This post contains many words and NO pictures (OK, maybe one or two at the end from the archives).
Mango's latest diagnosis of arthritis and partial ACL tears has made getting him proper exercise paramount. Subsequently, I embarked on a mission of tracking his activities with great care with an eye to finding ways to improve his regime.
This post is an analysis of the collected data along with some goal setting. Read it or not.
PART I - The Data
First step was to obtain a baseline of data to understand what a "normal" week entailed. I did my best to carry on as usual and not "show off" for my spreadsheet.
I only kept track of deliberate activities so I did not include our daily snuggle sessions, wrestling (i.e. floor fun) with Dexter, or the frequent free yard time activities with the Master. Sadly, Mango is no longer prone to full out bitey face funballs with Dexter, but does engage in recumbent bitey face or occasional "high speed" chases of Dexter with a stuffie.
Brief plea for sympathy - the only activity that I can do with the dogs together is tennis ball. Walking them together is out of the question until such time as I sprout three additional arms as well as an ability to pivot my head 360 degrees.
Here are the baseline week results;
8 walks (3 off property and 5 yard walks - more about that later) totaling 2.85 miles (0.57 mi/walk average)
5 tennis ball sessions totaling 35 retrieves
1 passive stretching session
1 therapy disk session (approx. 10 minutes)
6 walks totaling 8.5 miles (1.4 mi/walk average)
5 tennis ball sessions totaling 102 retrieves
1 daycare day
1 therapy peanut session (approx. 10 minutes)
Part II - The Analysis
My initial overall impression was that despite feeling as if I am always doing stuff with the dogs, I am actually doing less than I thought. Thus the beauty of using numerical analysis. So let's see...
What are Yard Walks? Those are loops on leash around our sizable back yard. Think of it like doggie treadmill. It is much easier to get steady, constant motion this way since off property walks can be fraught with peemail stops, pull overs to avoid oncoming traffic, and other distractions.
Mango's typical retrieves are about 20-30 feet. I do try and throw up hill whenever possible to force him to use his back end. He usually executes all but the first couple at a trot (not a gallop) and can take an alarming amount of time to savor the intermittent reward he gets for a job well done.
Given that Mango is not supposed to be spinning, dog dance practice is out for the time being. He gets very excited during dancing and will spin as a default behavior.
I knew I wasn't doing his stretches enough, but realized I am almost not doing them at all. Mango does get grouchy when I try to stretch him so I need to confirm I am doing it properly. And NO MASSAGE! Terrible.
Drat! I was sure I was walking him more frequently and further.
Dexter is fairly easy to tire out. Unlike Mango, his retrieves are at a full speed run across the length of the yard. He attacks his therapy peanut sessions with alarming vigor. So while there is room for improvement, he is getting flat lab worn out on most days (and daycare really does him in).
Note that Dexter does get some bonus exercise during Mango's Yard Walks. Since there are treats involved, Dex tends to run mental fits cracker dog around the yard while Mango is plodding along.
Part III - Goals
My personal rules for goal setting;
- Keep it small, keep it simple, do no harm. Sure, I have a list of things I should be doing to improve my life and that of the dogs; exercise, eat right, more training, etc. but for me, I need to find small, incremental changes in one area and do no harm in everything else.
- Be honest. I could say "I am going to get in the mastiff mobile every morning and drive someplace to walk Mango." But I won't and the stress of gearing up to do that will likely cause rule #1 of do no harm to be violated (besides, every clear field I have tried always winds up sporting loose off leash cracker dogs sooner or later).
- Use visualization to make dog activities positive - nobody benefits when I force myself to do a dog activity when my brain is consumed with "woe is me." I have more success if I take a few minutes to visualize myself doing the activity, enjoying it, and having a positive outcome. This is particularly true of off property walks with Mango which require me to be on full alert at all times.
With that in mind, I have only ONE goal for the upcoming week...
And here is how I can do that....
For Dexter, just walk faster. If I walk fast enough to keep the leash loose with Dexter trotting, we can cover 2 miles in about 40 minutes. This allows for brisk walking, with a few potty and sniff breaks. For any math impaired folks, that would be an average walking speed of 4 miles / hr. when in motion (yes, I timed our potty / sniff breaks). I did a test run yesterday with great success (I used visualization to see myself walking the entire route rather than just setting off randomly).
For Mango, more off property walks which tend to be longer. I am also interspersing short jogs into his yard walks which means we can do more loops in the same amount of time. I will continue to wait for daylight for off property walks (remember, avoid additional stress) and carry as many hot dogs as it takes to keep him focused (working on walks, not some noble goal of better leash manners).
Note to self - any walk is greater than NO walk! This is particularly important for me to remember with Mango. Five minutes is more than zero. One yard loop is more than none.
Part IV - The Challenge
The number one challenge for me is getting Mango moving in meaningful ways. 10 minutes on the exercise peanut leaves Dexter all curly tongue panting worn out, but Mango is like me in that he would prefer not to move at all. Indoor activities for him are additionally limited by his gigantic size and clumsy nature making it hard to find enough space for him to move without taking a tumble and / or knocking over furniture.
Walking Mango off property in the dark is out of the question. He is a spooky bastard and having joggers and whatnot bear down upon us out of the darkness would send him over the edge. That combined, with the encroaching winter is really making me scratch my head for after work exercise for him.
Want to play along? My challenge to YOU, dear readers, is to keep a log for yourself for a week and determine what incremental changes you can make to improve the quality of life for your dogs and, no doubt, for yourself as well.
Remember the first week is to measure your default behavior. Be honest because that is the regime you will fall back in to if things get too ambitious or overwhelming.
I determined a short list of deliberate activities and a measurement system. I plotted the distance of Dexter's walks using this site. For Mango, I did a couple of measured walks and then estimated yard loops based on duration (Mango averages the glacial speed of about 2.5 mi / hr).
If your dogs wrestle or bitey face, lucky you. Count that as exercise for them. Just time a few sessions and then see how tired they are afterwards.
I will be back next week with a progress report. Mango goes to PT on Saturday and I am hoping to pick up some pointers on how to keep him moving.
Part V - Gratuitous Cute Dog Photos
If you're still with me, here's your reward for your patience.
P.S. As an added bonus, I AM working harder on Dexter's propensity to be a bitey shark when taking his cookies. It has been challenging. If he does a behavior and I click / treat, I want him to get his reward and if I pause to make him be less shark-like then I have missed the mark on the behavior. Sigh. So I'm trying to practice "the gentleman lab" independently.