Our dogs need mental and physical rest as well as mental and physical conditioning. There are some good articles about it for human athletes and how the body needs time off to build muscle. It is difficult to know how much is too much for a human let alone for our dogs. We are all different. Some of you know this because you've had dogs become "muscle-bound" from having built up too much muscle and needing more rest time.
Overtraining syndrome is known in human athletes and with horses. There is some good information at www.sportsmedicine.about.com for how this impacts humans. It can cause physical as well as psychological problems. In reading about it in humans there are a lot of articles out there on this. Some of the symptoms in humans can be related to in dogs and are listed below. This is a list of human side effects that has been modified for dogs.
- Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
- Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
- Pain in muscles and joints
- Sudden drop in performance
- Decrease in training capacity / intensity
- Moodiness and irritability
- Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
- Decreased appetite
- Increased incidence of injuries.
Hopefully you have given your dog some time off this winter. All athletes need some time off whether it is one long stretch or periods of 2-3 weeks to rest. They need time for the muscles to rest and heal. Whenever we do a lot of active use of our muscles we create micro-tears. These are actually what is used to build more muscle however they can also go the other direction and develop into a major tear. So having some down time for these muscles to recover is important. All human athletes take time off from training and they may go and do a different kind of training that uses different muscles or uses the muscles differently. Having multiple activities to do with your dog can help provide this variety in muscle development and muscle rest as long as their are extended periods of rest.
Right now my dogs are on a break from trialing which I believe is the most stressful of the training activities we do with our dogs. Except for Jedi all the other dogs have four weekends off. Jedi will have three off. They are also only being trained in agility for a few minutes once a week during this time. Feisty gets occasional obedience training and Sinco gets occasional herding training. The training in different sports is a good way to work different muscles and to keep them mentally fresh. I feel this is important for both their physical well-being as well as mental well-being. There is one fluffy little grey dog who doesn't handle time-off well at all - she is bouncing off the walls. It is good that she has obedience training she can do for awhile. Well there is another fluffy grey dog who is too young for mental time-off - in fact he doesn't get enough mental activity! I need to work on that!