One of the things we try to do with the JBQ website is to pass along training tips and general advice for Jack Russell owners and other dog owners. This is my disclaimer – I am not a veterinarian and you should always consult your vet before making any drastic changes, especially to your dog’s diet or exercise. Much of the advice will come from years of training, experimentation and mistakes with Jack Russell Terriers and other breeds I have worked with in the past. I will pull from personal experiences and those of my friends and competitors.
We train our dogs like the champion athletes they are. They keep strict diets, exercise and rest schedules. I maintain a training journal for all of my dogs and note changes in their behavior, energy levels, weight, irregular stools, and coat appearance. It is not uncommon for any of my dogs to run 100 miles in a week at the peak of our training cycle and in the off-season they will still get in 20-40 miles a week exercising and playing. For every dog from National Champions to regular couch potatoes, these tips will help improve the health, attitude, and love you have for your dog and they have back.
Training Tip #1 - GOOD, BETTER, BEST
Have you ever noticed when you go to a fast food restaurant that you get a lot of food for just a little bit of money, but at a fancy restaurant you get what seems like a small amount of food for a lot more money. Anybody who has ever eaten at a fancy restaurant knows you never leave hungry, and you don’t get that sick too your stomach feeling like you just ate a pound of potatoes fried in animal fat. Pet food is a lot like human food in the sense that not all dog foods are alike and sometimes a little goes a long way.
All, and I mean all, dog food companies have three versions of food determined by the ingredients – good, better and best. “Good” dog foods meet the basic nutritional requirements and are available just about anywhere you can buy dog food. “Better” and “best” foods are available at most feed stores, pet stores, and specialty animal centers. The basic ingredients in “better” and “best “are higher quality but the real difference is what comes out of the dog.
“Best” feed is absorbed at maximum levels resulting in less waste. That’s important with smaller dogs like Jack Russell’s who may need a lot of nutrition when they are training, and probably shouldn’t eat 3 cups of food a day. Because with best food it takes less to get the same effect you can feed them less food. A “best” dog food may cost more at the store, but it should last longer than lesser foods and it will save you money over time. If you have a pet and you typically walk around the block and maybe throw the ball a little each day then a “better” food may be right for you. But, if you are training for competition or your JRT spends a lot of time in the field, always buy and feed the “best” food variety your favorite producer makes.
Training Tip#2 - TO FEED OR NOT TO FEED A HIGH PROTEIN DIET...THAT IS THE QUESTION
In addition to “good, better and best” dog foods you will notice different protein levels with different foods. What’s the difference? Well, these do not correspond to the “good, better and best” levels for dog food. That is to say a high protein feed is not necessarily a “best” food. Always look for a feed with the highest quality and freshest ingredients first, then choose the appropriate protein level for the activity level of your dog. Nutritional information is important and you want to keep a close eye on the activity, weight and stools for your dog whenever you change their feeding.
Training Tip # 3 – IF YOUR DOG HAS THE RUNS…
He may have diarrhea. But, don’t confuse loose or soft stools with runny stools. Sometimes runny stools can be a sign of another problem like too much protein in their diet. Know when and how to tell the difference. Anybody who has trained athletic dogs has seen a dog eliminate sometimes before or soon after beginning exercise. It is a common occurrence and it often appears “loose,” “soft,” or not solid. This is not diarrhea. When a dog has watery, runny stools and doesn’t appear to have control over his movements then you probably have a case of diarrhea and you should see a vet.
Training Tip # 4 – SUMMER FEEDING
I have had people ask, “Is it true I should reduce the protein levels in my dogs food over the summer?” The answer to this is maybe. Let me tell you about one of my experiences.
Many years ago I noticed my dogs would inexplicably begin losing weight in the winter. I kept the same schedule, same training, same feed levels, I hadn’t changed a thing, but for some reason they started dropping pounds - and for a JR “pounds” are a lot of weight. It wasn’t until one late evening in the kennel I was reviewing my training journal when I noticed one of the dogs give a quick shiver. Then another. Over the next few minutes I notice all of them doing it.
Shivering is a natural reaction of the body to keep the core body temperature higher in cold weather. Even humans do it. It is a good sign because it means the body is working. When you stop shivering body temperature begins to fall rapidly and then you are in trouble.
What I realized was the tremendous amount of energy the dogs were burning each night through this process. I had not changed the training or feeding but the energy the dogs were using had increased dramatically as the temperature fell each night. As with any diet, if you burn more calories than you take in you lose weight.
The reason many people assume high protein is bad in the summer is because often in the summer they have the opposite problem. Their dogs will inexplicably gain weight or they may start having loose and runny stools. The reason this happens is because they are getting more nutrients and calories than they need each day. This often will show up in two ways, increased weight and runny stools. You should choose a protein level appropriate for the activity level of your dog. An outdoor dog or a highly athletic and active dog should get more protein in its diet, and a indoor/house pet should get less. Consult your vet about which is right for you.
And if you are training and competing consider increasing the food in the winter to avoid weight loss or decrease the food in the summer to avoid weight gain. There will be less mess, and a happy dog.
Training Tip # 5 – IF YOUR DOG HAS HARD, DRY STOOLS
To follow up our previous post (TT #3) on runny stools, if it's not runny it must be good, right? Again, the answer is maybe. Hard, dry stools that appear difficult for the dog to pass may indicate constipation or dehydration.
Constipation can be caused by a lack of hydration, improper or inadequate nutritional value in your feed, or an unknown digestive problem. It's not hard to recognize constipation, if your dog keeps eating and you don't see anything coming out, that's a sure sign. The easiest way to fix this problem is to increase the fiber in his food or overall diet. Raw vegetables or cooked veggies like green beans or carrots are an excellent source fiber that most people have around the house, just be sure not to add additional salt, sugar, or spices during the cooking process. Foods flavored for human consumption should not be fed to animals.
Dehydration is a very dangerous problem in an animal, particularly in small breeds like Jack Russells. Dogs must be hydrated to stay cool and keep their body temperature down. In Florida, especially in summer, this is always a major concern. Jack Russells are an extremely active and energetic breed which can literally run itself to death if forced to train without adequate concern for time of day, temperature, rest breaks and hydration. Don't take any chances and keep plenty of clean water available at all times.
What you want to look for is a solid stool and not a lot of it, at regular intervals. This indicates your dog is moving food normally through the digestive system with maximum digestion of nutrients. As always, the best course of action is to contact your vet if you suspect something is wrong with your Jack Russell Terrier.
Training Tip # 6 – CLEAN WATER
Did you know a dominate male will sometimes urinate in his own drinking water to keep others from drinking it? Always be on the lookout for dominate behavior patterns such as this. If for some reason you have mulitple dogs sharing the same water source you could quickly have mulitple sick dogs and an expensive vet bill.
It is imperative you maintain clean and sufficient amounts of water for animals in training. They need lots of water to rehydrate and stay cool.
Training Tip # 7 – REST BEFORE TRAVELING
We train hard and often at JBQ. We are known for our long runs and alternative training methods. But knowing when to stop training before a competition can be just as important to victory as anything you did leading up to it. In fact, stopping to early or too late can affect your dogs abilities on trial day and knowing the appropriate time to stop for your dog is something you will only learn with time, patience and observation.
Now, when you add travel into the mix your schedule can get off by a day or more depending on the distance traveled. It's a good idea to give at least a week of rest before any competition. Regular play and activity is fine, but heavy training, sprinting or endurance work can leave your JRT tired, sored and restricited in it's movement. Besides, you're not going to win it all with that one extra day - It's more liekly you will lose it.
Puppies will bounce back much faster, but most dogs over the age of two need at least a full day of rest after heavy training, and a few days to build up energy reserves for an all out effort on competition day. An extra day of travel will not tire or weaken their muscles, but the stress of travel will deplete the dogs of energy and build up agitation just like in humans. Travel stress you too, so imagine what it must be like in a cage.
Add it all up and you are already at 4 or 5 days of rest including the stress of travel. Consider that many trials last two, and sometimes three days, and you really need to stop heavy training a good six or seven days prior to any trial. They need all the rest they can get if you are going to expect maximum effort from them and they've worked hard to get here, so give them the best opportunity to win and make you proud.
Training Tip # 8 – FAMILIAR SUPPLY OF WATER
When traveling you must, must, carry a supply of familiar water. Strange water can upset stomachs and create messy problems that deplete your athlete of energy and spirit. If you can tell the difference between your home water and the local water, imagine what your dog can tell with his heightened sense of smell and taste. Once you are on-site you have no chance to get water from home. Plan ahead, set aside a couple gallons of water from whatever source you provide on a daily basis and be sure it's as fresh as possible.
Be sure your dog is drinking (not heavily) during travel and in the evening before a competition. Some dogs resist drinking at trials and can easily get dehydrated, a surefire killer. During the competition be aware of how much your dog is drinking - don't let them drink too much at one time. They can feel bloated hindering free movement and stretch, possibly vomit losing precious energy and nutrients, they can get sudden urges to urinate during events (it's hard to win races when your dog has to stop for a break), or if the weather is particularly hot and the water particularly cold you can have drastic changes in body temperature that can shut a dog down (similar to when hunting in the winter and a dog emerges from a warm den into the frosty cold air).
Any benefits of fresh, familiar water have been lost if any of those occur. Plan ahead, provide water in moderation, frequently, and plenty in the evenings.
Training Tip # 9 – WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG WON'T EAT OR DRINK WHILE TRAVELING
It is not completely uncommon to hear of dogs that wont drink or eat anything when traveling for competition, especially during the actual trip. This is particularly dangerous to high output performers who need energy and nutrients for performance and recovery. The only solution is to give yourself plenty of time, plan ahead to arrive early enough for your dogs to get out and stretch a little, urinate and deficate, and stay in one place long enough to build up a comfort level that will allow them to eat. they may not each much, but it is essential, especially on day two of any competition, that your dog is eating something the night before.
It is more common for a dog to refuse water and/or food during the day of competition. If your dog won't drink water at all during travel or competition then include it in their food. Most dogs will not refuse food in this way, and some prefer it. It may even become something your dog looks forward to when traveling and can become sort of a treat, a positive reinforcement to travel.
If your dog is taking a little food or water and not absolutely refusing it, but you fear not enough to sufficently hydrate or replenish your him/her, consider an alternative like Pedialyte. It's safe enough for your baby, and it's safe enough for your dog, but it should only be used in moderation. A little goes a very long way. Don't give it to your dog like it's water, disaster awaits the owner who does. Consult your vet.
Training Tip # 10 – UNEXPECTED BEHAVIOR DURING ROAD TRIPS
When taking your dog out of it's routine, be patient and predictable. Exposure to out of the ordinary circumstances can cause even a well minded Jack Russell to do things it normally wouldn't do, like not eating or drinking. Your pet will be looking to you as the head of his pack to reassure him, provide direction and provide the security that will allow him to eat. Consider strange behavior during travel an indication of your failure to plan and prepare adequately, because your dog can't do it for you.
Remember, the effects of stress are strong and they can affect your dog in ways very similar to the ways it affects you. When removed from their normal day-to-day routine it can disrupt eating or lead to a lack of appetite, upset stomach, strange behaviors and/or lack of rest. Plan ahead, prepare and give your dog adequately time to rest, eat and relax.