Cool Down Is Important, Too!
You carefully warmed up your enthusiastic herding dog, competed successfully, and now you can relax and cheer on your friends after putting your dog in his crate with a bucket of water and a fan. Well, not quite so fast. A cool-down routine after exercise is just as important for your canine companion as the warm-up.
Whether your herding dog just did what is essentially a sprint race for agility or worked a large flock of sheep for 45 minutes in a C-course competition, he will be breathing faster than normal and his heart rate will be elevated. Part of that is from the excitement of working and part from the actual physical effort. He will be panting in order to help cool his body down, since dogs only sweat via their paw pads.
Panting is a fairly effective way for a dog to cool down, but it does mean a loss of moisture through evaporation via the tongue. Your dog will need to take in more water to maintain his hydration. You can spray some water into his mouth, but the ideal method is to encourage him to drink. Don’t allow your dog to gulp large amounts of water as that could lead to bloat, or even cause him to drink and then spit the water back up.
Think about the way race horses are cooled down after a race. They are walked (bathed, too, but your dog won’t benefit from a cool bath as much as a horse who sweats through his skin) and offered sips of water periodically during the walk. Have a bucket with cool water available and walk your dog past it every couple of minutes so he can drink if he wants to. Stop, let him sip some, and then walk a bit more. Some dogs will drink more if you put a bit of flavoring in the water – like low sodium bouillon.
The walking will also help to move lactic acid out of his muscles. Lactic acid builds up with activity and too much can be toxic, as well as contribute to stiff and sore muscles. You may start with a fast walk or slow jog, but gradually work down to a slow walk. As you walk, watch for any signs of soreness or lameness. Herding dogs tend to be very driven and will work, and work hard, even if they are hurting. If you notice lameness, check the leg for swelling or pain. Try to isolate the sore spot; then cold hose that area for a full five minutes.
If it is very warm out, consider splashing some cool water up in your dog’s groin or having him stand in a kiddie pool or creek to cool his pads down - alternate that with his walking. Gradually, the panting should cease and your dog should be breathing with a closed mouth.
In very cold weather, you might want to put a coat or jacket on your dog so his muscles don’t cool down too abruptly. Fast cooling could lead to cramps. Consider warm (not hot) water or a warm soup or stew mix in cold weather. Sled dog folks make incredible meals for their dogs post workouts.
It is important to remember that a cool down is the reverse of the warm up routine. No tug, no retrieves. It is a good time to do some massage of the big muscle groups and a few stretches since the muscles are warmed up. Hold the stretches for about 10 seconds. Remember to work on all four legs.
No matter what activity you participate in with your herding dog, be it noncompetitive or the world tryouts, your dog will benefit from a cooldown. Develop a protocol and make it part of your daily workout routine. Your dog will thank you!
Deb M. Eldredge, DVM
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