As summer period is coming to an end, cooler mornings are starting to appear, and with that our excitement at the thought of upcoming autumn races. Yet, transitioning from a rather chilled holiday training regime to a more active one, with the goal to be ready for those events, can quickly turn out tricky for your dog if not done correctly. Veronika Navrátilová, a well known name in the field of scooterjoring and sled racing essentially, has shared a few tips to plan and ease the transition on our four-legged athletes.
Written and pictures by: Camille Paris.
Since racing in both dryland and snow events, summer is for her a synonym of lighter workload and active break for the pack. Aware of the importance to give the dogs the opportunity to rest both mentally and physically, the warmest months of the year appear to be the perfect moment.
- At the end of the winter season, we put away the harnesses and try to keep the dogs in shape by allowing them to move freely, essentially on walks.
TWO MONTHS TO GET BACK IN SHAPE
The end of the much needed break for the dogs however doesn’t mean time to get back to full speed full course trainings - far from that! For Veronika, two months is an ideal amount of time to get the dogs back progressively into racing shape, provided that they were relatively active during the summer.
- I think it depends on a lot of factors. Larger males, for example, need more time to get in racing shape as young dogs. It also depends a lot on the condition of the dogs before the start of the training. If they actively run and swim all summer, I need much less time than if they had just been lying around the garden the whole time. But I consider it optimal about two months before the first race; then, it’s without hurry and stress for us.
Harnesses, therefore, come out of the closet seven to eight weeks before the start of the season. However, an experienced dog might need less time, while a young dog might have to go through the process more slowly and carefully. Veronika advises to gradually increase the amount of movement in anticipation at the start of training.
- We scooter around with the dogs free running, go jogging all together, and swim quite a lot, weather permitting.
Heat is an extremely important factor to consider when starting to train again, overheating and loss of motivation being consequences, among others, if not factored in properly.
- To catch the race in September, we have to start training some time in July, which is typically very warm. We ride very early in the morning and choose routes located near water. Since our tracks are pretty hard in those areas, we also often check the conditions of our dogs' pads.
Veronika also likes to vary the work she does with her dogs, focusing on building up strength at first and keeping speed workouts for the very end only. She also increases distance gradually, making sure she doesn’t ask too much too fast from the dog.
- We start with short distances on the scooter, at a lower speed. We then introduce chain traction and gradually increase the distance with them. Of course, I still alternate that training with scooter traction and free running. It's only when the dogs are well-muscled that we let them go faster.
The aimed category is also relevant when it comes to the dog’s preparation, noting some differences between single mushing and dual mushing, for instance.
- If we plan to race in categories with two or more dogs, we’ll also plan a few team trainings before the race, giving them some time to get used to working as a team again.
Finally, once everything has been done correctly and the dogs seem ready and eager to race, Veronica likes to test their condition and motivation on measured sections of the track. That way, she has an idea of their shape compared to previous years. Statistics are not all, however, and the dog's happiness at work comes before all for her.
- Of course, it is essential that the dogs feel good and are always happy.