[su_heading size=”37″]Back to Work, Pooch![/su_heading]
Getting K9 Hunters Back In Shape
Story and photographs by Scott Haugen
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]I[/su_dropcap] sat back inquisitively, watching in amazement as Howard Meyer of Chipewa Kennels and dog trainer, handled his dogs with utmost patience. “C’mon, Violet, get in, get in here,” Meyer encouraged in a soft voice. Sure enough, Violet waded into the water and got into the canoe on her own. As Meyer began paddling across the small river, two other adult dogs followed, swimming by his side. Two pups, eight-month-old brothers, hesitated at first, but their anticipation mounted the further away Meyer and the other dogs got.
“C’mon, hop in … C’mon,” Meyer kept enticing the pups in his calm voice as he and the other dogs continued paddling. Soon both pups were having their first swimming session, part of the training Meyer initiates in the spring and throughout the summer.
“The key is not to force them, but make it fun,” smiled Meyer as he pulled the canoe ashore. The training session lasted nearly two hours, and all five dogs did great, even the pups. During that time, Meyer didn’t raise his voice once.
Now is the time to be training your dog for the upcoming hunting season. As is the case with hunters, dogs need to be in shape for the hunt too, and just because summer days are hot doesn’t mean dog training should be delayed.
Good training starts with clear communication. Meyer, who I’ve been working with over the past year, has been training dogs for over 40 years. For 25 years he was a professor of animal breeding and genetics at Oregon State University, and watching him patiently work his dogs is something to behold. His willingness to help me, a first-time hunting dog owner, speaks a lot of what kind of man he is. His eagerness and dedication is addicting, and his passion to see dogs succeed is admirable.
“The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize you don’t need to holler at a dog to get it to do something,” shares Meyer. “They just need to know what you’re expecting of them. If they don’t respond the way I want them to, it’s likely due to miscommunication on my part.”
I’ve been on several training sessions with Meyer and never once heard him raise his voice towards a dog. They always respond to him no matter their breed or age. Patience and keeping it fun and positive are key elements of Meyer’s training foundation, and a good starting point for all dog owners looking to build a better dog.
Swimming is one of the best ways to get a dog in shape so they don’t overheat.
Meyer regularly swims his dogs all summer long. “Swimming is one of the best ways to get a dog in shape this time of year so they don’t overheat,” he notes. “You can’t get this kind of conditioning by repeatedly tossing a bumper into the water. In fact, when I’m training with a bumper, I’ll only toss it in four or five times – that’s it.”
Meyers’ swim training usually lasts a couple of hours. He’ll paddle the canoe to one shore, let the dogs get out to play and warm up, then do it again … and again … and again. He ends every training session on a positive note, with the dogs wanting more and this includes swimming.
Jess Spradley, trainer and owner of Cabin Creek Gundogs, offered this advice when asked about summer training tips: “Get the dog’s feet in shape. Just like a human’s, a dog’s
feet have to be in good condition for the hunt.”
Spradley’s favorite training surface is gravel followed by pavement. This time of year, do it early or late in the day when temperatures aren’t overly hot. Be sure to have plenty of water for the dog to drink. Shaving their coat this time of year will also help keep them cool, as will pouring water over them during training sessions.
Keep it business
“Don’t mix play and work,” Meyer advised me. “When training a dog for the hunt, make sure they know it. When playing with them for fun, make sure they know the difference. Don’t use training bumpers as fun toys or vice versa.”
Spradley points out that pointing breeds need to be regularly exercised, while Labs are happy with a stroll down the street. Spradley prefers to train dogs that have been exposed to at least one season of hunting and were taught basic guidelines by their owner. “When they bring a dog to me, I ask what they’ve done and they often say, ‘Nothing; we didn’t want to screw it up.’ That’s valid, but not a good idea as the pup’s gotta learn some basic guidelines in order to achieve a higher level of training.”
This summer, make time to start building a good hunting dog. Practice patience, clearly communicate your expectations and make it fun for your dog. When those elements are solid, everything else will fall into place. ASJ