I’m A Trainer….. Really?

by Betty Zubritsky

Training a race kennel is … um… damn. There has to be a word for this.

“Adventure” is close. But it’s more than that. Sure, it’s exploring each dog and knowing every quirk known to canine-kind. It’s papers and rules and sprints and schools and weights and measurements and an awful lot of bleach. It’s meat and meal and water and sleep. Their sleep, not mine. Mine comes when theirs is secure.

Being awfully new to it, training a race kennel is a leap into the “vaguely familiar”. I know all the daily care and most of the extraneous stuff from my assistant- trainer-ness for the last 10 years. Worming and bitch shots and flea control. Having worked with the very best of the very best (that’s you Craig Sheldon) I can honestly say that I can run a kennel and keep it clean and healthy.

Training is more than that. Do not make the mistake of thinking that we “teach” the dogs to run. We don’t. They already know how to do that, and they do it mighty fine. Our job is more like a personal fitness trainer at the gym. The guy that learns you and your needs and puts you to a regimen that will benefit you. He selects your machines and dictates your use of them.  He holds you to a diet of particular foods. He knows when you can advance to tougher tasks, and when you cannot. He .. Knows .. You … Intimately.

It is so with this job. The gym guy may have 50 clients. I have 50 dogs.He and I may work a little differently, but the job is essentially the same. We cater to the athlete, and help him to be his very best.

Where we have to be different, of course, is in the fact that his athletes can tell him things with words. Ours can’t. And maybe he’d be happier if his clients were wordless. (I know I would be.) We rely on our fingers, our eyes, and our wisdom sometimes to know when something is wrong. We know our dogs so well, so intimately, that we can tell when something is a little “off”. Alice isn’t walking quite right, and JackJack is swinging his hip. We KNOW how every dog moves, how they walk and how they carry themselves. And we take them off to rest a weary muscle, or rub it out if the strain is minor.

Mostly, our dogs run well and stay fit because they are a hearty breed and they are doing what they were bred to do. As fragile as they look, these guys are tough as nails. Makes my job easy, I guess.

The most fun (for me) is feeding. Yes indeed, I do love to feed my dogs. But here’s where being a “trainer” jumps up and makes you think again. Besides just keeping them “on weight”, which can be a challenge all by itself sometimes, and I sure would love to just open up a buffet table for them….. we are confined to “set weights”. It protects the dogs from internal injury and it protects the betting public from whatever it does. The whole betting thing is pretty foreign to me.

I’m careful with my weights all week long. On a race morning, I weigh my dogs and jot down my results. Most of us do that. And we snack our racers assuming what they will weigh when they go across the scale. This is where you know your dogs, or not.

She may be a fretter and lose 2 pounds of self in slobber alone. He may be right on the money and never take a crap… and somehow be overweight when he gets there. And there’s the one that wants a big breakfast on his race morning, so you keep him just barely under his set so you can. You KNOW this stuff, and you snack accordingly. You know every dog so well that you don’t even have to keep notes about it.

You just know.

I’ve learned a lot. There’s a lot out there. And there’s a bazillion people who will tell me stuff. I work with MY hands.