Let's face it; a lot of us are kind of down these days. Once bird season ends, the demands of family life slowly regain control and we sink into a post-season funk that's easy to spot — our shoulders slump and our eyes glaze at the thought of Monday mornings, earning a living and the honey-do list we've been putting off while we were afield with our dogs.
It's no different with me. Although I don't have what you might call a "real" job, I do suffer similar symptoms as the season comes to an end. So my suggestion is that we ease into this withdrawal period and talk about a few short subjects or mini-projects instead of something major.
With that in mind, our first concerns should be our dog's health and well-being.
In the fall we were excited and looking forward to hunting season and paying lots of attention to our training, exercise, and health care programs. Most gun dogs get a lot of attention prior to the season, including a pre-season veterinarian exam, an update on vaccinations, and stool and blood analysis to ensure our dogs are in good health, free of parasites and ready to go to work.
But what about now, after the season is over? Yes, it's time for another visit.
While hunting, dogs have plenty of opportunities for re-infestation from parasites and exposure to various diseases. They are often worked in extremes of both hot and cold weather, they pound cover day after day with little rest and they are sometimes kenneled in strange places and hauled hundreds of miles. They're exposed to any number of other dogs and wild animals, all while in a stressed, perhaps somewhat run-down condition, possibly also with minor open cuts or scratches.
Obviously the potential for health problems is very real, so call your veterinarian and make an appointment. This makes a good Saturday morning project that won't take long and it's very worthwhile.
Another consideration during this time of year is adequate housing, meaning a place for your dog to sleep that is draft-free, clean and dry.
Free-standing dog houses should face away from the prevailing wind and have covered doors, or even better, a two-door entry system so no draft gets into the sleeping area.
If your current dog house is worse for wear, it's really easy and inexpensive to build a dog house yourself. Just don't get caught up in big elaborate contraptions. Keep it simple and practical, and remember the sleeping area needs only to be big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around. Again, use a double entry to avoid drafts and go with a slanted roof that is removable for easy cleaning. Other considerations are insulation and waterproofing.
Another great project might be building a training table. Most of you are familiar with the concept but if you haven't taken the time to build one for yourself, now's the time!
As you know most trainers use some sort of platform to elevate dogs during the early teaching of commands. I begin almost all obedience work on the table, whoa training and forced retrieve in particular.
The training table helps a lot, especially in the early stages of training when we're first trying to communicate the meanings of command sounds and associated response.
When a dog is on the ground, he is self-confident and feels in control, but by elevating him on a training table we take him out of his element. He quickly becomes less confident, somewhat apprehensive and in turn more attentive to us.
Not only is the dog far more attentive on the table; having him elevated is clearly more comfortable for the trainer as well — you don't have to do any bending to get to the dog. Believe me, the table helps a bunch during the teaching phase as you nurture a working/learning mode with you as the leader.
You'll find the table very useful once you have it around awhile. Aside from beginning obedience, it's also great for grooming and doctoring, and it's cheap and easy to build.
The best table design — and easiest to make — that I've found is the one designed by Bodo Winterhelt and recommended by NAVHDA. You can also see the table and demonstrations of how it is used in teaching "whoa" and other commands in our Pointing Dogs/Intermediate Training DVD.
To build the table, all you have to do is cut a sheet of 5/8-inch plywood in half, lengthwise. Then cut one of those resulting sections in half crosswise.
The first section becomes your table's top, measuring two feet wide and eight feet long. The other two 2x4-foot sections serve as ramps, one attached at each end of the tabletop.
For legs, most people use sawhorses so the table can be folded and put away when not in use. The height of the table is your preference, but most folks find around two feet high is about right.
I often add two eight-foot lengths of 2x2 down each underside of the table top to make it a little more rigid. I don't like the table to flex or bounce too much with the dog's weight.
You can make your table as elaborate as you want, but this simple design works just fine. I'm sure as you begin to use and appreciate the training table you'll be glad you've taken the time to build one.