Conditioning by Jack Kelly


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    Of all things ever written about pit bulls, the articles that are most requested draw the most enthusiastic and generates the most response from readers, are those written about conditioning a dog for a match. I matched my first dog five weeks after I purchased the dog. You can imagine how much I knew about what I was doing. A friend of the fellow I purchased the dog from was there when I bought the dog. He asked me if I had any intentions of matching the dog and I replied I sure as hell would.

    “Match me” He said. “All right”, I replied, “Go get your dog and let’s do it.” “Oh no.” He said. “We have to do it the right way. We have to condition the dogs. It will take 5 weeks to get mine ready.” “What’s condition?” I asked. “Well,” the fellow answered, “Just like a boxer or any other athlete, the dog has to train, to be put into shape, he has to do road work, he has to run on a treadmill.” “What’s a treadmill?” was my next question.

    The conversation went on like this for a while longer, but we finally agreed to match our dogs at 43 pounds in five weeks. I started looking for a treadmill to buy. There were only two, maybe three people that made treadmills in those days and I hadn’t met or even heard about either of them. I went over asking anyone who sold odd things if they had a treadmill for sale. They didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. But, I did find out that most dog men used a round table on which the dog would run on. A round table was simply an axle with a hub, driven into the ground to support a round table top perhaps 8 to 12 feet in diameter. I started to build myself a round table. I bought an old wagon wheel with an axle attached to it and an antique shop and started to fashion a round table top out of plywood to use for the running surface. Until it was finished, the only work I could give my dog was road work. So, I and the dog started running up and down the hills of an old golf course. The dog was doing pretty good, but it was almost killing me. Match day was fast approaching and I was sure glad to see the last of that gold course. Match day came and there I was, in my corner waiting for the referee to give the word to let em’ go.

    The other fellow’s dog quit in 14 minutes. This only reinforced what I had suspected all along, I surely must be the best dog man since Charlie Lloyd hung up his leash.

    I finished my round table, bought a treadmill from Mike Colby, bought a couple more dogs, now all I had to learn was how to properly get on in first class condition. I must have asked every dog man, that ever matched a dog, how to condition one. No one seemed to know of if they did know, they weren’t telling me. Then it dawned on me, they were all almost as mystified by this inexact science as I was. Eventually, I discovered that Pete Sparks, the editor of the only dog magazine on the market, also sold some books, in which, the various authors included his own method for conditioning a dog. I bought every book I could find and started comparing keeps. They were all pretty much alike, walk your dog 10 miles a day and run him on a treadmill for 40 minutes. I started taking my dogs for 10 mile hikes and something immediately became obvious to me. Some dogs would walk along beside me and take every step that I took, no more, no less, while another dog would lean into his harness and drag me along for 10 miles. That first dog wasn’t getting much of a work out while the second one was getting a hell of a work out. That 10 mile walk was not for every dog. Same thing with a treadmill, one would outdo and half kill himself by running the mill at full tilt, but not for 40 minutes while another dog would loaf along all day on the same mill. You cannot work every dog the same way. They are individuals and must have a keep tailor-made to suit each particular dog.

    But, first things first, and the very first thing you must do when you agree to match a dog is to be damn sure that the dog is 100% healthy. It’s easy enough to recognize the big problems, it’s the little problems that get you in trouble. If your dog has heart worms or hook worms or even a bad case of round worms, you’ll know he’s sick as he’ll look sick and he’ll act sick. Little problems with worms can be much more deceiving. Like whip worms, for instance, you can’t see whip worms in a microscopic examination of the dog’s stool, whips are not an intestinal parasite. Dogs tolerate them well enough until you start to work the dog. It’s about then when you will notice he just doesn’t seem to be taking his work very well.

    It is an over simplification to say that in conditioning, you break down your body through hard work and when you recuperate from that hard work through rest, the body will build itself up a little more in anticipation of any future hard work. How can a dog rest and recuperate to the fullest if he has a secondary infection caused by whip worms? All worms incubate in 21 days, so worm your dog with a good, non-toxic medicine every 21 days of the keep and plan it out so that his last worming comes about 20 days before match time.

    It’s not only worms that can cause a keep to blow up in your face. Consider the following: I refereed a match some years ago. A locally bred buckskin was matched into a high priced match dog purchased from a prominent breeder. After 20 minutes, Max looked like he would have to drop dead of a heart attack if he was going to lose his match, by 30 minutes, he was down and out and on his back under the other dog. I tried to count the wood ticks on Max’s chest and belly. I can’t count that high and some of them were as big as a thumb nail, swelled up with the dog’s blood. How much rest did Max get to recuperate from his work with all those ticks eating him up?

    At a big show up north, a young fellow matching his first dog, asked me if I would take a look at his dog. He led me over to a big spotted dog, tired up under a big oak tree. I got within 10 feet of the dog when I noticed that fleas were holding a dance contest on the dog’s back. It’s pretty tough to rest and recuperate when your busy scratching fleas.

    Another several of us stopped by to visit a very good dog man. He had a dog in a keep and was just returning from walking the dog when we pulled up. We waited while he put his away and when he came back, he took us all out to his dog yard of about 30 dogs. He had kenneled his dog, in the keep, on a 100 foot cable run, right there adjacent to the rest of his dogs. You know when a bunch of strangers get around the dogs, all kinds of barking and running around on the chains. The dog in the keep had a whole 100 foot cable run to work and he worked it to a fair-three-well. He should have been resting, he had his work for the day. He should have been kenneled as far from the other dogs as possible.

    In the early 70’s, Tom Schultz along with Irish Jerry used to put on just about all the shows in Georgia. I was riding with Tom to a show in which, Tom had a son of Pistol and Miss Spike matched. Tom parked his station wagon. He then noticed that one of his dogs had come into heat. He had been planing of breeding this to a friend’s dog and the friend lived close by to where the matches were to take place. Tom put the dog in another crate and slid her right in next to his match dog. The trip took us about an hour. I don’t believe Tom’s dog ever took a hold that night. Just one little mistake.

    Getting back to conditioning. The work you give a dog must be progressive, it should get harder and harder as the keep progresses and must be interspersed with frequent days off. Since the work we give the dog must be cardiovascular in natural, we must, from time to time during the keep, tax the dog’s heart and lungs with a good hard work out, that will push him close to his limits, three or t 60 8 week keep. The rest of work should be performed between 50 and 70% of full capacity. It makes a little difference if the work he gets is on a treadmill, a flying jenny, a round table or roading next to a car, truck, bicycle or all terrain vehicle. A step is a step. It’s a good idea to work the dog the way he likes to work best. Some get spooky trotting along next to a car or a truck while other’s would rather work a jenny than a treadmill. After they get used to it, they will enjoy anyway that you work them. Another antiquated ritual that was popular with the 10 mile walk and the 40 minutes treadmill work was feeding the dog in the keep amounts of wheat germ flakes, all-brand cereal or packaged dry dog food. It was easy to feed and if you believed what what they printed on the bag, you were convinced that this was the stuff that would make your dog travel at the speed of light and to be able to leap over tall building. The nutritionists called it “The Four D’s” – that’s because it was made from beef that was unfit for human consumption which was made from cattle that were dead, dying, diseased, decayed. A dog’s digestive system is superior to ours but does that mean we shouldn’t feed him the best?

    We have came a long way in the field of nutrition and we should know that fresh, whole grain carbohydrates are the best energy source. Brown rice, barley, corn meal or rolled oats cooked slowly with fresh, lean meat, is what your dog will do best on. You can, if you want to, feed him small amounts of your favorite food but keep the diet as simple as possible. Vitamins and food supplements are also a big advantage that we didn’t enjoys years ago. Carboplex, Metabolo, and Peak Conditioning are excellent sources of energy foods.

    Water is something else that we must concern ourselves with. One well respected, old time dog man once told me that a dog should never get anymore water than what you can, shake of a fork. Bad advice, but that’s how it was done in those days. The drier a dog was at match time, the better condition he was assumed to be in. A handler would smile broadly as he tented up the skin on his dog’s back and took pride in the fact that it took forever to return to its natural state, flat on the dog’s back. Water is what lubricated the body, it is used to burn off fat and to cool off after a strenuous workout. Consider what we do in our own conditioning, we reduce body fat through exercise and proper diet, the dog will then require less water for that purpose and if we allow him to cool off after his work out, he’ll want less water to accomplish for that purpose. As the keep progresses, the dog can’t work with a gut full of liquids but while he’s resting to recuperate, he should have access to all the fresh water that he wants. In fact, to insure that he is getting it, it’s a good idea to let him take some time to lap a bit while you’re walking him to let him cool off after his heavy work.

    How many times have you heard someone say “I overworked my dog.” It’s not easy task to overwork a healthy dog being feed enough of the best food. It would be more appropriate if he said, “I overworked my dog considering the poor health I had him in” or “I overworked my dog considering the amount and quality of the food I gave him.”

    When it’s all said and done, the dog we pick to condition is more important that the way we condition him. You can’t make a cur dog any gamer by feeding him the best or working him on the best engineered treadmill ever made and neither can you take away that fierce desire to win away from a game dog by walking him down the road or around the block a couple of times a week and feeding him a bucket of slop. But, all other things being equal, the dog with the best condition will win.

    – Jack Kelly

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