Pet Talk/Matt VanderVelde
In years past, conditioning the hunting dog has been discussed in detail. This is a very important topic of which many of us take for granted.
We all assume "Buckshot" will be ready to roll on opening day as soon as he's let out of the dog box at field's edge.
Opening day approaches. Are you and your dog ready for the hunt?
Let's talk about important points of the conditioning of a hunting dog.
Physical shape or condition is a relative term, but let's just say we are talking about the ability of a dog and the hunter to work optimally afield for a set period of time.
I know some of my clients go to great measures and extremes to get their hounds in shape for hunting season. One hunter went to the point of tying a chain up to a log and had his dog pull it for a specific amount of time. Another took his retriever to the dog park or nearest body of water and threw a "dummy" repetitively for fetching.
I used to own a Labrador. She used to tire me out.
Whatever the case, these dogs are athletes and should be conditioned on a routine schedule, say every other day, for up to an hour and well before the season. This will tone up valuable muscles and eventually make that dog a "lean hunting machine."
As you train your dog, don't forget to condition yourself by walking relative distances to build your skeletal and cardiac strength. Would not it be a tragedy if the hunter couldn't keep up with the hunted or his own dog?
Nutrition of the hunting dog is pretty straightforward and may have differing opinions.
It is this writer's opinion that if you are going to hunt a lot, say three to five days a week, switch feeds to a higher protein, fat and carbohydrate meal. Maintenance diets are just that -- they maintain. But, a hunting dog is a working dog. Feed him accordingly, for performance.
A diet, highly digestible (85 to 90 percent), whose main ingredient is beef or chicken (then cereal grains) or 25 to 28 percent crude protein and 15 to 18 percent crude fat is needed. Premium diets are vitamin and mineral fortified, but a vitamin/mineral supplement is a good idea to round out the daily ration.
Feeding once a day is OK for off season time, but twice daily is recommended in season, especially as the outside temperatures cool.
Many of you hunters do not realize a lot of condition is lost, as dogs must derive energy from their ration to keep warm at night out behind the home.
On "Game Day," feeding the dog midway through the day of the hunt is an absolute must. Take along treats to not only reward the retrieve or point, but to keep blood sugar steady, thus warding off hypoglycemia attacks where the hound may actually collapse of low blood sugar. This is so preventable by a good overall feeding plan.
The hunting dog should be examined routinely by a veterinarian at least once a year. At this visit, routine vaccinations should be administered. A heartworm test and fecal check for internal parasites should be run at least once a year. The hunting dog should be on a heartworm preventative and routinely dewormed to realize optimum performance.
One truly sells yourself short and devalues the investment of time and money in a good dog by neglecting to have a professional examine your dog. This visit is worth its weight in gold to insure peak performance and lasting memories of a great hunt down the road.
One cannot discount the value of a healthy well-nourished and trained hunting dog. They are just, to coin a phrase, "Poetry in motion."
It's not too late to begin conditioning your hunting canine companion. The season is a long one, too, and preseason training building stamina to last into the colder months ahead.
Looks like, as it was last year, it will be a plentiful year for birds. Even if it isn't, having a fine-tuned pointer or retriever makes all the difference between a great day of hunting and a mediocre one, with nothing to put on the table.