Getting your retriever back this early season...
For many, waterfowl 2018-2019 has already begun. For us here in the south, early seasons are upon us, and the full swing is fast approaching. My dogs are ready. They’re in the best physical condition of their lives, they’ve been training four to five days a week, and I have no hesitation about putting them in the field. That’s because I make a living working with them, though, and not everyone out there has that luxury.
I remember the days of of wondering if my dog was ready. The first cool mornings rolled in, crops were being cut, and my dog had spent the last few months sleeping on a couch eating Cheetos. The process of getting one back in shape seemed daunting. Working a labrador who is out of shape, however, can be detrimental. Torn ACL’s, pulled muscles and tendons, wear and tear on joints, and overheating are just some of the common issues we see when overweight and out-of-shape dogs are pushed hard in the field. Here are a few things that we recommend to help get your dog back in shape and ready to work:
• Let your dog decide how far/fast to run the first two weeks. Don’t do as much retrieving work, just go for some extended (30 minute) walks and let the dog run on his own pace. Do some recall, sit, and heel, then release him again to go run/play.
• Start with deep water retreives. Swimming is easier on joints, better for cardio, and will help keep your dog cool, provided the water is cooling off and not too warm. Do some extended water retrieves to sharpen up marking and handling while your dog gets back into physical condition.
• Watch for all of the warning signs of heat-stroke. If your dog’s tongue is extended, drooling, and hanging out of the side of his mouth, its time to stop. If he is laying down in the shade, avoiding exercise, etc., then its time stop. Let him rest in a shaded area with plenty of air-flow. Wet his pads and stomach to help with the cool-down process.
• Re-introduce all of the stimulating things your dog will experience on the opener. Train with decoys, calls, shotgun poppers, layout blinds, etc. Anything your dog may see in the field, try to train with that object in the weeks leading up. You want your dog to be both physically and mentally prepared!
• Remember, just like you may be rusty with a shotgun, your dog may be rusty his first few times out. Set the proper expectations, don't ask him to do too much, and slowly work back into the groove. Dogs who have taken the summer off will never start off the new season as sharp as they ended the previous one! Think of early seasons, such as dove and teal, as a “pre-season” in sports. It's not a time to expect the best performance, its a time to evaluate performance, figure out what areas need the most work, and make a training plan moving toward the rest of the year!