By Chris Jennings
Keeping a retriever in "hunt-ready" condition is important throughout the year, but as the heat index climbs, trainers need to carefully balance training sessions, keeping the dog's health in mind at all times. Retrievers are known for their all-out approach in the field, so running well organized training sessions during the summer's hottest days will keep the dog sharp, as well as safe from overheating.
Keep it short
This applies to several different aspects of summer training. Mike Stewart, owner and operator of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Miss., understands hot weather and has implemented several variations to keep dogs sharp and cool. There is a time for every training aspect and Stewart takes advantage of the heat to focus on simple training sessions some trainers might not consider.
"There are still lots of good things duck hunters can do this time of year," says Stewart. "There are two things you have to remember though: keep the dog wet, and keep the dog in the shade."
Stewart will work the dogs early in the morning when there is still dew on the ground, but for trainers who don't have the luxury of early-morning training, make sure the dog is working in the shade.
"I would rather have a dog do three 20-yard retrieves than do one 60," explains Stewart. "This is a great time to throw out three bumpers, allowing the dog to hear all three splashes but not letting him see them hit the water. These short multiple retrieves are a great way to teach a dog to mark by sound."
Dogs will get tired quickly, so having them make long retrieves is out of the question, but Stewart explains that using this time to throw in some situational training is what he does even when he is hosting a training camp with other trainers.
"Set up all your new gear," he says. "Throw out your decoys, layout blinds, dog blinds, goose flags - whatever you have that you'll be using during the hunt. This will allow the dog to be accustomed to working around the equipment you use in the field."
Most people will head to the field for opening day with a new dog and expect the dog to hop right into the dog blind or hop up on a water stand. Adding realism to your training, even if it is kept short because of the heat, will allow the dog to recognize this equipment when the season opens.
Stewart currently is working with his dogs on short-multiple retrieves from a water stand. In reality, the retrieve is not what he is focusing on. His training focus is allowing the dog to get accustomed to getting up and down from the water stand, steadying and marking. He will also throw out a handful of spent shotgun shells. At times, dogs will get caught up in the excitement, and when a shell hits the water, he will retrieve the shell. By adding realism to the training sessions, the dog will be better prepared when the first shot is fired on opening morning, ignoring distractions such as shells or ground blinds and focusing on the retrieve.
"Teach the dog to get in and out of a boat, along with being camouflaged in a field blind," Stewart says. "These are all minor details of a hunt that will not surprise a dog if they are trained around them during the summer."
Stewart is also using the "dog days" to get dogs accustomed to shots being fired. He takes four dogs up to where several people are shooting clay pigeons; they sit and watch or listen to the shots being fired, always holding steady.
"After we've shot several clay pigeons, each dog gets one short retrieve, and the session is over," he explains. "It is relatively short, they are in the shade for most of the time, trainers can focus on keeping the dogs steady and they are getting used to the sound of shotguns."