Tips on Warming Up, Cooling Down and preventing Over Heating

Written by: Dennis Voigt - April 01, 2012



by Dennis R. Voigt


The Warm and the Cool

        A year ago in the spring issue (Retrievers ONLINE Spring 2011), we published an important article by Dr. Jennell Appel outlining the value of proper warm-up before training or running tests. She described not only the rationale but the techniques that you can use.

        So the question is, “How are you doing with your warm-ups?” Well, I’ll wager that I know the answer to that for most of you. You either never started it, you started casually and abandoned it or you think you are doing it by walking your dog around a few more minutes before you train.

        The reality is that properly warming up a dog is not only very difficult for all of us to fit into our training priorities but it seems overly burdensome in the current culture of how we train dogs. When we are in a group, nobody wants to have their buddies sit and wait in the field while you go and warm up your dog for 15 minutes. If you have 2-3 dogs the problem is even worse. For the Professionals with 15-20 dogs proper warm-up, either at a trial or during the week, is a huge and time-costly task; that is simply not practical.

        After a seminar in Boston, Georgia in 2011 by Jennell, many of us pursued more warming up of our dogs. After the ONLINE article, we were further inspired. I do know a handful of people that have tried to be more conscientious about preparing their dogs. But frankly, most don’t.

        I have tried a variety of techniques. When I trained alone last summer, I would set up remote launchers, park the truck elsewhere and then walk or ATV to the site with the dog. After the setup, I would take the dog with me to reload the launchers for the next dog. I think this was all helpful but I still noticed that sometimes my dogs would be stiff or have sore muscles.

        Dr. Appel has now checked out many, many competitive field retrievers as part of her rehab work. She has told me that virtually every one of them has sore muscles, especially in the front end. This is not readily apparent and may not manifest itself by lameness or limping, although a practiced eye can often discern some gait irregularities.

        This past winter I spent a lot of time addressing a shoulder injury in one of my dogs under the tutelage of Dr. Appel. Ultrasound imaging, laser therapy, stretching, icing, heating, controlled exercises and manipulation were all part of the winter learning experiences. In the process, I became much attuned to the physical well-being of all of my dogs. My injured dog was routinely lame after certain types of activity due to a chronic tendonopathy. More importantly, much of his lameness was due to sore muscles. Learning to observe how a dog responds to soreness was important. Often, a simple little lick was all that was observed when a sore muscle was manipulated.

        Despite all of my study a few things did not really hit home with me. That changed when Dr. Jennell Appel once again reviewed the reasons for the warm-up and also the cool down, plus techniques in a video interview. That interview was done by Bill Hillmann and posted on his website blog. I strongly encourage you to go there and watch it. At least, watch the first 3 minutes and 45 seconds where the rational is explained. Go to or


Take particular notice of the following:

      Proper warm-up requires steady repetitive use of all the muscles of the body for 10-15 minutes. Walk you dog at heel on a lead briskly. Letting your dog go for a run DOES NOT cut it!

      Walking should be followed by some sprints and stops.

      Sprints should be followed by some body stretching.

      The cool-down is essential to prevent sore muscles. You need to decrease blood pooling and lactic acid build-up. This means movement until the heart rate returns to normal before you can tie out!


        For me the biggest changes have been the steady at-heel walking and the cool-down walking at heel. These two things have made huge differences in my dogs’ soreness and lameness. I think most people think about cool down as making the dog less hot. In reality, cool down is about reducing heart rate (blood pumping) and not pooling blood in muscles. The overheating situation discussed below is the exception. All the heeling has had a beneficial improvement in obedience and team-work. Enough so that it would be worth it despite the physical advantages. In other words, the mental advantages are also great.

        At the end of this article I will describe my procedure in a little more detail so have a look.


The Hot

        As we enter the summer months, everybody should be more tuned into the dangers of overheating. It is unavoidable that our dogs get hot while working. It is critical that you understand overheating in dogs, what to watch for and how to deal with heat-stressed dogs. Dr. Nate Baxter from Ohio wrote an article many years ago that we published previously. That article has been picked up in many places and many of you may have seen it. However, it is worth reviewing at least once a year and, thus, we republish it here.



Avoiding Heat Related Injuries in Dogs

by Nate Baxter DVM


        The first thing that needs to be understood is that dogs and people are different enough that most of the information cannot cross lines. I do not profess to know what the appropriate procedures for people are other than what I learned in first aid.

        Dogs do not lose enough electrolytes through exercise to make a difference, but if the dog gets truly into heat stroke the physiological changes will make them necessary. BUT oral replacement at that point is futile, they need intravenous fluids and electrolytes and lots of it.


Cooling: Evaporative cooling is the most efficient means of cooling. However, in a muggy environment, the moisture will not evaporate so cooling does not happen well. I cool with the coldest water I can find and will use ice depending on the situation. The best way is to run water over the dog, so there is always fresh water in contact with the skin. When you immerse a dog in a tub, the water trapped in the hair coat will get warm next to the dog, and act as an insulator against the cool water and cooling stops. If you can run water over the dog and place it in front of a fan that is the best. Misting the dog with water will only help if you are in a dry environment or in front of a fan. Just getting the dog wet is not the point, you want the water to be cool itself, or to evaporate.

        For MOST situations, all you need to do is get the dog in a cooler environment, i.e. shade, or in the cab of the truck with the air conditioning on (drive around so the truck does not overheat and the AC is more efficient). Up to a couple of years ago, I was very concerned about my dogs getting too hot in the back of my black pickup with a black cap. A New white truck fixed a lot of that problem. When I had one dog I just pulled the wire crate out of the car and put it in some shade and hopefully a breeze. But having 2 dogs and running from one stake to another, that was not feasible. So I built a platform to put the wire crates on; this raises the dog up in the truck box where the air flow is better. Then I placed a 3-speed box fan in front, blowing on the dogs with a foot of space to allow better airflow. I purchased a power inverter that connects to the battery and allows the 3-speed fan to run from the truck power. It has an automatic feature that prevents it from draining the battery. When I turned that fan on medium I would find that the dogs were asleep, breathing slowly and appeared very relaxed and comfortable in a matter of 20 minutes or less, even on very hot muggy days.


Alcohol: I do carry it for emergencies. It is very effective at cooling due to the rapid evaporation. It should be used when other methods are not working. You should be on your way to the veterinarian before you get to this point. We recommend using rubbing alcohol, which is propylene alcohol, not ethyl, for those of you not aware. So do not try to drink it. Alcohol should be used on the pads and lower feet area where there is little more than skin and blood vessels over the bones. Use a little bit and let it evaporate, you can use too much as some is absorbed through the skin. There are concerns about toxicity, but you have to get the temperature down.

        I purchased those cooling pads that you soak in cold water, but found that the dogs would not lay on them. I would hold them on the back of a dog that just worked to get a quick cool, but have not use them for years. I also bought a pair of battery operated fans but found them pretty useless. Spend your money on the power inverter and get a real fan.

Watching temperature: If you feel your dog is in danger of heat injury, check its temperature and write it down. Keep checking the temperature every 3 minutes. I recommend you get a “rectal glass thermometer.” The digital ones from the drug store I have found to be very unreliable. Don’t forget to shake it down completely each time; sounds silly, but when you are worried about your companion, things tend to get mixed up. This is VERY IMPORTANT**: once the temperature STARTS to drop, STOP ALL COOLING EFFORTS. The cooling process will continue even though you have stopped. If the temperature starts at 106.5, and then next time it drops to 105.5, stop cooling the dog, dry it off, and continue monitoring. You will be amazed how it continues to go down. If you do not stop until the temperature is 102, the temperature will drop way too low. I cannot emphasis this point enough.

        When the dog is so heated that it is panting severely, only let it have a few laps of water. Water in the stomach does not cool the dog; you just need to keep the mouth wet so the panting is more effective. Do not worry about hydration until the temperature has started down. A dog panting heavily taking in large amounts of water is a risk of bloat. Due to the heavy panting they will swallow air; mixed with a large amount of water they can bloat. Once the temperature is going down and panting has slowed to more normal panting then allow water. The dog will rehydrate itself after temperature is normal. If the dog has a serious problem and even though you have gotten the temperature normal, get the dog to a vet, as it can still need IV fluids and some medication. Also, a case of heat stroke can induce a case of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (not parvo), with a ton of very bloody diarrhea and a lot of fluid and electrolyte loss. These cases need aggressive treatment.

        The best method of treatment is prevention. Learn to watch your dog, and see the changes in the size of the tongue, and how quickly it goes down. Learn your dog’s response to the different environments, and be careful when you head south for an early season hunt test or trial. I have been to Nashville at the end of May, only 5 hours away, but the difference in temperature and humidity did affect the dogs as they were used to more spring weather in Ohio. Try different things in training to help the dog cool and learn what works better. Another very important point => Do not swim your hot dog to cool it then put in put in a box/ tight crate. Remember, evaporation cannot take place in a tight space, and the box will turn into a sauna and you will cook your dog. Carry a stake out chain, and let the dog cool and dry before putting it up. I demonstrated this lesson this spring with my 10-month old pup. After doing a 15-minute session in yard drill on a warm 70+ degree day, she was panting pretty hard and was pretty hot. She was okay but it was time to stop. Just for the heck of it, I took her temperature. She was 103.6, above normal but not too bad for a dog that had just finished working. In my back yard I have a 300 gallon Rubbermaid tub filled with water. I took her to it and she jumped in and out 3-4 times. She appeared totally improved, tongue was much smaller, and eyes brighter and her full spring was back into her step. So I retook her temperature and it was 104.2, so even though she looked better she was hotter. This is a perfect lesson to show not to get a hot dog wet and then put them in a box. The water on her skin caused the blood vessels to constrict, decreasing blood flow to the skin. Therefore, the hot blood was shunted back to the dog’s core and retained the heat. You may have felt the same thing, after exercising but still being very warm, take a shower and get cooled off but as soon as you turn the shower off you start sweating again.

        I know this is a bit long, but hopefully this is easy to understand and helps to provide some useful information.


Remember: Prevention, learn your dog. It is worth the time and effort.



My Warm-Up and Cool-Down Procedure with side benefits


        Here is the procedure that I have been doing this spring when training alone. When training with others I do the initial walking warm-up before I meet with others.


Walking at heel:

        I do this with a lead rope and the dog is wearing an e-collar. I walk steadily for about 10 minutes. I establish a reasonably high heeling standard – dog shoulder at my knee and I insist on the dog maintaining a loose rope. “Heel” command reminders and low level nicks (level #2-3) are used as required. I have also used the RTV and taught the dog to heel safely beside it. Be careful!!!! The ATV/ RTV allows a very steady pace and an excellent observation platform.

        In both cases, I watch for the dog to be moving steadily and evenly. It may take 100 yards to see this. In about 3-4 minutes you should see the dog’s breathing rate (and thus heart rate increase. You will see a very light panting in 5 minutes.



        Towards the end of the walking I will get the dog to do 3-4 sprints by commanding “sit” and walking on about 40 yards. Then, I call the dog to me excitedly. On at least two of these I stop the dog about half-way perhaps 1-2X. I do this with a whistle-sit, as well as an arm raised pointing at the dog. This helps to teach the dog to keep his eye on me and watch for commands. This is a Hillmann technique that the dogs can be readily taught. See the “Traffic Cop” DVD. I insist on prompt stops. Praise when deserved.


Body Stretching

        This is done in a holding blind at the line before the test but only after the dogs are warmed up. First, I get the dog to sit alone in the blind and I walk around a bit. He must stay steady. Next, facing the holding blind with my dog at my side, I get him to do “other sides.” These must be tight inner circles from left to right or right to left. The dog must come all the way around to a tight heel position. If my dog is on the left side, I give the visual cue with my right hand (hand furthest away from dog!) to lead him around while saying “other side.” The dog should not step forward and back into the other side. He should do a tight inner turn close to me. The dog should bend his spine strongly while doing this. Note this is my equivalent to the figure 8 that Jennell describes in the Video interview.

        Since I do not want the dog doing excessive movement while I give “heel” or “here” commands on the line, this “other side” routine needs to be clearly distinguished. I do some “heels” or “here’s” using the hand closest to the dog. Overall, compare and contrast this with the dog. I do about 6-8 of these “other side’s” until the dog is really precise. Sometimes I have a 2nd holding blind and repeat this a bit there.

        When I am training with others, I will do a short walk on lead and then a bit off-lead before heading to the blind if I had previously warmed up. There I will do at least 3-4 of these “other side’s” if I haven’t done much before. I am looking for obedience and a “pay attention” attitude.



        This is perhaps as critical as anything and something that is new to me. I walk on heel again on lead until I think the dog is breathing almost normally. This may take quite a while but I aim for at least 5 minutes or perhaps several hundred yards. I also like the extra obedience after the run. Before tie out on a chain or putting in truck or kennel, I will do a little large muscle massaging and stretching of the shoulders – perhaps 3 times forward and back stretch on each side (see spring issue of Retrievers ONLINE 2011). If I see or feel any soreness or limping I do more of the cool-down.

        Although we all know that every professional athlete, and indeed all competition horses, have a serious warm-up and cool-down routine, it seems hard for retriever trainers to do this. If you honestly ask yourself SHOULD this be done, you will answer, YES! This warm-up and cool-down procedure is costly. If I am doing 3 dogs, it adds an hour! I can set up and run a quad in an hour so, in order to justify this, I have to be convinced it is worthwhile. So far, the obedience side benefits and the reduced muscle soreness are making it worthwhile. Perhaps this is more important than more training! You will have to decide for yourself.  Dennis   

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Written by: Dennis Voigt| April 01, 2012
Categories:  Health and Care

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