It's been a long, hot summer, and most people have been spending time at the pool, the golf course, or their local fishing hole. It’s ironic that during the dog days of summer, it’s easy to forget about the real dog days ahead. Fall upland seasons have a way of sneaking up on us, so what do you do when you look at the calendar, it’s 10 days until the season opener, and you haven’t had time to work with your dog during the off season? Don’t despair—all is not lost. Whether you’ve got a young dog going into its first season or a veteran gun dog that just needs to shake out the cobwebs, there is actually a lot you can accomplish in a few weeks, or even a few days.
“I see it all the time,” says Jerry Havel of Pineridge Grouse Camp in northern Minnesota. “People are busy with family vacations and graduations in July and August, and just don’t get a chance to work with their dogs. They call and want a tune-up a couple weeks before the season. You can certainly accomplish things with a dog in two weeks, but you have to have realistic expectations. You can’t get upset with your dog in the early season. The dog will get better as the season progresses. He will get in better shape, and you will figure out each other’s rhythms.”
Havel also emphasizes being cognizant of the demands you are putting on your dog.
“The early season is one of the hardest times of the year for a dog in terms of conditions: warm weather, thicker vegetation, and tougher scenting conditions.”
Most states have warm upland openers, with temperatures still remaining in the 70s or 80s. Compounding this, most types of cover trap heat and humidity, so what feel like 70 degrees to you can seem like 90 for your dog. An overweight dog is exponentially more susceptible to heat stress than a conditioned dog, and Havel suggests having plenty of water available for the dog, and not just for drinking.
“One thing about early-season training is the heat. Where I run the dogs, I’ve got a stock tank that they can jump in and cool down quickly. Something like a kiddie pool accomplishes the same thing. It helps the dogs immensely in the heat.”
Finally, Havel proposes that dog owners take preventive measures to prepare their dogs’ feet for the upcoming season. If a dog hasn’t been consistently training and conditioning, its pads won’t likely be tough enough to run on rough terrain. To expedite the process, Havel recommends consulting your vet about using foot care products to toughen and protect a dog’s paws.
Mark Fulmer of Sarahsetter Kennels in Aiken, South Carolina also suggests focusing on conditioning if you only have a few days to prepare your dog before the season.
“I would imagine most dogs that haven’t been training are pleasantly plump,” Fulmer said, laughing. “Starting an exercise program for them is probably the best thing you can do. If you have a fenced area where you can free-run the dogs, I think free-running is the best way to get a dog in shape. If you only have a limited amount of time before season opens, I would focus on physical conditioning and be prepared to make training corrections during the season.”
However, Fulmer warns against trying to do too much too soon.
“You don’t want to go from minimal exercise to a demanding conditioning program,” he advises. “Slowly working your dog back into shape is the best way to prevent injuries. It’s better to start slowly. Even if the season has started, I would rather pull my dog out of the field early than risk an injury that could end the season for him.”
If a dog is already in good shape, but hasn’t been training for the field, Fulmer recommends going back to the basics rather than picking up where the dog left off last season.
“If you have an older dog that has hunted a few seasons, the main thing to do is work on obedience. Walk, heel, and whoa are so important,” he said. “Working on those simple commands gets the dog paying attention to you and what you are asking of him. Obedience training gets the dog in tune with you. It’s simple, but obedience is the thing you are going to need the most when you get in the field.”
Both Fulmer and Havel advise having realistic expectations for your dog and slowly easing them into the season rather than trying to do everything all at once. No dog is perfect right out of the gate. Even if you missed summer training, there is still time to knock some rust off your hunting partner—but keep in mind that dog training is a cumulative process that takes time and repetition.View Mark Fulmer's Profile & Articles