Warm Weather Training: Retrievers
September 23, 2010
This tip is from Greg Lister of Innisfree Kennels, 410 Aubuchon Road, Troy, MO 63379; (636) 338-4531; website www.innisfreeretrievers.com; e-mail email@example.com. Greg has been training professionally for 38 years, specializing in training retrievers for hunting, hunting tests, and field trials. He competes in retriever field trials. He breeds Labradors and golden retrievers.
"Dogs begin to suffer the effects of heat," Greg said, "when the temperature reaches 70 degrees, and they suffer from it far more than we humans do."
Why are they so much more susceptible to overheating than humans? Because, in a typical training session, the dog works so much harder than his owner does. Greg explained this with an example from everyday retriever training: Consider a triple land marking test, in which the birds fall at 350 yards, 225 yards, and 110 yards. To complete that test, even if he pins all three marks, which is unlikely, the dog must run 1,370 yards! He must run even farther if he has to hunt for any of them. All that time, the handler is standing still at the line.
"In heavy cover," he added, "the heat is even more intense. Plus, when carrying a bird, the dog cannot pant, which is how a dog cools down."
Greg said the early signs of overheating are heavy panting, followed by wobbling around. If left untreated, the dog will collapse and then soon die. Thus, when you see the early signs in your dog, you should realize that the situation is very serious and that you must take immediate action. You should cool your dog down right away.
Greg recommends applying ice or ice water to areas where blood flows heavily, like the insides of the legs and around the ears. You should also get your dog to lie down in the shade.
"One good shady spot," he said, "is the front seat of your vehicle, with the air conditioning running full blast, blowing cool air on him."
If your dog is in the later stages of overheating, Greg said you must get him to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
To prevent overheating in warm weather, he recommends that you avoid training areas with heavy cover, and that you include water work in your tests. In land tests, you should set things up so the dog has to run or swim through a stream or pond on his way to the marks and blinds.
In traveling to and from the training grounds, you should keep your dog in a well-ventilated place in your vehicle. When you arrive, you should stake him out in a shady area, with drinking water available for him. While other dogs are running, you should check on your staked-out animal rather often.
"When it's warm," Greg said, "I don't set up long marks and blinds. I also run a lot of singles off of multiple set-ups. If a dog has a long hunt on a mark, I stop working him immediately. I won't let him continue and risk becoming overheated. It just isn't worth it. It's better to stop, cool him down, and then get him back out later."
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Greg said that during warm weather, you have to check the dead birds you use and re-use in training. They can deteriorate rapidly. Birds too far gone can lead to training problems.
Some dogs blink them; others chew them. You're out there to solve problems, not to create them. Greg has his bird throwers carefully check every bird before throwing it.
"We shoot a lot of birds in training," he said, "so we always have plenty of dead ones to use for control birds. We keep them in the freezer every night."
Scenting conditions are often poor during the warmer months. Everything is growing and blooming and giving off strong scents. Green cover tends to mask the birds' scent. Then, too, dogs sometimes breathe through their mouths, at least off and on, which makes scenting almost impossible.
"Don't throw birds into heavy cover," Greg said. "Your dog might mark the bird well but still fail to find it because the cover blocks its scent. In a marking test, if your dog gets to the area, you want him to find the bird."
As a final thought, Greg added this: "During warm weather, train early in the morning and in the evenings. If that isn't possible, try to teach just one task per day. If you can do that all summer, you will have accomplished an amazing amount by next hunting season.
"Also, don't give many reruns in summer. Dogs can't learn when they're not focused. Keep your dog fresh."