Hunting Dogs: Working Out With Man’s Best Friend
Bob McNally 07.21.15
Summer heat puts a special burden on some gun dog owners who want their pups in shape for early hunting, like doves. It’s so hot that only in early mornings can working dogs be exercised unless they head to water.
Swimming is a great way to get many retrieving breeds in condition. Spaniels, Labs, goldens, and others love the water, and a 30-minute fetching session with a retrieving dummy on a local lake several times each week prior to opening day is time well spent. Even in the hottest part of the day, swimming is enjoyable and safe for gun dogs. However, be mindful of cottonmouths and alligators in some regions of the South.
Just like an athlete training for a big race or game, as a gun dog gets in shape, longer and more strenuous exercise sessions should take place. For example, if you walked a dog for several weeks, and it has responded well, try jogging with it. Start slow, and keep jog times short, at least initially. Some hunters who walk, then jog with gun dogs for several weeks, begin exercising dogs from a bicycle to increase an animal’s speed and endurance. If the dog works in water, increase the work out time, and require the animal to make longer, more difficult retrieves as opening day draws near.
Hunters also should learn to “read their animal” during pre-season training and exercise sessions. Young dogs, for example, are usually full of energy and speed, and almost never show signs of being tired until the owner calls it quits. Such youthful exuberance can be deadly, however.
Remember, start exercise sessions slowly because injuries can result. Show special care and understanding with older dogs, or ones that are obviously overweight or out of shape. Don’t expect such animals to perform like a pup.
Frequently older or out-of-shape animals will push themselves so far to please their owners that they injure themselves. It’s best to keep exercise sessions short and fun, and use retrieving dummys when possible and appropriate.
Some hunters use “dummy launchers” to vigorously exercise dogs that are already in pretty good shape. Such “launchers” are powered by a small .22 caliber blank and shoot or “launch” a retrieving dummy through the air 100 yards or more. It’s outstanding practice and exercise for a gun dog before seasons begin in earnest.
Never forget that gun dogs are athletes, and they are completely dependent on owner care to insure they’re ready to mark and retrieve a wing-tipped dove or work incessantly in the thickest cover to recover a duck or goose, snipe, or quail.
Gun dogs are among your best and most intelligent friends afield. Treat them as such and your days together will be long, happy, and fruitful.