder and harder to get her to commit to a religious routine, so I decided I HAD to do it myself. I self taught myself when I was probably only 16-17.  I won’t even begin go into how to do more than one! (LOL)

As to stairs, frankly, I have NO experience in this department.  Perhaps others do?  My gut feeling is, if there is any other form of exercise available, use it. I would be afraid that the steepness and climbing/descending action could have a long term detrimental effect on a dogs knees, elbows, joints, etc.   Let’s face it, it can take a Doberman months, if not a year or more, to finish o you have to do something that you can sustain long term.  I’m not saying that stairs can’t or shouldn’t be used at all, and if it’s the only method of road working that you have available to you, then what can you do?  I, personally, would just try to find a more ‘natural’ form of exercise. (and no, running along a car isn’t natural, but the ‘trot’ is).


QUESTIONS RE ROAD WORKING WITH A BIKE

Question:
Has anyone tried the ‘Springer’ on their bike?  This is a gizmo that attaches under the seat and prevents the rider from becoming unbalanced and falling over should the dog decide to pull in another direction (like after a cat)

Answer:
IF a client wants to ride a bike for two miles I don’t have a problem with it. I do try to insist they use a Springer.  That is pretty much the only ‘safe’ way to ride a bike with a dog in my humble opinion.  The reason I prefer clients to use a car is ‘commitment’.   Most of my clients work all day, come home tired and really aren’t going to commit to getting on a bike every day or every other day to peddle two miles!!

They might on the weekends but every other day for eight or more months (or in the case of a  special, for years)?  Not too likely.  If they use the car there is no excuse, no I’m too tired or its raining or its too dark, etc.  With the car they can pop in their favorite tape, relax, look out the window at their doggie enjoying the heck out of itself and toodle around for two miles (20 minutes give or take). It’s a much easier commitment for them to make.  They come home with a mission accomplished feeling. The handler is happy, the dog is happy and none of it was a “Pain In The Butt” (if you know what I mean).

The reason I REALLY want them to use a ‘Springer’ is two fold:

A.) Theirs and their dog’s safety. It is next to impossible to pull a human over going after a cat or another dog with the dog attached securely (you might have to use a pinch collar) to the Springer.

B.) When a client holds the leash they tend to exert different pressure on the collar and tug on the leash as they try to keep the speed constant for the duration of the two miles. This leash/collar action can be detrimental to the dog learning to stay focused and maintain a fluid/balanced trot.  It may encourage the dog to keep looking at the bike rider to see what’s up or why they are pulling/adjusting him this way and that.  The whole idea behind road work, besides conditioning (at least to me), is to teach the dog to be relaxed on the lead/collar and look ahead and learn to ‘float’ in a fluid/balanced motion. That is pretty hard to do if a dog has to worry about what the bike rider is doing or if the bike rider is going to fall on them, which can really mess up a dog. I know plenty of people that fell over when on the bike and not using a Springer.  So that’s my reasons behind preferring a car…but, different strokes for different folks as long as the homework gets done.

It has been pointed out to me that some bikes cannot accommodate the way the Springer attaches to them so you might want to check into this before you make the purchase of a Springer as they cost about $50.00.

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