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Advantages of Fitness Training Bird Dogs in Water

Advantages of Fitness Training Bird Dogs in Water

water_training_fAs 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.

am_cocker_3Advantages 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!


In the beginning, Airedales were hunting dogs. The working class people in the West Riding of Yorkshire, who developed the breed, needed a dog that could scent game, had the size to be able to tackle larger animals and could be taught to retrieve. The answer to this need turned out to be the Airedale.

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Braque Francais

In the days before France became known as the cradle of artists and the center of the fashion world, it was a superb upland hunting destination. The hills of the French countryside were planted with a variety of agricultural crops and the forests and mountains were teeming with wildlife. Grouse, pheasants and partridge were common in the farmlands and wild birds were a staple food for many rural families.

At the same time, pointing dogs were becoming more popular in Europe and a select group of French breeders set out to develop a breed that had the athleticism necessary to hunt hard all day and the instinct to point and retrieve birds. Using Spanish pointers and various European hounds as their root stock, these breeders began to develop dogs that embodied all of the qualities they desired.

The result of their efforts was the Braque Francais. The Braque became known for its keen determination and overwhelming desire to please its master. Careful breeding resulted in a dog that could be relied upon to obey commands in the field and hunt hard all day long, a dog that had intense prey drive and could also serve as a family companion, playing with the children, yet acting as a watchdog in the dark of night.

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Curly-Coated Retriever

With textured curls and a sleek frame, the curly-coated retriever often triggers double-takes from onlookers. At a distance, the curly-coated retriever is often mistakenly identified as a Labrador because the curly shares the Lab's conformation and passion for finding, flushing and fetching gamebirds. But surprisingly, the curly was not descended from the Lab. Rather, the curly is thought to have been bred from the English water spaniel, the St. John's Newfoundland, the retrieving setter and the poodle, according to the American Kennel Club.

Up close, the curly is much different from a Labrador: Its coat is made up of short, stiff hairs tightly wound into ringlets covering the main body, the top of the head and the ears.

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Flat-Coated Retriever

Once upon a time, when English gamekeepers reigned supreme on the estates of the nobility, they needed a dog that could find and retrieve birds that might have been missed after a driven shoot. But their mortal enemies, poachers, also needed a dog to find and retrieve birds€¦only in their case, in the middle of the night. In both instances, for the law-abiding and lawbreaker alike, the flat-coated retriever was often the dog of choice.

For whichever task they were assigned, the dog needed to have an outstanding nose, be exceedingly biddable, and when they were working for the poachers, be fast and agile enough to escape the bull mastiffs the gamekeepers employed to patrol the estate during the hours of darkness. These traits, still present in the breed today, are a not-so-well-kept secret for this relatively rare retriever breed, which has achieved the highest levels of success in all of the AKC's dog sports except for retriever field trials. Flat-coats were in 90th place in 2011 on the American Kennel Club's 'popularity list ' of the 173 breeds recognized by the AKC.

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French Brittany

'Some French Brittanys can be drama queens when training pressure is applied, ' notes Jim Keller from Keller Gun Dog Kennels near Lincoln, Neb. 'By 'drama queen' I mean this breed sometimes tends to overreact with a lot of emotional outbursts when specific behavior is required of them.

'For example, when being taught to force fetch, some French Brittanys will squeal and squirm in an effort to get the trainer to leave them alone. And some trainers will back way off and let the dog have its way, ' Keller says.

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Portugese Pointer

Ralph Fedele told me his first choice was a whippet, not a Portuguese pointer. He'd been a bird hunter in a previous life, before children. He now wanted a small dog with short hair — less mess in the house — that was good with kids. Then his wife got into the act.

'My wife said, 'Look at this dog I just happened to come across on the internet,' ' Fedele recalls. 'I looked at the pictures and said, 'That's the dog. Let's call this guy and get that dog.' My wife, just completely coincidentally, is Portuguese, although she had no prior experience with the dogs. '

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Standard Poodle

From the Middle Ages, Europeans have always considered the standard poodle a hunting dog. According to Canadian breed historian Emily Cain, Europeans categorized it as a spaniel. However, the French breed name, caniche, comes from chien canard, or 'duck dog, ' so they have also classified it a retriever.

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Irish Red and White Setter

If you ask the owner of an Irish Red and White Setter what makes these dogs special, almost uniformly the answer is, 'They are natural pointers. ' Many say their dogs have earned a junior hunter title with absolutely no training at all and never having had any exposure to birds prior to the time they started running in the tests.

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German Shorthaired Pointer

German shorthaired pointers have been particularly popular in the U.S. with gamebird hunters looking for a do-it-all versatile gun dog. There are approximately 10,000 German shorthairs annually registered with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. Likewise, shorthairs are the dominant breed in NAVHDA and have produced top scores in Natural Ability, Utility, and Versatile Champion testing for the past several decades.

German shorthaired pointers are also one of the main dog breeds in many kinds of field trials and a variety of hunting contests. And all across North America, shorthairs are the common pointing breed for the average gamebird hunter just about anywhere there are gamebirds to be hunted.

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Irish Water Spaniel

'Beannaithe ' (Blessed) is how the old Gaelic hunters in Ireland viewed the Shannon spaniel that later became known as the Irish water spaniel. Developed to retrieve waterfowl and upland game, the breed proved to be so versatile it could do just about anything except dance Irish jigs and reels. But there are those who contend that given proper instruction and the appropriate music, an IWS could probably master these intricate step dances, also.

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Llewellin Setter

There's no sight more classic than a pair of gun dogs working a gamebird with one dog pointing and the other backing.

The canines in this case were two Llewellin setters on a South Dakota pheasant hunt last fall. The two dogs stood frozen with heads and tails high in a picture-perfect pose. As one of the hunters walked in to flush the pointed bird, two hens and one rooster rocketed out of the prairie grass. One well-placed shot brought down the long-tailed ringneck and one dog ran out, picked up and brought it in.

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English Springer Spaniel

Leave the open country birds and serious waterfowling for the dogs that are bred for that kind of stuff, the pointing and retrieving breeds. Spaniels really shine for small-water ducking and thick-cover upland birds — bobwhite quail, woodcock, ruffed grouse€¦and, oh yes, pheasants.

If ever a dog was created to hunt pheasants, it is the springer spaniel. I simply can't understand why the breed isn't more popular, given the vast number of rooster hunters in the U.S., but there you go. The really good ones — and I had one like that — can be almost wizard-like in the way they approach the game.

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American Water Spaniel

Developed by 19th-century market hunters in the Upper Midwest, the American water spaniel has always been a dual-purpose dog, equally talented for waterfowl and upland gamebird hunting. From the beginning and continuing to this day, AWS owners have been determined to maintain the breed's dual résumé. Ironically, that determination has prevented them from displaying the AWS' versatility in the field events of the American Kennel Club (AKC).

These events come in three distinct formats: one for pointing breeds, one for retrievers and one for spaniels. Thus, for a breed to participate, it must not only be AKC-recognized as a Sporting Group breed, but must also be grouped in one and only one of AKC's three classifications: pointing breed, retriever or spaniel. AKC doesn't allow dual classifications.

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The Weimaraner, from the beginning of its breed history more than 100 years ago, has been known as the 'Gray Ghost ' — a good nickname for a gun dog with a silvery coat and somewhat spooky-looking yellow-amber eyes. Originally developed in Germany at the court of Weimar (hence its name), the Weimaraner was successfully bred to be a versatile hunter of upland gamebirds, waterfowl, predators, and big game.

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