Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dogs on the Treadmill

The primary reason the we at SP Kennel mush sled dogs is that it is fun, exciting and we all LOVE to do it. Of course, our kennel is a professional outfit and we have obligations, races and commitments, to fulfill. But, the bottom line will always be .... we love it & the dogs love it.

It is hard to describe the "zone" that a sled dog enters when they are running - in a sense, they are utterly encompassed by the desire to pull. Nothing else matters. Sometimes, this is hard to see, especially when you are standing on the side line, watching a team zoom by at break neck speeds.

However, in this following video, you can watch Hummer (a 3 year old from the car litter) run on a treadmill. You will see that he is fully engrossed in his "job". This was only his third time ever on the apparatus. He was a little nervous at first, wondering why "the Boss" was standing right at his side and a noisy fan was blowing in his face.

But, when asked "Ready?" Hummer tightened his tug line and started to pull forward as the belt went under his feet. The speed immediately jumped to 7 1/2 miles per hour (a slow, but comfortable pace). You will see that he looks around just a little at his circumstance. But, in less than a minute, his eyes glazed over, his natural instinct kicked in, and he lopes on the treadmill with out a care in the world. Amazing!

The Treadmill is owned by Oklahoma State University. It is housed in Denali, about a 3 hour drive south from SP Kennel. Dr. Michael Davis, a professor and director at the Comparative Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the University, has done amazing research in Equine Sports Medicine. He now has several labs in Alaska that are geared towards examining the "finest athlete in the world", the Alaskan sled dog.

We are involved with several physiology studies this year. Most of the research will be done either before or after the busiest time of the racing season. However, we fully expect to truck the dogs down to the Treadmill to "practice" several times this winter. It is amazing to watch how cooperative and enthusiastic the SP Kennel dogs are as research subjects.


Mel Bowman said...

That's really neat! What specifically are the studies looking at? I know your dogs participated in a study on stomach ulcers a while ago.

Aliy said...

This research project is "Muscle adaptations permitting fatigue-resistant exercise".... in other words, how can sled dogs do what they do?
How can they physiologically run a 100 miles a day, day after day, and show no severe signs of physical debilitation. This year, they are looking at how their muscles are working at a cellular level. After the treadmill exercise some of the dogs have a minor muscle biopsy. This is the same biopsy that people receive when doctors examine their livers or kidneys. The following year of the study we will have the dogs running with a mask on so that they can measure their Oxygen consumption.

LindaVistaLLC said...

What mechanism regulates the speed to the dog's pace? How long did he stay at 7.5? Did he increase speed as he got more comfortable or maintain the 7.5 steadily?


Dustyllr said...

Awesome! I really enjoyed getting to talk with Mike about his research at the sign up picnic. Thank you SP Kennel for helping with the research.

Sometime I would be interested in hearing about how his research has impacted your kennel practices or training routines!

Aliy said...

We first have to get the dogs comfortable with the "concept" of running on a treadmill. So we invite them up there, usually two at a time, since they are accustomed to being in pairs. We sit there, talk, pet them and then we will harness them and put them in a familiar "team setup" - running side by side. We always use the same commands as we do when training.
We start the rookie dogs slow, perhaps 3 or 4 mph, BUT they nearly always pull too hard, so we increase the speed to 6 or 7 to lessen that. The dogs try to keep their tug line tight - it's their "job", so when we increase speed and ask them "Okay? Up there!", they assume they are on a team and simply speed up.
This primary test has Hummer running at 7.5 mph for 25 minutes. In comparison, our training runs at SP Kennel are between 7 - 8 mph for 11 miles.
Most dogs were natural. Those that were not, never got comfortable with the apparatus itself. It was obvious when HAPPY put the brakes on from moment one, that she would not be a future Treadmill star. Ah, well.... we all have our issues.

Libby the Lab said...

Hope to hear more about Dr. Mike's research as the year goes on. Looking forward to talking sled dogs with him next week at our DockDog Nationals