Tuesday, August 19, 2008
A timely reminder.
This was sent along to me by Dan Thomason of Sure Thing Gordons, a guy who knows a little bit about the breed and gunning over them. It's a timely article from the Pointing Dog Journal, and something we should all be starting to consider with bird seasons just over the horizon.
Get in Shape
by Steve Smith
I hope this doesn't sound like I'm pounding on the table, but every year, I hear from subscribers who lost dogs, either for the season or permanently, because of the sort of thing I'm talking about here. It's a subject that needs to be discussed.
The season's coming, for some of us in the North, sooner rather than later. In a few short weeks, grouse and woodcock seasons will be open in a number of states, and in the West the prairie bird and chukar seasons are right around the corner. So, is it too late to get your dog in shape?
Long walks in the summer with your dog on a leash just don't do it. Bird dogs run, and to get into shape they have to be run. We need to slim them down, too, if they've spent the off-season lounging on the couch watching Sports Center and eating Oreo cookies.
Unfortunately, a lot -- maybe even most -- of us don't slim them down and tune them up like we should; we all do some of it, but most of us, and I mean us -- don't do enough. We spend as much time doing that as we do practicing our shooting or running laps at the high school track to get ourselves in shape. Our dogs are very often also the family pet, and we let their conditioning slide. When the season opens, we pay for it by having an out-of-shape dog whose lack of energy severely limits the time we spend in the field. So we do what we can do, and he gets into shape slowly, over the course of the early season, maybe longer if he’s past the canine life mid-point.
And in the long run, if we're willing to accept the limitations of an out-of-shape dog, that works; all this is supposed to be fun, after all, and the dogs eventually round into shape. The problems start when we take an out-of-shape dog into the early season fields or coverts and drive him to perform like he's spent his life working for a professional guide. Here's some things to keep in mind if you’re hunting your out-of-shape dog in the early season.
1. Early seasons or the first part of any season can be hot, in fact, they always are. Heatstroke kills dogs. We know the South Dakota horror story from a few years ago -- 100 or more dead dogs opening day in 90-degree-plus heat. Some of those dogs were in shape. Doesn't matter. In that kind of heat and that level of activity, an out-of-shape dog just goes down sooner, that’s all. If it's really hot, don't hunt at all. The last thing we want is to kill the family pet because we really needed another shot at a Hun or woodcock.
2. Water. Water. Water. Constantly, like every 10 minutes. Dogs cool through hydration-evaporation, so the hotter and drier it is, the faster that happens. When they dry out, they heat up, and when they heat up enough, they go down.
3. If he's running with his tongue out constantly, he isn't scenting anything to speak of. Pick him up.
4. Don't get too ambitious in your hunts; the first trip or two shouldn't be a four-mile jaunt across the prairies. Your dog is going to run anywhere from three to six times farther than you walk. We have to remember that he is seven years older than he was last year. I ran Sam my pointer the other day, just a quick morning outing because of the heat. I had her down for a little over a half-hour, and she ran, according to my Garmin Astro, a little over two miles, and that was in a woodcock cover. I walked maybe 400 yards.
5. You're going to have to do the thinking for him. He's got drive, that's what makes him good. But the drive will do him harm. You, not your dog, have to decide when he's done for the day. We should never let our eagerness to start the season get in the way of our common sense.
6. If you have multiple dogs available to you, run them individually for short periods if it's handy to do so. A dog will do better a half-hour on/half-hour off/half-hour on than he will for an hour straight.
Good luck, and have a safe season.