Despite the oddest pattern of weather I have ever seen here in the Midwest, we are definitely in the prime dog training season. All of our bird hunting seasons have come and gone, and we now have to spend spring (what spring we actually had at least) and summer training our gun dogs. For some of us, this is when we take a new pup that is now ready to begin introductory training and yard or field work. For others, we can now take our dogs out and work on improving in areas that we noticed needed work during the hunting season. Whatever your goals, whatever your situation, I have compiled a list of all kinds of “pointers” (no pun intended) to consider when you train your dogs this summer. These tips are assorted and random, but I think you will appreciate them to be as prepared as possible, and get the most out of your training!
Necessary Items that you will be glad to have on the truck:
- Rubber boots: Contrary to what you might think, knee-high rubber boots are not just for water work. Yes, they certainly are nice to have when doing any type of work in or near water or swampy areas, but these boots are also great for training in the tall grasses and other cover. They help keep ticks and bugs off of you, as well as moisture in the early morning from the dew! Make sure to keep a pair of rubber knee-high boots in the truck this season, you will use them!
- AC Charger Unit for electronics: It is inevitable that your e-collars, as well as electronics for your launcher equipment will get low on battery. For any devices that require a charger, look into chargers for the automobile. It has been a life saver for me to be able to charge my collars and transmitters in my truck so that I can still use them. For any devices that require batteries, it might be a great idea to keep spare batteries in your gear bag.
- Waterproof Cell Phone Case: I’ll admit it, I always have my cell phone with me in the field now. You never know when you’ll get that chance to video or photograph something special in the field during a training session! That being said, I have learned the hard way to not bring your phone unprotected. There are several cases out there now that are waterproof, dust proof, etc. I recommend having one, especially if you train a lot and are in the field. This purchase is worthwhile for hunting season as well!
- Water Cooler with spout: It is summer time (almost at least), having cold water to hydrate our dogs in the field is critical. For under $20, there are water coolers with a spout on them that you can fill with water and ice to make sure that your dog has cold water easily available right on the truck. Bring a dish, too!
Other concerns that need to be considered for training in the summer time:
- Time of day
If you can help it, it is best to do your dog training first thing in the morning or later in the day as the sun goes down to avoid the warmest point in the day. Regardless of what type of training you are doing, the heat presents all kinds of challenges, risks and obstacles for us and the dog. Just remember that the cover of the field can add up to 20 degrees or more of heat to the dog.
Make sure you do not feed your dog immediately before, or after a training session in the warm summer months (or anytime for that matter). Imagine going for a long sprint right after a large meal in the 80 plus degree weather! Try to feed your dog 1.5 - 2 hours after the training session once your dog is cooled down and relaxed again. That way, the protein from the meal can help them recover from their workout. If you want to feed first thing in the morning, that is fine however allow 1.5 - 2 hours to rest and digest. As I mentioned previously, water should be readily available to the dog at all times during training.
- Heat effects retrieving
Regardless of what type of dog, or what age of dog, trying to train at the cooler times of day can positively impact retrieving. Dogs that are warm will pant and breathe heavily (as would we!). Because of this, they may not retrieve as well, or “hold” the bumper or birds as secure as we’d like. I mention this because I am currently force fetching a young retriever. Lately, the humidity and heat have caused her to pant, and do a poorer job of holding the bumpers during the drills. I do my best to correct it, but with the conditions being the way they are, I can only expect so much. As a result, I started doing force fetch work first thing in the morning to avoid peak heat and humidity. Just keep this in mind as you train in warmer weather. I sure would hate to see bad habits be reinforced or created because of the heat.
- Using live birds for training
I would assume several of you will be using live birds in your training regimen this summer. I know I do! Just keep in mind that upland birds such as quail are tough to get top performance out of in the heat if they are kept in birds crates that are too populated. Birds will sweat, and when they are kept in tight quarters in the heat you will saturate feathers, making flight very poor. It is best to keep birds in smaller crowds in each crate (if the crate holds 30 birds, put 15-20 in it). I would also recommend keeping them in the shade, but do not enclose them in a tent or trailer, it is best to allow a breeze to pass through the bird crates. Another tip for handling bird crates; tip the crates upside down when you put them in your field or training spot. This allows any waste to pass through the open slots, rather than build on the floor of the crate or even the birds. Clean, dry and un-crowded birds will perform best in the warm conditions!
I hope some of these suggestions help you better prepare yourself for summer training. Being prepared helps you maximize your time in the field with your dog, and allows you to focus more on teaching, rather than equipment and any other issues that can arise. Your comfort and convenience in the field can directly impact your mindset, and overall quality of a training session!