Keeping a hunting dog in shape during the off season will give it the best chance to perform at peak levels once the hunting season opens in the fall. The continued workouts will maintain tough paw pads, loose joints, proper weight, and preserve endurance and stamina.
To achieve this, training must continue throughout the year, which means months of hot-weather training. SportDOG® ProStaff members and professional trainers Lynne Frady, of Super Dog Obedience & Gun Dog Training, and Billy Mosley, of Avery Creek Retrievers, offer their best tips for dog owners to keep hunting dogs safe and cool during hot summer workouts.
Train Early and Late
One of the simplest ways to beat the heat is to train early mornings or late evenings when the sun and temperatures are at their lowest points.
“Don’t train in the middle of the day. Another way is to try and do as much water work as possible. It’s a little easier on them swimming than doing long land retrieves,” said Mosley.
Utilize Water Drills
Frady agrees with using water work but does caution dog owners who think water will always cool their dogs.
“You have to be as careful in water as you do on land when it’s hot,” said Frady. “If you’re working a dog in a pond, they can easily overheat just like they would on land. Unless it’s a deep and vast body of water, the water won’t be that much cooler than the air.”
Mosley echoed this sentiment and says the key is to get them in and out of the water frequently.
“You don’t want to do 300-yard swims across a stagnant pond,” said Mosley. “Throw retrieves 80 to 90 yards, up on the other bank, so they get about a 50- to 60-yard swim and are getting out of the water and swim back. You shouldn’t do marathon sessions of just swimming.”
Increase Water Intake
High summer temperatures will create the need for more frequent watering. This is easy to achieve during water work, but owners will need to provide much more water for dogs training in the field.
“Dogs can get really dehydrated,” said Frady. “Take plenty of water with you. I’ll even take some Gatorade with me to get their electrolytes back up.
Keep It Short and Shaded
Both SportDOG pros suggest training in shorter sessions and to keep the dogs in the shade as much as possible.
“Try to keep them in the shade when you are working them,” said Frady. “Keep them in the shade and let them cool back down and go back and do something else. You don’t have to go out and run them for 30 minutes. Do a 5-minute section and let them rest or, as I call it, ‘let their tongue roll back up.’”
Most people think of hunting dog training as outside work – marking, scent work, retrieving, and long runs. But, much of what is learned in the fields begins with basic obedience. These elementary lessons can be learned or sharpened while indoors.
“Any kind of work you can do indoors, such as obedience and whistle work, try to do as much of that indoors as possible,” said Frady. “I do a whole lot of my training in my living room. You can teach just about all the concepts of retrieving training indoors.”
Monitoring a dog for signs of overheating is critical to maintaining a dog’s heath and safety.
“If they get long in the tongue, you need to slow down or stop,” said Frady. “Make sure they have plenty of water and bring lots of water along if you aren’t doing water work.”
“When they start to lose color in the gums, that’s pretty dangerous,” said Mosley. “That is a sign of heat stroke. They will get wobbly-legged and disorientated. Everybody that trains dogs should keep a thermometer handy to check the dog’s temperature too.”
If your dog does overheat, both Frady and Mosley say to douse the dog’s entire underside with rubbing alcohol, as it evaporates quickly and helps dissipate the heat.
“Lay them on their side and pour it on their chest and belly so it will come in contact with their skin,” said Frady. “It will pull their body temperature down quickly. I’ve seen many dogs’ lives saved with this. A couple of bottles of rubbing alcohol aren’t hard to carry.”
After cooling down the dog, both Frady and Mosley suggest visiting the vet to be sure the dog is healthy and safe.