Fitness Tips for Hunting Dogs
TDIFDF (Thank Dog its FitDog Friday)! We always have such great contributors to this weekly blog hop, each of which offer up some pretty amazing fitness tips to our FDF community. As we have gotten to know our fellow bloggers and readers, we have learned a little about sporting dogs and have come to realize that sporting dogs must not only be well trained mentally, but also very physically fit in order to do their jobs. We were curious to learn more about the physical training that these dogs undertake so we interviewed three hunting dog owners for their perspective on sporting dog fitness.
We interviewed two fellow bloggers:
– Linda at http://2browndawgs.com (2BD)
– Joanne at http://sandspringchesapeakes.wordpress.com/ (SSC)
and SlimDoggy customers (and fans):
– Anne and Terry (AT), who own Taj, a champion Weimaraner.
As you will see from our discussions, hunting dogs need to be in great shape. These three owners are aware of that and treat their dog like the athletes that they are – with rigorous and intelligent preparation laced with sport specific activity. This was great fun for me – so here we go:
Q: What types of physical exercises ensure that the dogs are prepared for the rigors of hunting?
2BD: Our dogs run and swim. We increase distance over time to build a fitness base. For example, Storm came off a layoff because she had puppies. We started her running/swimming shorter distances (and increased slowly). Our goal is to build muscle and stamina because it is no good if the dog is too pooped after a couple of retrieves to continue.
One thing we do in the summer is condition the dogs to the weather. This means that we continue to train on even the hot days (although we mostly stick to water training or very short land marks). Many people do not understand the value of weather conditioning the dogs. If you are grouse hunting in September, it can still be quite warm. Even when waterfowl opens here in October, you can have some very warm days. It helps to have the dogs properly prepared. However, I want to stress that we do this very carefully because we don’t want heat stroke either. We try to use common sense.
SSC: We always do a gradual build up in activity from the off season. We start by taking walks and progress to jogs as the dogs get in shape. We start training for summer hunt tests in the spring focusing on retrieving on land and water. (Note: a hunt test is an AKC licensed event for retrievers that has Junior, Senior and Master level competitions). We include land work on uneven ground with pivoting which prepares our dogs for the terrain and movement patterns associated with the hunt.
We also make sure our dogs get safely acclimated to working in the heat. Working in or near water is key, especially on the hot days.
AT: To prepare Taj, we combine intensive retrieving with some really long runs/walks. We use a ball launcher and work Taj in the park back and forth. Taj is a pretty good self regulator and it is obvious when she gets fatigued—we use her signals to guide us on when to stop. Other cardio work consists of 2-10 mile runs and walks, building up as her fitness improves.
For summer months, we transition to more water work so that she can remain fit but also cool.
Q: With all of that training, do you plan for rest days?
2BD: Yes we plan rest days, although if the dogs don’t go out to the field to train, my husband usually does something with them each day, like obedience or just getting them out to run. We try to rest them physically the day before a full training day and the day before a test starts. Most weeks we get them out to the field to train 4-5 times.
SSC: No, we don’t normally have rest days as we do something physical every day. If it is really hot, we stick to swimming, but that is still a good workout for them. That said, although our dogs exercise virtually every day, we have ‘hard’ days and ‘easy’ days mixed in so as not to overdo it. We do curtail activity in the winter. Our dogs tend to be less active and will put some weight on. To keep this in check, we modify their diet and feed them less calories to keep their weight under control.
AT: Taj is super active and we find that daily exercise works best for her—both in terms of her fitness and her mental state and mood. We do make sure to include light days after harder days so that her body can recover.
Q: How do you address over training? What happens when one of the dogs has an injury—how do you work around it?
2BD: We generally don’t have issues with over training. Our training is a bit unique because it is not all physical. There is quite a mental
component to it so there are times a dog will only do a bit of work and if you get what you want, that may be it for the day.
As for injuries, we rest the dog if necessary. We also try to work around it, depending on the injury. However, a leg or a pad injury can be very difficult as we learned the hard way. We continued to train and test Thunder last year after a ligament strain to his front wrist. We used pain meds (for after the test/training) and anti-inflammatories prescribed by an orthopedic vet. However, his injury did not improve so we had to cast it and rest him all through hunting season. He was not pleased. 🙂
SSC: We have had occasional injuries. If the injury is not minor, we plan on 2 months of nothing (to heal), and progress to water treadmill, add strengthening (cones) and bend under poles, sits/stands as tolerated. Within 4 months the dog is ready to go!
AT: We have been lucky with Taj. She has had no real injury to speak of. We do notice that other dogs that weren’t in shape seemed to get hurt more often—usually soft-tissue injuries. We don’t quite understand how some people think that a week of exercise is enough to get their dog ready for a hunt or competition. It’s no different than if we were to train for a marathon. We build our fitness overtime and then do the race!
Q: Do you have any anecdotes to share about how your dog’s physical condition helped them during a hunt?
2BD: One thing that comes to mind: a retriever may get something called cold tail or limp tail. It generally happens the first day that the water is cold and the dog has had to make a retrieve or do some swimming. It is quite painful for the dog (and in that case you would rest them for a day or more). It can take the dog right out of a planned hunt which is unfortunate. Since we changed to year round training including the summer conditioning, our dogs have not had cold tail. It used to be something that would pop up at least once a season in at least one of the dogs.
SSC: I have an example where the hunt training paid off in a another type of event. We had a 2 year old male who won a show competition.We heard feedback that a big reason why he won was because of his great movement due to his muscle development. He moved and looked like an athlete and he won!
AT: Yes! Taj was (and is) in such great shape. At her first gun trial ever, she was competing against field champions. The competition was to see how many birds each dog could locate in a set time. One of the birds flew a couple of football fields away before hitting the ground. Everyone thought that it was too far and there was no way she would get it. Not only did she sprint and retrieve the bird, but she beat the other dogs back. And yes, she won the event!
We want to thank Linda, JoAnne & Anne for sharing your great stories. We know not every dog is an athlete, but just as us amateurs appreciate the rigors of training for professional athletes, we can all appreciate the work these athletic dogs put in!
How about you readers – anyone else have stories to add?
Please enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts Peggy’s Pet Place and To Dog With Love. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!