Workshop offers tips for exercising with dogs

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2008

From pet owners that take occasional walks and jogs in summer, to mushers with dozens of dogs that pull for hundreds of miles in winter, spending time recreating with a pet in an all-season activity for dog lovers.

Photo By Joseph Robertia
Photo By Joseph Robertia
An exuberant dog prepares for exercise last winter during a Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association race in Soldotna. This season PSDRA is attempting to reach out to everyone on the Kenai Peninsula who is involved in any canine recreation or sport, not just mushers, and will be offering a "Check Points for the Canine Athlete" class this Saturday in Kasilof.

Regardless of what level of activity a pet owner gives their canine companion, all owners could benefit more from learning about ways to prevent injuries before, during and after an exercise session, which is the reason a local dog group is offering a "Check Points for the Canine Athlete" class Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m.

"We're hoping to reach out to everyone on the Kenai Peninsula who is involved in any canine sport -- from people that run with dogs, to the agility folks, to skijorers and mushers," said Jill Garnet, president of the Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association (PSDRA).

Garnet only recently became the president of PSDRA, and she said one of her first goals is to transform the club from what it has historically been so that more pet owners can benefit from it.

"I would like PSDRA to be a resource for the whole community, not just a racing club for mushers," she said, and added this weekend's class will be a first step in that direction.

The class will be taught by Laurie Cramer, a human physical therapist by trade who also operates "Gone The Dogs," a canine conditioning and rehabilitation facility in Kasilof. Cramer is also a recreational musher herself.

"Laurie, and her facility, is a year-round resource in the community, but specific to this weekend, she'll be teaching things people can do at home to exercise more safely with their dogs," Garnet said.

This class will focus the back and shoulder areas of a dog, which in regard to exercise, Cramer said plays an important part to a dog's overall performance and health.

"The back is the core of the dog. If you think of a dog's body like a bridge, strong legs are good, but the legs are like pylons. The back has to be strong and flexible, too," she said.

Cramer said she will review methods for people to more effectively warm pets up before exercise, manage them during the cool down period, and she will provide tips for better recovery after exercise is complete. Much of this shared knowledge will relate to massage techniques.

"I completed a 650-hour massage course this past year and want to share my knowledge with the community. We'll go over methods for massaging, such as for sore muscles, to push out lactic acid that builds up as a by-product of exercise," she said.

Garnet said Cramer will be donating her time and the use of her facility (located off of North Cohoe Loop Road) for the class, so it is free to PSDRA members. However, the class is also being offered to the community as a fund-raiser -- to help offset the cost of gas for grooming equipment used to maintain the PSDRA trail system behind the Soldotna Airport which is open to the community in winter -- so their will be a $10 fee for non-PSDRA members.

Garnet added that this class is just the first of many planned for the future. Next month, Garnet -- who maintains a kennel of 15 dogs used for sprint racing -- will lead an "Urban Mushing Clinic" to discuss the different activities pet owners can participate in besides mushing.

"I'll be touching on running with dogs, canicross (running while hitched to a dog in harness), bikejoring and skijoring. I'll review how to get started, the proper equipment, hydration and nutrition," she said.

Garnet said tentatively scheduled for November is Jon Little, a Kasilof musher who has competed in numerous sled dog races over the years, including the Iditarod and Yukon Quest.

"Jon will be speaking about dog care," she said, adding that during races mushers often have inspect their dogs for injuries quickly and efficiently while enduring some harsh conditions, so Little will be sharing his checkpoint routines for others to glean information from in order to apply what they need to their own specific dog sport or activity.

"Then in December, PSDRA member Stephanie Burns will lead a 'Line Making 101' class to teach people how to make neck lines, tug lines and other equipment, with and without cable," Garnet said.

"Then after that we'll start holding races," Garnet added.

For more information about PSDRA, to sign-up for this weekend's class, or to become a member, visit the club's Web site at or call Garnet at 907-262-1073.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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