Conditioning of the Hunting Dog • By: Liz Martin
Background on Field Trials and Hunting Scenarios. • Depending on the length of the hunt and the cover, on average an upland game dog can and will run ten to twenty-five miles at a time. • There are field trials that put the dogs on the ground for 15-30 minutes but I am going to focus on the endurance trials or the typical Grouse, Pheasant, Prairie Chicken or Quail hunt.
A conditioned dog has the possibility to run about twice as far as a unconditioned dog. • In field trials many times the difference between the winning dogs and the other dogs is the amount and type of conditioning they have had. • Think of each hunt as a marathon for the dog. To compare it to humans, we wouldn’t go out and run 26 miles without training for months before.
Preparation for hunting season begins much before the actual season. • The first step to having a healthy dog and a well conditioned dog is to give the dog proper nutrition and evaluate the diet of the dog. • Highly active dogs should be given a diet high in protein and fat, made from high quality products. • At least 20% fat and 32% protein is recommended. A food with less protein or fat will not allow the dog to reach his full potential.
On the days that the dogs work, they will be fed approximately one and one half times the amount of food they would eat on a non working day. • Every dog will be checked over daily to evaluate their individual condition and check for any injuries on their pads and limbs.
Condition of the Hunting Dog • The ideal condition of the upland game dog is to be able to feel all vertebrae and ribs, and be able to see the last two to three ribs.
Roading • One form of conditioning is Roading. • Roading means that the dog is pulling against resistance. • Dogs can be roaded off of a RTV, a 4-wheeler, a bike or a human. • There are many possible ways to condition dogs or cross train, including swimming. Swimming is usually a good conditioning program for Retrievers that love the water. • In my examples I will use an RTV with dogs in harnesses hooked to a T-bar in the front of the machine.
Conditioning Program • Most conditioning programs last 4-24 weeks depending on the dog and the owner’s schedule. • The longer the program the better shape the dog will be in and the longer he will be able to run without getting tired. • Roading prepares the dogs for the rigors of the hunting woods. • Roading happens two mornings per week and is split into three distinct parts, warm up, roading and cool down.
Warm-up • Roading begins with warm-up at about 5:30 a.m. • The dogs are let out into a play yard to stretch, do their business and run around for about 10-15 minutes to warm them up. • The purpose of warm up is to warm the core body temperature one to two degrees before exercise begins.
Roading • After warm-up the dogs are driven to the roading path for roading to begin. • The dogs are then put in their harnesses and connected to the T-bar at the front of the RTV. Between the T-bar and the harness is a bungee cord to give the dog some spring when they pull. • The speed should be just before a trot. The slower speed helps develop the muscles that the dog will use when he is hunting in the woods.
On average an hour of roading will be equivalent to a 3 hour hunt. • The driver of the RTV must be very observant of every dog in front of him. He must watch for signs of fatigue and signs that the dogs need a break or need water. • Signs can include but are not limited to, slowing down, tail position change, ear position change and the dog stops pulling.
Fatigue • Signs can include but are not limited to, slowing down, tail position change, ear position change and the dog stops pulling. • Once the dog shows signs of fatigue it is time to pick him up. A dog that is pushed too far will not have enthusiasm to road again the next time and a dog that is pushed too far can become injured more easily. • Once all the dogs have been picked up they are transported back to the kennel for cool down.
Progress • When we are conditioning it is not about the time or distance, the object is for the dog to progressively get into better condition each time he roads. • For example, at the beginning of the roading season a dog may be pulling one mile and by the end that dog is pulling for four miles.
Roading Surface • The path that is used for roading should have a rough terrain in order to toughen the dogs pads and will have hills. • The uphill work makes the dog use and condition the longissimus muscles (the back muscles running along the middle of the back).
Cool Down • Cool down is the most forgotten part of roading. • Cool down is as easy as walking the dog for a few minutes and letting him stretch again. • The purpose of cool down is to let the muscles that were just worked get back down to a normal temperature and let the body get back to normal core temperature (C Down 2002). • Also during this time we check to make sure the dog’s breathing has returned to normal. During this time we take a closer look at him and his gait to make sure that he is not showing any signs of lameness or injury.
Review • The most important part of conditioning the hunting dog is to increase his fitness a little each time he is taken out. • Progress is more important than time or distance. • Conditioning will get the dog into better shape before hunting season. • Roading (and any conditioning) consists of 3 phases, warm up, roading and cool down. • Along side conditioning is the importance of good nutrition.
Sources • 1) Davenport, Gary M., PhD, Russell L. Kelley, MS, Eric K. Altom, PhD, and Allan J. Lepine, PhD. "Effect of Diet on Hunting Performance of English Pointers." Veterinary Therapeutics 2.1 (2001): 10-23. Web. 7 Oct. 2012. • 2) Down, C. "Nutrition and Care of the Sporting Dog." Nutrition for the Performance Dog (2002): 1-78. Iams Company. Web. 7 Oct. 2012. • 3) Spencer, James. "Proper Conditioning for Hunting-Pointing Breeds." Gun Dog. Intermedia Outdoors Network, 23 Sept. 2010. Web. 9 Oct. 2012. • 4)Steiss, Janet E., DMV, PhD, PT. "Muscle Disorders and Rehabilitation in Canine Athletes." VETERINARY CLINICS OF NORTHAMERICA: SMALL ANIMAL PRACTICE 32.1 (2002): 267-85. Web. 7 Oct. 2012.