Jump to a Section within Sporting
- Maintaining Hydration
- Potential Dangers in the Field
- Practicing Safety in the Field
- Good Nutrition Goes Far in Sporting Dogs’ Recovery and Immunity
- Preventing Injuries in Sporting Dogs
- Tips Every Good Trainer Should Take
- A Winter Checklist for Kennels
- Cold Weather Nutrition
- Providing Canine Comfort in Winter
- Cold Weather Care of Dogs
- How to Keep Dogs Sharp in the Off-Season
- Warm Weather Care of Dogs
- How to Prevent and Tackle Canine Sports Injuries
- Identifying Sporting Injuries Early
- Keeping Dogs Healthy on the Road
- How to Condition Canine Athletes
- How to Cultivate Desire in Sporting Dogs
- How to Train a Reliable Recall
- The Basics of Training
- Buying a Started Dog
- Feeding for Performance
- Intro to Dog Sports
Proper hydration is important. Water losses occur when a dog performs exercise of increasing intensity or duration and in very warm or cold environments. Thus, maintaining hydration is critical to prolonged endurance and thermoregulation.
Hydration is crucial in warm environments because water is used to dissipate heat through evaporation in the respiratory track during panting. This evaporation prevents the brain from overheating by cooling the blood moving through vessels in the back of the throat. Water also helps remove the byproducts of energy metabolism, perhaps the most important determinant of endurance and performance.
Dogs that compete in sporting events lasting longer than 60 minutes should be offered small amounts of water every 15 to 20 minutes when possible, using a squirt bottle to shoot water into the dog’s mouth. Dogs can be encouraged to drink before and during a competition by baiting water with a few kibbles or chicken broth. Wait until panting slows after exercise before giving large quantities of water.
The risks of dehydration include: increased cardiac workload, impaired delivery of nutrients and removal of water from the muscles, and impaired thermoregulation, or ability to maintain normal body temperature. Immediately after hard work in the field, a dog’s temperature may be as high as 107 degrees. However, within 5 minutes the temperature should decline to below 104 degrees.
Dogs usually seek water or show signs of thirst when they lose about 1 percent body water. A mildly dehydrated dog (1 to 5 percent body water loss) will likely show signs of water seeking, excessive panting and fatigue. In a warm, humid climate above 75 degrees, dehydration risk begins to grow and rises with increasing temperature. Heat stress and dehydration can rapidly occur in warm temperatures. Dogs seeking shade and showing loss of motivation for training should be cooled and rehydrated, as they are expressing signs of heat stress.
Trainers concerned about overheating in their dogs should carry a rectal thermometer that can be used during training. An overheated dog, one whose temperature stays at 106 degrees or higher, can be cooled down using a mixture of cool water and alcohol under their front legs and in their groin area. Having the dog ingest cool water immediately is beneficial because it rinses the saliva from the back of the dog’s throat to improve cooling when panting, cools core body temperature within the intestinal tract, and begins to replenish hydration. Ice water should not be used as it may cool the dog too quickly and lead to other health problems.
Published September 2015
Potential Dangers in the Field
There are subtle dangers in the field that are not easily recognized but can be potentially life-threatening. These include leptospirosis, a zoonotic bacterial infection; ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne illness; and grass awn migration disease. Enthusiasts can help make their hunting season a rewarding and enjoyable one by being cautious of these potential dangers.
Sporting dogs that spend time outdoors, especially in areas with high annual rainfall and warm climates, are at increased risk for leptospirosis, commonly known as lepto disease. Lepto is spread through the urine of infected animals, getting into water or soil where it can survive for weeks or even months. The Leptospira spp. bacteria can cause kidney or liver failure, the eye disorder uveitis and hemorrhage of the lung. Signs include fever, lethargy and vomiting. Diagnosing leptospirosis early before a dog goes into renal failure and treating with fluids and antibiotics are key to a positive outcome. Dialysis may be necessary later, reducing the chances of a successful outcome.
A disease that is believed to be increasing, especially in the southeastern United States, ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne illness caused by different species of Ehrlichia bacteria. Affected dogs can develop chronic inflammatory disease, bleeding problems and kidney damage. You may notice your dog having a fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, and abnormal bleeding. Antibiotic treatment can be successful, though reinfection may occur because immunity is not long-lasting. To prevent ehrlichiosis, it is important to check yourself and your dog for ticks after a day in the field. If you find a tick on yourself, chances are there is at least one on your dog. Store removed ticks in a plastic bag in the freezer with the date and location where you were. If signs of ehrlichiosis develop within two weeks, knowing the species of tick may help with the diagnosis.
Bacteria-carrying barbed grass seeds can potentially cause a life-threatening condition in sporting dogs known as grass awn migration disease, which occurs when harmful grass seeds enter through a dog’s nose or mouth or snag the coat and burrow through the skin. These seeds can migrate through the soft tissues of the body, leaving infection behind. Also called mean seed disease, it is challenging to treat partly because a dog often does not show signs until the disease is advanced. Take time to check your dog for grass-awn seeds for quick removal to avoid this potential diagnosis.
Published September 2015
Practicing Safety in the Field
Sporting dog enthusiasts should take steps to help ensure they have a safe hunting or field trial experience with their canine athlete. Most importantly, know your dog well and be able to readily recognize signs that something is wrong. Here are helpful tips to keep your dog safe in the field:
- A preseason wellness examination will help to establish your dog’s health and physical condition. Dogs that are not in condition are at risk for heat stress and injuries, particularly if they start working too hard, too soon.
- Take it nice and easy at the beginning of the season. Do not expect an unconditioned dog to be capable of hunting all day. Be aware of your dog’s limitations and do not let the excitement of opening day overrule your common sense.
- Heat stress and subsequently heat stroke are preventable. You should be aware of your dog’s body temperature tolerance. Humidity combined with high temperatures can have a detrimental effect on dogs.
- Feed a quality nutritious performance dog food year-round, reducing the amount fed in the off-season. Hardworking dogs need higher fat and protein levels to nourish and repair their bodies. You should base the amount of food fed on the energy expended without overfeeding.
- Hydration is vitally important in the field for helping dogs cool down. You should bring your own fresh water to help prevent intestinal upset.
- Carry a first-aid kit to treat minor injuries and be prepared to take your dog to a veterinarian for more serious injuries. Most injuries can be addressed in the field with follow-up care once you return home, though this is not always the case. Have contact information handy for a veterinarian where you are hunting or field training.
Published September 2015
Good Nutrition Goes Far in Sporting Dogs’ Recovery and Immunity
Nutrition has an important role in helping canine athletes recover physically from hard work. Feeding a quality performance dog food is the foundation of optimal performance and recovery.
As a trainer, it’s important for you to stay on top of monitoring dogs’ body condition. If a dog has lost weight from a multiple-day competition, the portion fed of a quality performance dog food, such as Purina® Pro Plan® SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula or SPORT Advanced 28/18 Formula, should be increased.
During trials, dogs should work on an empty stomach. It is best to feed hardworking dogs once a day, and as close as possible to 24 hours before the time they will perform. Feeding within a couple of hours before an event causes mechanical and metabolic problems that could impair performance. Not only does it increase insulin secretion, it also increases blood flow to the gut and thus decreases the amount of blood available to the working muscles.
Another important recovery tool is the Purina® Pro Plan® SPORT ReFUEL nutritional supplement bar, which should be fed within 30 minutes after exercise to allow the muscles to maximize nutrient uptake. Designed for short-term recovery after strenuous activity, the ReFUEL bar is specifically formulated to deliver a targeted portion size of rapidly digested carbohydrates to enable glucose to enter the bloodstream when fed within 30 minutes of the completion of exercise when muscles are maximized for sugar uptake and glycogen replenishment.
Purina Veterinary Diets® FortiFlora® canine nutritional supplement contains a special strain of probiotic, Enterococcus faecium SF68, that has been proven to promote intestinal health and balance. Prescribed by veterinarians, FortiFlora may help manage the stress of travel or unfamiliar environments that can disrupt a sporting dog’s digestive system.
During the post-season recovery since dogs are working less intensely, they should be fed a smaller portion of a high-quality performance dog food to help maintain ideal body condition. This will make it easier for your dog to come back recharged and ready to give you his or her all next season.
Published January 2015
Preventing Injuries in Sporting Dogs
It always is better to prevent an injury than to treat one later. Follow these tips to keep your dog in good working condition.
- Sporting dogs should be in ideal body condition. Those that carry too much weight are at risk for injuries.
- A well-conditioned dog that is prepared for the physical demands of the sport is less likely to suffer a soft-tissue injury.
- Take 10 to 15 minutes to warm up a dog’s muscles before exercise and allow 10 to 15 minutes post-exercise for a dog to gradually slow down.
- A post-exercise examination (tailgate check) is well worth the effort to check for potential problems or injuries. It is very important to examine the paws and pads before and after competition, particularly when run on rough terrain.
- Hardworking dogs should be fed a complete-and-balanced performance diet year-round.
- A dog’s health and well-being should be your most important consideration with everything you do.
- Err on the side of caution. Again, it is always better to prevent an injury than to treat one later!
Published January 2015
Tips Every Good Trainer Should Take
There are 10 tips every good trainer of sporting dogs takes into account for their training program. Using the following guidelines, learn what it takes to become a top trainer.
- Apply objectivity to your training to help a dog achieve performance goals. Flexibility and training a dog as an individual are important for success.
- Keep training fun! A dog that enjoys training is more likely to succeed.
- Recognize the importance of warm-up exercises prior to training or competing. Ten to 15 minutes spent on submaximal activities such as jogging up a hill, trotting, small jumps or figure 8s on an incline help warm up the muscles. Never take a dog from the crate to the performance field.
- Realize that overtraining can ruin a gifted young dog. High-volume, high-intensity exercise is a formula for physical and mental burnout.
- Understand that physiological fatigue increases the risk of injuries. There is nothing worse than an injury that could be prevented.
- Take 10 to 15 minutes to cool down a dog after training or competing. Gradually ceasing exercise helps to reduce sore muscles and promote a healthy recovery.
- Recognize that dogs need time to recover from bouts of intense, hardworking exercise. Low-volume, less-intense activities during recovery help to improve a dog’s muscle strength, range of motion, cardiovascular health and functioning, plus contribute to less pain and fewer injuries.
- Seek veterinary experts who specialize in treating canine performance athletes when a dog shows signs of lameness or a sports injury. These experts understand that lameness is not insignificant and a dog that constantly refuses a training command may have an injury.
- Realize there is no off-season! Cross-training activities like hiking, leash walks and open running promote mental health and overall well-being.
- Take to heart that you have the power to influence a dog’s potential by catching injuries early. You see your dog every day and have the most power to affect the outcome.
Published January 2015
A Winter Checklist for Kennels
Winter care for dogs in kennels involves taking practical steps to ensure their safety and comfort. Here are tips to help you get through.
- Be sure kennels are dry and draft-free. Like people, dogs are susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite and illness if kept too long in the cold or a constant draft.
- Dogs should have a place to sleep that is comfortable and elevated off the ground. A sleeping platform with bedding material, such as fleece, thick carpet pads, blankets and dog beds, provides comfort.
- Clean hay and wood shavings are good bedding materials. Shavings should be changed weekly.
- Add door flaps to dog houses to help hold back wind and weather.
- Kennel runs should be kept free of snow and ice.
- Maintain your kennel at a constant temperature between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit when possible.
- Be sure to stock extra dog food so you are ready for severe snowstorms.
- Beware of antifreeze. Dogs are attracted to the sweet taste of ethylene glycol in antifreeze, but it is toxic. If a dog licks antifreeze, prompt veterinary treatment is essential.
- Regularly check an outside dog’s footpads. Constant exposure to moisture caused by rain, snow or mud can irritate a dog’s footpads, causing skin damage and infection from bacteria or fungi. If a dog has cracked or bleeding paws, consult your veterinarian.
- Throughout winter, keep an eye out for cuts, abrasions, debris in eyes and pad injuries, particularly in dogs that regularly go into the field.
- Make sure dogs’ vaccinations are current. The stress of severe cold is even greater for dogs in poor health.
Published December 2014
Cold Weather Nutrition
Did you know dogs need 7 percent more calories for every 10 degrees the temperature drops below the moderate temperatures of spring and fall? In fact, the caloric needs of an active dog in winter could double. Feeding a quality canine diet year-round is recommended. Poor quality dog food is not a per-calorie savings.
In winter, it helps to allow dogs to gain a small amount of weight for insulation and energy reserves; however, it still is important to maintain dogs in ideal body condition, defined as ribs palpable without excess fat covering. Dogs should have ample water in winter because of the metabolic changes that take place and to help process extra food. Also be sure to keep dogs’ water from freezing.
Published December 2014
Providing Canine Comfort in Winter
Cold weather can affect dogs’ energy and immune system, making them prone to disease and injury. Winterizing kennels helps to reduce disease and the risks of hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature, and frostbite, the freezing of tissues caused by exposure to very low temperatures.
Both heated and unheated kennels should have adequate insulation. Dogs’ doors should be closed at night, particularly when it is cold and windy. Good ventilation, without excessive cross drafts, will help keep air fresh. Additionally, air should be exhausted from the ceiling to the floor to prevent warm air near the ceiling from being pulled out. Vents should be opened whenever the outside temperature is warmer than the inside temperature.
Inside shelter may be necessary if temperatures become extremely cold. Even the most draft-free doghouse will not keep a dog warm when subzero temperatures prevail. You should also keep a dog’s coat dry in this type of weather, as a wet coat drains body heat.
Outdoor doghouses should be located where there is good drainage and raised a few inches off the ground to help keep out moisture. The elevated area should be shielded with boards to prevent wind from gusting under the doghouse. A canvas flap could be placed over the door of a doghouse, and an inside partition can be used to help keep direct wind off dogs.
Build a doghouse designed with an entry through a hallway to a second door into the sleeping area to help keep dogs warm. With a cover on the outside door, this type of doghouse goes a long way in keeping drafts off a dog. It also helps to conserve heat.
Adequate heat and proper sanitation are important too. It’s best to maintain a constant temperature around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Good sanitation should be practiced year-round, but a hose may be impractical in winter due to freezing water lines. Instead, a scraper or shovel may be used to remove waste from concrete runs. Waste should be picked up daily.
The bottom line is to use common sense in caring for dogs in winter. Though you can’t change the weather, you can be sure your dogs are healthy and comfortable.
Published December 2014
Cold Weather Care of Dogs
Along with proper nutrition, several factors, such as fresh water, good ventilation and adequate insulation, will help ensure the health and performance of dogs during the winter. Dogs should be in good body condition prior to and during winter months to withstand colder temperatures.
Feeding a nutritionally complete and balanced diet is essential to maintain a dog satisfactorily during the cold weather. This will help ensure the dog is getting the nutrition necessary for developing and maintaining the coat and muscles and providing energy for heat. On average, dogs require about 7.5 percent more food for each 10-degree Fahrenheit degree drop in temperature. Dogs also should have fresh water available at all times. Adding warm water to dry food helps ensure the dog’s water intake is sufficient.
Adequate insulation is necessary in both heated and unheated kennels in almost every climate. Good ventilation, without excessive cross drafts, is desirable. During the winter, air should be exhausted from the ceiling to the floor to prevent warm air near the ceiling from being pulled out. In unheated kennels, vents should be opened any time the outside temperature is warmer than the inside of the kennel. Bedding, such as clean straw or grass hay, though not recommended for young puppies that may be sensitive to the inhalation of dust and pieces of plant material, should be supplied, especially for short-haired breeds.
Sometimes a dog may accidentally be exposed to a long period of extreme cold and may suffer frostbite. Frostbite in dogs occurs most frequently on the ears, tail, scrotum and feet. Signs of frostbite are:
- Flushed and reddened tissues
- White or grayish tissues
- Evidence of shock
- Scaliness of skin
- Possible sloughing of surface tissue
If your dog suffers from frostbite, prompt veterinary treatment is needed. If this is not possible, the affected area should be warmed rapidly by immersing in warm water or by using warm moist towels that are changed frequently. As soon as the affected tissues become flushed, discontinue warming. Gently dry the affected tissues, lightly bandage with a clean, dry nonadhering bandage. Protect the dog from further exposure to cold.
Published August 2014
How to Keep Dogs Sharp in the Off-Season
The off-season is just as important as field-trial or hunt-test season. Owners and handlers can help maintain a dog’s performance in the off-season by practicing commands daily.
Lack of repetition can extinguish the desired response to a learned behavior, whereas consistent repetitions strengthen the behavior. It is important to incorporate exercises that will maintain your finished performance dog as a top performer. For example, you could require a pointing dog to “whoa” or a retriever to “sit” before giving the dog food, before letting the dog out of the kennel, or before releasing the dog on an exercise run. Foundation commands should be a part of the dog’s daily routine.
Teaching the dog new behaviors will provide stimuli to help keep the dog mentally active. For example, agility training is a fantastic way to foster team play with your dog that will provide big payoffs in field trials or hunt tests and helps to ensure that the dog stays in learning mode. By introducing new exercises and learning drills, you prevent stagnation and boredom for yourself and your dog.
It also is important to keep dogs well-socialized with other dogs. This ensures the dog will not become aggressive or apprehensive around other canines.
There is no off-season if you plan to keep your dog mentally keen. Keep your dog learning and make sure to combine rest with exercise and mental stimulation.
Published August 2014
Warm Weather Care of Dogs
As temperatures soar, dogs become more vulnerable to heat stress. When body temperature rises, a dog’s circulatory and respiratory system can become overtaxed to the point when permanent damage may occur if certain precautions are not taken.
Never leave a dog confined in a car or any other poorly ventilated enclosure during warm weather. For example, if the temperature outside is 78 degrees Fahrenheit, a closed car parked in the shade will reach 90 degrees in five minutes and 110 degrees in 25 minutes.
Outdoor activity and training increases when the weather warms. Avoid excessive exercise of dogs during hot days or warm, humid nights. The best time to exercise dogs is either early in the morning or late in the evening.
After dogs are exercised in fields or wooded areas, always check for weeds and seeds. Bristly and sticky weeds can cause painful problems, particularly foxtail, the dried awns of grass that cling to a dog’s coat. Sometimes seeds find their way into the dog’s ears, nostrils, mouth, paw pads and even internally. Prompt removal can help prevent problems before they start.
You should also check your dogs for ticks after outdoor exercise. These bloodsucking parasites can transmit serious diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease to dogs and humans. To remove a tick, dab it with alcohol, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with tweezers, and pull up firmly. Twisting could leave the head of the tick embedded in the skin, causing irritation. Dispose of the tick immediately and apply a mild antiseptic to the wound.
Providing small portions of fresh, cool water throughout the day will help lower a dog’s body temperature during periods of extreme heat. Be sure to frequently change the water. It also is not unusual for a dog’s food consumption to decrease during this time. As a general rule, dogs need about 7 ½ percent fewer calories with each 10-degree rise in ambient temperature.
Ensure the kennel is comfortable for dogs during the hot summer months. The kennel should be well-insulated and provide ample ventilation. A ceiling exhaust fan should supplement ventilation provided by windows and doors. Make sure the kennel runs are shaded.
The need for sanitation in the kennel is intensified during summer months. Stagnant pools of water are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Trash, debris and fecal matter attract flies, a constant annoyance and irritation. Screening all doors and windows helps prevent the entry of mosquitoes, flies and other insects.
If a dog shows signs of heatstroke, immerse the dog in cool water or spray with a garden hose to help lower the dog’s body temperature. If water is not available, apply ice packs to the head and neck, as well as the groin and underarms, moving the dog to a cool place right away. A gentle breeze or fan also can help. With any form of heat stress, prompt veterinary attention is critical to avoid potential complications.
Published August 2014
How to Prevent and Tackle Canine Sports Injuries
Taking preventive measures to help avoid injuries in canine athletes is much easier than dealing with an injury. However, when an injury occurs, the sooner the cause is known and treatment begins, the better.
Prompt treatment for injuries can make the difference between a dog continuing in training and competition or sitting out the season. Undiscovered minor injuries often become bigger problems that require more recovery time.
Among the negative influences on a dog’s performance are: fatigue, which diverts energy and focus away from an activity to the body so that it can maintain function; pain, which causes dogs to alter their body movement to minimize discomfort; and lack of drive, which reduces an optimal competitive performance.
To help avoid an injury, you should regularly assess your dog’s body. Taking time each week to evaluate your dog’s musculoskeletal condition should enable you to recognize small changes. This involves flexing and extending the toes, wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
For example, if flexing the carpal joint on one side of the dog results in the normal response of the pads touching the forearm, but on the other side, two or three fingers can fit between the pad and forearm, there may be a problem. Other signs are expressions of discomfort, such as the dog turning his head toward you when touched or a vocal response.
Dogs that are preconditioned for the work they perform are less likely to sustain musculoskeletal injuries. Conditioning is the process of getting dogs’ joints and muscles in good shape so that when they are asked to do something that takes great physical effort, they are less likely to get hurt. A good starting point is to keep excess weight off a dog. Excess weight bears more stress on a dog’s joints, and because athletic dogs perform physically challenging tasks, even a bit of excess weight can increase the risk of injury.
Although injuries in sporting dogs can relate to the type of activity for which they are trained, the most common areas of injury are the wrist, foot (pads and toes), shoulder, and knee. A dog with a visible injury should be rested in an indoor kennel and not conditioned for two weeks. Rest is the single most important part of training and recovering from an injury. If you suspect your dog has suffered a serious injury, you should immediately consult your veterinarian.
Using a common-sense approach to training will go a long way to keeping your active sporting dog healthy and fit. Likewise, if an injury occurs, dealing with the problem sooner rather than later is always best.
Published May 2014
Identifying Sporting Injuries Early
If a dog’s performance drops off, usually there’s a reason. Owners should spend time looking and going over their dogs after every exercise or training session in order to catch injuries early. A whole body examination helps to identify areas requiring attention before they become problems.
Here is a checklist to follow:
- Looking for cuts, bumps and scars, start at your dog’s front end. Check the nose and eyes for seeds, grass or other field debris.
- Move to the dog’s neck. Then, check the topline by running your hands along the dog’s spine. Your dog will respond if there’s a sore spot.
- Check the leading edge of your dog’s chest and legs, looking for signs of cuts or scratches.
- Flex leg joints, feeling for swelling and watching for your dog’s reaction that might indicate soreness.
- Move your hands underneath your dog’s belly to check for any scrapes.
- Check your dog’s feet — the pads, nail bed, nail joint, the bones in the toes — making sure there is no pain or swelling. Ensure there are no bent or broken nails.
- Finally, check your dog’s back legs, feet and tail.
- If your dog has longer hair, check the coat for any burrs, especially the ‘armpit’ and flank areas, where embedded burrs could rub or abrade the skin.
When examining your dog, if you see anything abnormal, such as a large cut or tear in the skin, you should contact your veterinarian.
Published May 2014
Keeping Dogs Healthy on the Road
No matter how seasoned a traveler the dog is, traveling creates stress. Thus, it is important to keep dogs healthy and in tiptop shape while traveling. Here are some tips to help keep your dogs healthy on the road.
- Before travel, particularly when your plans take you and your dog across state lines, schedule a veterinarian checkup to ensure all vaccinations are up to date and your dog is generally in good health.
- Be prepared. Your dog’s kennel should be draft-free yet well-ventilated. Provide ample kennel space with soft, dry bedding that is comfortable for your dog. You also should have fresh, clean water on hand.
- Practice makes perfect. Before going on a long trip, take a few short trips to get your dog accustomed to traveling. Travel to exercise areas, such as a dog park or training field, making it fun so they’ll enjoy the ride. Practice getting your dog in and out of the vehicle so that he or she is comfortable and becomes used to traveling that way.
- Develop a routine. Air your dogs every couple hours while on a long trip.
- Pack a basic first-aid kit as a precaution.
- Look up and write down the address and phone number of a veterinarian near your destination, so you’ll be prepared in case of an emergency.
Published May 2014
How to Condition Canine Athletes
A canine athlete should be physically toned to enable him to perform and excel in whatever sport or task required of him. Although all dogs need daily exercise, those that regularly work or perform need a more expansive exercise regimen to maintain top physical form.
Physical conditioning involves not only exercise, but also stretching and warm-up and cool-down exercises. A human athlete wouldn’t consider running a marathon just after waking up, and you shouldn’t expect the same from your dog. Strenuous exercise performed without some kind of warm-up or stretching can lead to pulled muscles and other injuries. While a warm-up prepares your dog’s body for physical activity, a cool-down is equally important to prevent muscles from getting tight afterward. They don’t have to be long — usually two to three minutes will suffice.
There are four basic components to a canine conditioning program: nutrition, strength training, endurance training and event training. With any physical program, your dog will need a high-quality food to help sustain energy and a toned physique. In each area of conditioning, it is important to start slow and gradually progress at intervals as your dog shows he is able to progress. Never push your dog beyond his or her physical limits, as this can cause injury.
Strength training should be conducted on nonconsecutive days three times a week for about 15 minutes per session. Some strength-training exercises include short, intense retrieving sprints on land or in water for a full-body workout and uphill running for hind leg conditioning. Endurance training is any aerobic activity several times a week for about 30 minutes per session. Exercises can include distance running on a treadmill, accompanying you on a jog, or distance swimming. These exercises are aside from retrieving for strength.
Your dog will greatly benefit in his performance in any sport through strength and endurance training, but event training is specific to the particular sport in which your dog competes. While all sports require an agile body and general soundness, you will need to determine where your dog needs the most work in his particular sport and practice in those areas.
All dogs can benefit from a physical conditioning program, but it is most apparent in the canine athlete. Through physical training you will not only see better results in competition, but also the overall health of your dog will improve by bounds.
Published January 2014
How to Cultivate Desire in Sporting Dogs
One of the most important traits of a great sporting dog is drive. It is what turns ordinary dogs into field champions. Although desire is an inherited characteristic, it’s important to understand how genetics, training/exercise and nutrition play a role.
Pedigree is a starting point for cultivating desire in sporting dogs. Look at the dog’s parents and grandparents to see if they performed well in field trials or hunt tests and talk to people who knew the dogs to see whether they exhibited high desire.
How a trainer handles a dog’s intense desire can determine whether the dog’s career is rewarding or frustrating. Inappropriate drive can be as much of a problem as a lack of drive. To turn a high-desire dog into a champion, choose a training regime that combines extensive physical and mental conditioning. In addition to varying training regimes, it also is necessary to use different exercises to keep dogs active longer and maintain enthusiasm.
Proper nutrition is another key to help maximize drive. An athletic dog performs at his or her fullest potential requires a high-protein diet, which helps the dog metabolize oxygen. Ideally, a working dog should receive at least 24 percent of his or her calories from protein. Timing of feeding and watering also is important. Feeding a dog once a day as close to 24 hours before a competition can help improve performance. Feeding in advance reduces the amount of feces in a dog’s bowels, keeps more blood flowing to muscles and reduces the heat load of the dog.
Published January 2014
How to Train a Reliable Recall
Reliable recall is one of the most important things to train a dog. A recall enables you to keep your dog safe by bringing him or her close to you in unpredictable or potentially dangerous environments. Besides safety, a recall also will help you to be more successful in virtually all areas of canine competition.
The primary factor in training a reliable recall is teaching your dog that coming to you is a pleasant experience. Never punish the dog for coming to you as this will make him or her fearful and apprehensive. The most effective method in training a recall is through patience, consistency and positive reinforcement through food, toys and praise.
Training for a recall should begin in a safe, quiet, familiar location to minimize distraction. Hold several short training sessions each day instead of one long session to prevent the dog from becoming disinterested. Keep training sessions fun with encouragement and rewards, and always end sessions on a high note.
Begin preliminary training with a leash, clicker (a small handheld noisemaker that makes a clicking sound when pressed) and treats. Click and reward your dog with a treat and praise when he or she comes close to you. Repeat until the dog gains an understanding, and as the understanding grows, advance to introduce a recall cue. Choose a recall word, such as “come” or “here,” and use only that word to call the dog to promote consistency and avoid confusion.
After the cue is accomplished, advance your dog’s recall speed and reliability by setting up controlled distractions, such as bringing in an assistant to attempt to get the dog’s attention. Once your dog shows clear understanding of the recall cue and what you expect of him or her, begin gradually moving to greater distances and higher distraction levels. Remember to progress slowly and only move on to higher levels when your dog is ready.
It takes time and work to train your dog to return to you under all circumstances, but the outcome is well worth the effort to keep your dog safe and under control.
Published January 2014
The Basics of Training
An owner or handler should begin to develop puppies early. Dogs that have not been exposed to new environments, other dogs and people, and have not learned to perform tasks may never achieve their full potential. In order to develop puppies into hardworking sporting dogs, an owner or handler should adhere to sound training principles, not rush the process, and let the dog tell you when he’s ready to move onto more advanced training.
Basic obedience commands, such as sit, stay and come, should be taught in a yard rather than the field. Consistent repetitions are an important ingredient in developing a dog that responds reliably. Puppies can begin to develop their predatory instincts as early as 8 weeks of age. At 12 weeks of age, a puppy can be introduced to the field. Make this a positive experience for the puppy, so that he will learn to hunt, use his nose and develop his natural instincts.
Trainers should take a building-block approach when it comes to training sporting dogs. Every new behavior or response should be built on what the dog has learned previously. Each exercise should prepare the dog for a more advanced task.
While training your dog, expose him to different aspects of the hunting environment. Use actual hunting scenarios as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to set up situations in which your dog might make mistakes. Preconditioning your dog to distractions and correcting his mistakes during training gives him the best possible chance of succeeding in the field.
Ideally, puppies should be trained individually rather than in a group. This way, they will learn more quickly and the training will be more consistent. Enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer will help fine-tune your dog’s skills as a sporting dog.
By implementing a sound training program and making the correct decisions on when to progress to more advanced training, an owner and handler can expect their dogs to excel at what they were bred to do.
Published August 2013
Buying a Started Dog
For many sporting enthusiasts, the option of buying a puppy, seeing him through early socialization and keeping him on a good training regimen isn’t feasible. Enthusiasts who choose to buy a started dog can avoid not having the time or knowledge to develop a puppy through his first hunting or field trial season.
The best way to find a started dog is through a professional trainer or local sporting dog club. You should look for a young dog that was raised specifically to sell as a started dog. After you find a started dog, you should ask the right questions to determine if the dog is right for you. You want to learn about the dog’s level of training, ability and temperament.
After you find the right dog, you should see the dog work. Pay attention to the dog’s enthusiasm while working in the field. Keep in mind that a started dog is not a finished dog. The dog may need additional training or hunting experience. As long as the dog has a good obedience foundation and natural desire, he can learn to hunt.
You should ask for a trial period, usually about a week, with the dog. If you like the dog, you should take him to your veterinarian for a thorough examination, including hip and elbow radiographs, a blood chemistry panel to check overall health, an eye examination, and a sperm viability check for a male if you plan to breed him. You can’t expect to find a perfect dog, but buying a started dog will give you a head start toward having a great field trial or hunting companion.
Published August 2013
Feeding for Performance
A hardworking dog requires a high-quality food to sustain his energy and provide the nutrition needed to perform at his best. His diet should be complete and balanced, but most importantly, it should contain a highly digestible source of fat and protein.
Sporting dogs should be fed a nutrient-dense food, such as the Purina Pro Plan Sport Formulas, year-round to help maximize training and conditioning. The Pro Plan Sport Formulas have high levels of fat and protein to help increase dogs’ capacity to metabolize fat and give them a higher oxygen capacity. Increased fat metabolism and higher oxygen capacity help to increase metabolic capacity and generate energy. This helps to increase endurance.
It’s important not to feed a hardworking dog before exercise. Complete digestion takes from 20 to 24 hours. Dogs fed less than 23 hours before exercise could have fecal matter in the colon that could compromise their performance by adding extra weight. Exercise also alters the gastrointestinal transit time and can change nutrient digestion and absorption, resulting in a decrease of oxygen in the gut. Generally, performance dogs should be fed a minimum of 10 to 12 hours before exercise. It also is best to feed performance dogs once a day so they can completely digest the food.
A dog’s ability to perform at an optimal level also is linked to proper hydration. Maintaining hydration in working dogs is critical to prolonged endurance and thermoregulation, especially at high temperatures. Hydrate your dog before and after exercise. You should also give him small amounts of water, the essential nutrient, every 10 to 15 minutes during exercise.
Published August 2013
Intro to Dog Sports
If you have experienced the excitement of watching sporting dogs perform the work they originally were bred to do, there’s a good chance you are thinking about getting involved in a dog sport. Hands-on experience is the best way to learn.
Several registries sanction field trials and hunt tests for a variety of breeds and sports. These include the American Kennel Club, United Kennel Club, American Field, National Kennel Club, plus many others. You should attend a local sporting event to watch how they are conducted and how the dogs are judged.
Starting with a quality, well-bred dog is fundamental to success, as is providing proper nutrition with optimal protein and fat levels to sustain hardworking dogs. Training and conditioning are as important as good genetics in preparing dogs for achievement in the field.
Learning to handle a dog begins with puppy socialization and training and gradually increases to more difficult skills. A mentor can help you learn to start and train a dog. You should get involved with a sporting dog club to find an expert who can help you. Though many breeds have some natural ability, proper training can make the difference between a routine and top-notch performance in the field.
Commitment and hard work are part of the fun of preparing dogs for competition. Along the way, you will meet people like yourself who enjoy dogs and performance sports. Best of all, you will experience a special bond with your dog and the satisfaction that comes from helping him reaching his potential.
Published August 2013