Back when I was a horse girl, it was not only normal, but expected that we would give our horses regular breaks. Three weeks off after a long set of shows, a month or two off after a season, a whole week in between shows. They got tuned out as much as possible and maybe we would do a trail ride here and there.

As riders, these were “chore” times – clean out the tack trunk, oil all-the-things and maybe ride one that was on a different schedule or needed some tuning.

As a kid I just accepted this as the norm and went off to work on my tan. Once I traded reins for leashes as an adult, I looked around and noticed no one else was really resting their dogs in the same way. The dogs would compete over the weekend then be back in class on Monday night. My first Berner was really heat intolerant as a young dog so I decided to take the summer off and lo and behold when we came back in September he was happy and ready to go.

Rest and repair – body and brain!

Mind you, my Berner boy didn’t sit in the AC eating bon-bons on the couch that summer. We hiked, camped, swam and he just got to be a dog. But it made enough of a difference that I finally understood – about 20 years later – just why we rested the horses – the change was visible! His whole attitude had been reset.

Since then I’ve taken many conditioning classes and ALL of them have espoused the value of rest and recovery. None direct the dog to sit on the couch binging Netflix for a month, but reduced activity and/or activities that work different muscle groups are prescribed. When we think of the repetitiveness of something like agility, it’s easy to see that swimming might be a welcome alternative.

Summer of change

My national specialty was in May this year and watching the videos I was horrified to see my dogs had fallen so out of shape and generally looked dull. We’ve not really done much competing since and I vowed to make this the summer of conditioning. We are hiking or swimming daily varying the time, distance and elevations with each. They’ve all lost weight and gained muscle and the girls’ coats are coming back in so everyone is looking good.

I can also tell it’s time to get back to work. We are all getting a little antsy in our own ways and wanting more. Whatever Indie tweaked before the specialty is long gone, Trip offers behaviors if I even pick up something that might be a treat and Moxie is showing me she’s getting a little bored. This is the longest time away for all of us and it’s been cool to see them tell me that it’s time to pick up the bait bag again. I love it.

Calendar challenge: Schedule nothing

My summer challenge to you is to look at your dog calendar and see where it is you either might take a break or schedule an activity that is different from what you normally do with your dogs. This is also a great time to work dogs individually and/or work on a relationship. Look at your retired dogs too and make sure they are getting what they need. Read up on the benefits of long and short breaks; review your class and seminar schedule. For many of us, fall is a time to get back to trialing, let’s make sure our dogs are as excited as we are!

Use that R&R for yourself!

Need to give your mental game a tune-up while your dog is taking time away from the ring? August coaching spots are now available! Learn more.