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OUTDOORS: Tips for traiining bird dogs in hot weather

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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2006:10:10 14:00:42

TYLER FRANTZ / CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER It is important to condition hunting dogs prior to the opening of small game and waterfowl seasons, doing so responsibly and with safety in mind, which makes water training a perfect option for hot-weather days.

ROBESONIA — August is here.

With that realization, wing shooters must promptly recognize the rapid approach of fall bird-hunting seasons. Dove and goose seasons are merely a month away, with duck, pheasant and grouse hunting soon to follow.

That means it is time to get four-legged hunting partners whipped back into shape again after a restful, climate-controlled offseason. Essential conditioning must be done, basic command work should be revisited, as well as tracking and retrieval practice, but dog owners should take a common-sense approach to these important preseason trainings by staying forever mindful of high temperatures to ensure the overall health, safety and well-being of their beloved companions.

“Don’t use warm weather as an excuse to not be out there working with your dogs — just be smart about it,” said Karen Shannon, a professional dog trainer at Pheasant Valley Farms in Robesonia, where hundreds of hunting dogs and their handlers have benefitted from her instruction over the past eight years. “Now is the time to really be thinking about preseason conditioning, but we need to be careful about when and how we run our dogs.

“Obviously, early mornings and late evenings are the coolest times of the day, so take advantage of those lower temperatures and get the dogs outside — even if you have to leash walk after dark. Shorter sessions are better than longer ones, and always have plenty of water on hand.

“We encourage our dogs to drink from squirt bottles so we can carry water along with us at all times, as opposed to keeping water and a bowl back at the vehicle. It is important to hydrate the dogs regularly throughout the session — not just at the end.”

Shannon says occasionally wetting a dog’s nose with water can even enhance its ability to scent-trail, since scent molecules bond better to a moist nose than a dry one. She also recommended opening windows in a vehicle instead of running the air conditioning when traveling to the field so the dog has a chance to acclimate to the outside temperature.

“The most important thing to know is how to recognize when your dog is in trouble, because many hunting breeds won’t stop until they overheat; and by then it is too late,” Shannon said. “When dogs overheat, even once, it lowers their threshold and they will overheat sooner from then on, so it should be avoided at all costs.”

Dark colored or overweight dogs run a greater risk of heat exhaustion, but any dog can overheat if not monitored carefully. Signs of heat exhaustion include wobbly legs, unstable erratic breathing and red gums.

If these signs are seen, stop the field work immediately, hydrate and move the dog to a cool, shaded location to reduce its core temperature as quickly as possible.

“Swimming the dogs is one of the safest and easiest ways to get them into hunting shape during the summertime,” Shannon said. “It’s a great way to exercise and work on retrieval commands while keeping them cool.

“Swim training is also really good for teaching hand signals, since dogs change direction better in the water than on land. I use multiple bumpers and a whistle to teach the dogs hand signals. With young dogs, I blow the whistle, they look at me, and I direct them by moving my whole body in the direction of the bumper I want them to retrieve.”

Basic obedience and command work can be accomplished in a backyard during cooler mornings and evenings. Reacquainting a dog with simple commands, such as “sit,” “stay,” “heel,” “come,” “fetch-it” and “leave-it,” will pay off with lots of repetition through short sessions held several times a week.

An electronic collar can go a long way in helping to reinforce these commands.

Bird wings or frozen birds can be used for tracking and sight retrieving, but Shannon cautions owners of pointing breeds to refrain from using these for blind-hunting practice.

“I’ve seen pointing dogs actually stop pointing because their owners used a dead bird or wing for training,” Shannon said. “What happened was the dogs would find the dead bird and simply pick it up instead of holding point as they would on a live bird, which ultimately transferred to bad habits in the field.”

By using a common sense approach to summer preseason training, dog owners can safely help get their canine pals ready for bird hunting. A little time spent now will be exciting for the dogs, and it will lead to a more productive hunting experience come fall.

To schedule a training session or book a hunt at Pheasant Valley Farms, September through April, visit or call ( 610) 693-9836.

(Frantz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association)

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