It’s time to train, but use caution with hunting dogs

The author has his dog focus on concepts such as pattern blinds when it’s too hot for long distance work.

Whoever coined the phrase “dog days of summer” had to be from the south. It seems this summer has been one of the hottest and driest on record. Keeping a hunting dog in peak physical condition, as well as sharp mentally, can be a challenge in the “off season” and especially in the hotter months. With hunting season around the corner, both can still be easily accomplished if we’re smart about it.

Ideally, training should be a year-round activity no matter the type of dog or type of hunting. You’d be in the majority if you say you tend to slack off after hunting season on the training and conditioning. So, if your pup has gained a little weight and lost a little focus since you put the guns away, how do you get it back?

The easiest way to manage weight is by adjusting food intake to adjust for decreased physical activity. Simply put, the dog doesn’t need the higher number of calories when not working or training regularly. Cutting food back is much easier than switching to a different diet, so if you have your dogs on a food that works for them, keep it. I trained with my 3-year-old Lab heavily through mid-June of this year and for the most part, stopped after she earned her HRC Champion title. Part of it was due to the heat and the other was we simply needed a break. With teal season coming up, we started up again in early August, albeit at a reduced level of intensity. Our workouts start early in the morning or late in the evening with shorter distances for retrieves, but mainly focusing on drill work such as handling, steadiness and marking. I noticed that she was a little rusty after the break on some concepts she knew, which allowed me to focus on them. If you notice the same as I did, work at it repeatedly to get your dog tuned up.

Trouble quickly

As far as physical conditioning is concerned, it’s a must to keep in mind that dogs will get in trouble very quickly in hot temperatures. Dogs don’t have the ability to sweat so they shed heat through panting. Excessive panting is easily recognized along with other serious indicators that the dog is in trouble. Those would be vomiting, diarrhea, discolored gums, thick saliva, listlessness and collapse. Avoid letting your dog reach this point. If the dog is panting excessively with its tongue hanging way out and making what I really can only describe as an almost whistling noise, it’s in serious trouble. Move the dog to shade immediately and get some air movement on it. Contrary to what might be thought, do not soak the dog with very cold water. Doing so constricts the blood vessels and slows down not only heat loss but blood supply to vital organs that will begin to shut down. Use cool water. Also, don’t wrap the dog in wet towels or blankets since that will “insulate” the dog and trap the heat. In extreme cases, get the dog to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. No one knows your dog, or dogs, better than you, so keep a watchful eye on the temperatures and activity level to keep them safe.

Though most would think overheating is related to land training, water in Mississippi can get warm enough to feel like a bathtub. Heat transfer in water occurs at a much higher rate than air, so a dog swimming in warm water can get in trouble just as easily.

Other risks

This time of year, there is a blue-green algae risk. With above average temperatures and below average rainfall this summer, water conditions for blue/green algae are higher than normal. What is it? Blue-green algae is the common name for Cyanobacteria. Its lethal and the bad thing is the damage is done before the symptoms might show. In addition to the ones mentioned about overheating, other symptoms for cyanobacteria poisoning are seizures, drooling, respiratory and liver failure. Dogs swallow a good bit of water with a dummy or bird in its mouth, allowing the bacteria a way in.

Luckily, Cyanobacteria is easily recognized. It looks like green paint or slime on the surface and  collects heavily on the downwind side of the water body. My rule of thumb is to avoid any water with an excessive amount, especially if the water is stagnant (you probably wouldn’t want to train in it anyway) and the water level is much lower than usual. If in doubt, stay out.

Cooler weather is coming. Until then, you can still get your pup ready for this season. Focus on the mental game, use common sense in the heat and watch the water. Start slow, work up and get ready for the payoff in a couple months.

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