"Most regular training sessions," Craig said, "don't stretch a dog's endurance enough to keep him in shape for the rigors of hunting. A bird dog is like a rechargeable battery, in that he can develop a memory of frequent short 'rechargings.' He needs to expend himself entirely quite often to clear that memory."
Craig pointed out that a young dog on a maintenance diet with regular exercise, especially with another young dog to keep him active, will stay in good condition year around. By that Craig means the dog should be well muscled-up, without excess weight. However, an older dog, especially in a kennel, needs frequent and regular exercise periods.
Craig feels that one common mistake is keeping a dog on a performance diet during the off-season. This will put excess weight on the animal unless he is worked very hard year around.
Craig gives his dogs plenty of exercise on a 30-foot length of 3/8" aircraft cable stretched taut about three feet above the ground between two trees (or posts). On this cable, he has a three-foot free-running chain drop-lead with a snap on the end for attaching to the dog's collar.
He snaps a dog onto the drop-lead and lets him exercise himself running back and forth. He uses that cable not only as an exercise device but also for "here," "whoa" and retrieve training. Craig also roads his dogs.
"In roading," he said, "The most common mistake is thinking the dog has to run. Not so. He needs to pull. When roading a dog, I have him pulling about one-third of his weight, which really develops his muscles."
For weight, Craig uses an appropriate length of very heavy chain hooked onto a bungee cord. He puts a harness upside down on the dog, so the ring is on the dog' chest. To that ring he attaches the bungee cord so that it runs back between the dog's hind legs, with the chain to the rear. He roads the dog from his four-wheeler, on a short lead attached to a pipe extending out from the front of the vehicle.
"If you don't have a four-wheeler," he said, "you can road your bird dog on foot, which will get you as well as your dog in good shape for hunting. But however you road him, you don't want him to run, but just to pull that weight."
Craig estimates that it takes 30 to 45 days of this pulling to get an out-of-shape dog into hunting condition. In each session it will take a little longer to "run down his battery."
"However," he cautioned, "don't road your dog when it's hot, that is, 85 or more degrees. A heat-stroked dog isn't a pretty sight, and it's often fatal. In hot weather, your dog can get in real bad shape before you realize what's happening."
Craig listed the following signs of overheating: When your dog's eyes begin to water and have a lost look, he's in bad shape; when he starts to stagger around, he's in critical shape.
"To save an overheated dog," he said, "stop the heat. If near a pond or lake, carry him out into it until only his nose is above water. If no pond is near, water from a hose might help."
As a final thought, Craig added this: "Any full-service training kennel offers pre-season conditioning for dogs, along with a little brush-up on bird work."
This tip is from Craig Burns of Muddy Creek Kennels, 620 SW 90th Road, Jasper, MO 64755; (800) 777-8254; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Craig has been training professionally for fourteen years, specializing in training pointing breeds for hunting. He does not participate in field trials or hunting tests. He breeds German shorthaired pointers, and also sells trained GSPs.