Dog people have their own language, but we often take the meaning of the words for granted. Most of these words were originally the vernacular of stockmen. Everyone understood what “conditioning” meant, since farmers conditioned horses, dogs, and barnyard animals for pragmatic reasons.
Today, however, most dog-sport competitors come with little or no experience in animal husbandry. The concept of conditioning as applied to the actual flesh-and-blood animal can be difficult to grasp.
Our standard refers to condition in several sections. Under “Body,” it says that the body is “firm, hard and muscular.” It says the back is “strong” and that the loin is “powerful.” It also says, “Noticeably fat dogs, dogs in poor flesh, or with skin disease, or with no undercoat are out of condition.” There is no equivocation in these words.
Weight is an easily assessed condition. Is the dog too fat or too thin? Age, activity level, and season of the year can affect weight. Run your hands down the sides of the dog, both sides at the same time, front to back, and feel the shape of the body: Can you feel ribs? How much or little? Is there a waistline? Ask knowledgeable people what they consider correct. You will get some variance in answers. Agility people tend to like their dogs lean, conformation folks a little “meatier.” The goal is to figure out what the best weight is for your individual dog.
Some dogs are not technically fat but feel “soft.” This is a lack of muscle tone. While bone is important, muscles and tendons play a major role in structure, movement, and the overall physical impression. So if the first task is to understand what a dog with proper weight and muscle tone feels like, the next is to get the dog in shape.
In the suburbs and homes with small yards this can be difficult. Some people advocate “roadwork,” but I’ve not found a lot of owners—at least in the Collie world—commit to this. The good news is it doesn’t take a huge yard to get a Collie in condition, but they do require incentive. For example, our yard has a slightly inclined hill that they dash up at least 20 times a day chasing after deer or squirrel. They also run and play with each other, and I find the natural twisting, turning, chasing, and playing keeps them in condition. If there is no opportunity to run naturally, or your dog doesn’t have anyone to play with, then you’ll need to recreate the same type of exercise. It might take some imagination to duplicate the results. Fetching, playing, and interactive games help, and you can seek out venues where the dog has opportunities to run full out.
Small kennels or yards are simply not conducive to getting in shape, neither is indoor living. Our dogs should be in condition before we train for performance; otherwise, we invite injuries.
Fresh air, sunlight, exercise, grooming, and good diet all contribute to proper conditioning and coat. If your dog is inside all day and snuggled with you on the couch at night, it will take some effort and rethinking to provide the necessary ingredients.
A Collie in excellent condition looks better, feels better, and does better in the ring!
—M.S. (June 2013), Collie Club of America