Thursday, February 21, 2008

Puppy power fuels aerobics

By David Horst

We’ve discovered a new form of aerobic exercise that may leave even the spinners and the kick-boxers winded.
All it requires are a snow-covered trail, a pair of snowshoes and a 1-year-old yellow Lab.
We had one of the latter come into our lives a couple of months ago. Houdini is a shelter dog – a stray no one claimed. And he is a runner.
There is nothing in the world Houdini loves more than flat out running. Calling his name, commanding him to come, waving cocktail wieners in the air – none of it distracts him from running.
Should he manage to slip his collar – and he has – his first instinct is to head for the horizon. Unlike every other dog we’ve owned, we can’t walk him off-leash on the trails up on our little sand hill. He requires a harness and a leash, every time.
That’s become problematic in this winter so bent on toppling the snowfall record. When the snow got deep enough, we needed snowshoes to break trail. That meant walking on snowshoes while tethered to a ball of puppy energy.

Houdini takes Dave for a snowshoe.
While snowshoeing is a fairly simple skill, it is akin to trying to walk with dinner platters dangling from your feet. A bit more balance and effort are required.
Tie yourself to a wild dog and you need to pick ’em up and put ’em down with some urgency. Get your weight out too far over the shoes and you’re making snow angels, face first.
Houdini’s constant pull forces you to lengthen your gate. Some passerby observing the footprint evidence in the snow would conclude a 7-footer had just ambled through.
Should we startle a flock of turkeys or a few deer – and we have – it gets really interesting.
Encounter a low-hanging branch and your ducking reflex had better be sharp. If a well-placed twig snags your hat, you need to be quick at the one-handed snatch off the back, because there will be no going back for it.
We are fortunate that Houdini has somehow missed out on that bit of dog DNA that causes them to walk around the opposite side of a tree from you when walking on a leash. That would add immeasurably to the frustration.
We live on a limestone ridge. That means the trails have some downhills. This is where it has been important to impress upon Houdini the meaning of the phrase, “Easy,
I’ll admit he’s a definite asset on the uphills.
Houdini doesn’t understand some of the finer points of showshoeing, like the need to stop to adjust the bindings.
A half-mile or so of this workout is enough to get the cardio pumping big-time. Even in this below-zero weather, I find myself needing to change out of my sweat-soaked t-shirt when we return home.
I know, you’re thinking the problem is at the high end of the leash. Who’s walking whom here?
He’ll come around. We’ll seek the help of a professional trainer to make sure he does.
As for the snowshoe workout, I’m not sure it will ever make it to paid programming on cable TV. There are only so many 1-year-old Labs, and so many people willing to trade a warm gym for a snowy trail.
Until the snowpile recedes, he’ll be enough workout for me.

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