Advantages of Fitness Training Bird Dogs in Water
August 14, 2015
As a rule, retrievers love water and spaniels are no exception. Just try to walk an unleashed springer past a neighborhood pond without him splashing in; it isn't going to happen.
Handlers only need to take a spaniel pup near water a half-dozen times and he is good to go. If pup is accompanied by an adult springer it is all the more easy. Get pup making some short water retrieves with a small dummy and life will be good when the season opens.
Over the years, I have found my springers entered the water undirected as often as possible. Years ago, I had access to a nice little fishing cabin on a large Canadian lake. Mornings and evenings (darn those mosquitoes) were for fishing, while mid-day was for lollygagging and reading.
My springer could lollygag as well as anyone, but every once in a while he would stand up, stretch and then walk calmly to the edge of the dock and jump in the lake. He would swim in several smallish circles before casually exiting the water and returning to his lollygagging spot.
I get my young dogs into plenty of fields and brush, but I also have a huge fondness for woodlands and generally take pup along when I walk through the timber. I often end up in a woodland with a small- to medium-sized stream and pup always takes a dip.
If it is hot, pup generally just flops down on his belly in the water to cool off. Looking at my various dogs in such scenarios over the years I can honestly say they all had a very satisfied look about them. Sometimes they actually appeared to be smiling — well, sort of.
Getting pup into the water several times a week is a great advantage during fitness training. Retrieving dummies from ponds and lakes is not only fun, but also one of the best endurance builders available.
Advantages of fitness training pup in water include the following: It provides a great cardiovascular (heart, circulatory system and lungs) work-out. Additionally, swimming works the muscles well but is not as hard on them as running or jogging.
Finally, swimming keeps pup cool, especially important in summer and other warm spells. Everything said about swimming for pup also pertains to humans.
As with any fitness program, ease pup into swimming if he is not in top shape. Take pup for a short walk and then to the edge of a pond. Hup (sit) pup and toss a short retrieve into the water, pausing briefly after the dummy hits before sending pup.
It is important for pup to maintain steadiness during training. He should shoot out and back rather quickly and return the dummy to you. Have pup do this from a seated (hup) position. Love pup up with a few head pats and atta-boys.
Let pup walk around briefly then hup him and send him for another short retrieve. Repeat this once more then love pup up and walk him around briefly.
If you have a second or third gun dog this is a perfect time to make the other dog(s) honor (sit) during the first dog's retrieves. After the first dog makes several retrieves, switch dogs and have the second dog retrieve while the first dog honors.
If you have a buddy with a spaniel or retriever this is a great drill and exercise program to share with them. All the dogs can work on being steady. Switching dogs also allows an appropriate rest between exercise drills.
It is impossible to oversell the advantages of having a friend or two with gun dogs you can train with. Joining a training group is better yet.
Now it is time to increase the number of retrieves and the distance of retrieves to increase pup's fitness level for the hunting season, which will be here sooner than you expect it.
Fifty yards is a good top distance for spaniels to retrieve for fitness or hunting. If you have longer retrieves than that when hunting you should probably be hunting over a Lab or Chessie.
I have read of hunters that used a rowboat to get dogs in shape via swimming. Personally, I think retrieves from land are adequate for spaniels. For retrieving breeds in big, cold water perhaps longer retrieves provided by a rowboat are in order to gain top fitness for larger chores.
(Caution: NEVER have a gun dog follow a boat with a running engine for fitness training. The possibility of injuries are too great.)
To vary things for pup try throwing two dummies for double retrieves; just keep them well spread to keep pup from switching from one retrieve to the other during his first retrieve.
These summer training and fitness sessions are a great time to set up and practice blind retrieves on water as seen in hunt tests and occasionally in the field. Again, helpers are a great idea.
A nice benefit about water work is pup can train far longer and more efficiently than he can running in the heat. Do not get me wrong, though, pup still needs to log many miles of running before hunting season. The advantage of swimming is the cooling pup experiences when it is overly hot, and he can get much of his running just prior to bird season. Running will finish his conditioning, including his musculature and his feet.
Another fun activity for both you and pup is hunt tests. They are non-competitive and fun. Dogs are measured against a series of skills such as quartering, following commands, tracking and flushing game birds and retrieving them when called to. There are several test levels to meet every dog's skill level.
The American Kennel Club sponsors Spaniel Hunt Tests that are run by clubs across the country. You can proceed as slowly or quickly as you want; pup will not be in over his head and you can both learn, have fun and meet many like-minded people. Hunt tests allow you and pup to work together year-round and greatly increases your fun time together.
Check the AKC website and learn who sponsors hunt tests near you. Give them a call and get involved. Have fun and fitness year 'round!