After a trial or competition, a human athlete doesn’t pack his pack and cram himself into a car. Instead, he takes his time to recover from the strain, slowing down the heart beat and breathing, walking or gently jogging to keep the lactic acid moving from the muscles to the blood stream and stretching the muscles gently to relieve any stiffness caused by the strain of the muscle cells. And naturally, he’s drinking to overcome the water and nutrient loss of the trial.
However, the dog athlete is often walked to the car or cage, let to relieve themselves on the way and offered something to drink, water most usually. And then she is crammed into a small confined space to rest before the next trial.
What is wrong with the picture?
The dog athlete will do its maximum performance each and every time it works. This means that the muscles are strained to the maximum, and the micro-damage of the muscle cells causes severe loss of nutrients and iron from the body. Next time your dog does a long and very straining exercise, check her urine: don’t be alarmed, though, because the blood red urine is natural sign of an excessive strain to the muscles. I have seen this happen only when our dogs have chased a moose for over 5-10 minutes at one strech. But it shouldn’t be a norm, only after a very straining exercise!
But every dog -how long a sprint it ever is- is generating lactic acid because the full speed gallop is an anaerobic exercise: the muscles do not have enough oxygen to function and the metabolic system turns into a form in which the energy is created without oxygen. This results lactic acid, which in turn is harmfull to the muscles (lowering the acidity and causing cramping) and takes somewhat longer time to get out of the system. Heart muscle actually burns lactic acid off in it’s functions, but this happens slower than the muscles create it: this also requires the oxygen from breathing, thus making it neigh impossible during a race.
What to do, then? Cooldown.
As it was with the warm up, cooling the dog down doesn’g happen in minutes: it takes at least as long as the warm up to get the ‘body fluids’ moving and the real cooling down to start. The heart rate will stay higher than normal to burn the lactic acid away as effectively as possible, but the muscles will clear themselves out of this damaging substance. The main thing in cooling the dog down in this way is to slow the metabolic rate down by walking the dog gently. Also, it the weather is warm -as it usually is in the summer- the dog can be actually cooled down by applying water to the legs and belly: this will cool the dog’s temperature down while it evaporates. But never apply water into the dog’s pelt: the water will go down into the fur and get trapped in there, generating a layer of warm water, insulating the dog even more effectively from the cooling air!
As mentioned, the cooling down walkie should be at least as long as the warming up to make sure that the fluids keep washing the muscles after the trial and that the lactic acid is removed from the muscles as well as possible. The routine should be similar to warming up, though reverse: starting from a slightly brisker pace, slowing down to gentle gait.
And of course, the dog should be offered water to drink as soon as she accepts it, and something slight to eat if there is another trial coming later: this is to ensure that the dog’s energy reserves are at least partially replenished before another straining exercise. After the cooldown walkie and some refreshments, the dog can have it’s rest: usually this means that the dog takes a good nap, only to wake up to the next trial or at home, where the recovery is continued.
Proper cooling down makes the new start and the next competition more enjoyable to the dog, as it prevents excessive soreness of the muscles and cramping, which may be caused by improper warm up/cool down. The more the dog enjoys the trial and the routines involved in it, the more certainly and surely it will run the competitions, one after another.
This serves both the dog -who stays fit and likes to run- and the owner -who sees the results and enjoys the appreciation-, so it is mutually beneficial!