By: Mike Stewart, President of Wildrose International
Off-season is a time for renewal for sporting dogs. Two things to consider: 1) Keep the dog in physical shape 2) Refine skills that are in need of improvement identified last season. The short list for off-season conditioning includes:
Nutrition: Avoiding weight gain in your dog(s) is important. Less activity may require adjustment in food intake. Purina research indicates it is preferred to adjust the amount of food provided if the dog gains pounds off-season rather than switching food mixtures (protein/fat ratios). As for the dog’s body weight, a good comparison would be that 5 lbs. on a 50-lb dog is roughly the same as 20 lbs. on a 200-lb. person.
“Switching to a maintenance diet in the off-season is like metabolically detraining your dog. An athletic dog should be fed a performance food year-round.” Dr. Brian Zanghi, Purina Nutritionist and Wildrose client
It takes a dog 12 to 16 weeks to adjust its metabolism to a food mixture change, then before you know it, hunting season is just around the corner and once again the food mixture is switched. Better choices:
- Maintain the protein/fat ratio used during the active season but reduce the amount of food offered rather than switching feed.
- Engage in exercise, training, adventure activities. Please review this month’s column on the Wildrose S.E.A System. This program will offer guidance for your dog’s off-season conditioning. (Be cautious of heat exhaustion and know the signs of heat stress).
Training: Identify your canine hunting companion’s weaknesses during last season and develop a plan to address issues:
Tip 1 – Solve one problem at a time (Wildrose Law #6) to avoid confusion and if what you’re doing in training is not working, simplify (Wildrose Law #19).
Tip 2 – Focus on the core problem first and build a foundation, ie: delivery, steadiness, hunting cover, whistle stops.
The tendency during off-season is to do too much easy, fun training activities just to keep the dog active. Consider Tip 2 and focus attention and time on behaviors and skills that will pay dividends in the field and marsh next season.
A frequently asked question is about improving whistle stops and casting at distances. First, evaluate if the dog will perform the skill in proximity to you. (Consider Wildrose Law #7). If so, gradually extend distances rather than trying through repetition to make improvements with the dog at long distances making control and assistance difficult. Success achieved? Then, extend 15 to 20 yards.
Whistle Stop and Cast at Distances
Step 1 – Drop a trailing memory at a fixed reference point on land first. It could be in a small cover area, by a tree, etc. To the left or right of the reference point should be another point, object or cover at least 15 to 20 yards away. As you walk away with your dog at heel, have a helper pop in to recover your bumper and toss it to the second location. Send the dog after the helper has left the field. Allow the dog time to hunt the original area, then stop and cast to the location where bumper was placed. When the dog makes the find, you are the smartest guy in the field. Trust is important.
Step 2 –In a different location set up a similar exercise using a trailing memory with a known reference point and have your helper available to assist. The difference now is that the cover, where the second bumper is hidden, is placed before the location of the memory as an unseen, either to the left or right of the dog’s line to the memory similar to a baseball diamond configuration. As you walk away from the memory, the helper recovers the memory bumper. Line to the memory’s location then whistle stop the dog going out and cast for the unseen bumper or bird. Now the dog must stop short of his intended destination and cast to achieve success. If no stop, no reward. If the whistle stop or cast is unsuccessful or ignored, re-set the exercise again with no bumper down in the original location. Repeat the line-stop-cast. Still unsuccessful…
a. Shorten the distance or
b. Attempt the exercise as a pull/cast or
c. Return to Step 1.
Once successful on land, the skill should be practiced successfully five times in five different locations, THEN, go to the water. (Wildrose Law #8)
Off-season refinement should include every element of the Wildrose S.E.A System:
Plus mental conditioning.
Also, don’t disregard the great opportunities the Wildrose Adventure Dog Certification program offers for off-season developmental activities. What could be more enjoyable for the entire family?
Identify the weakness, focus on the steps for improvement, and through repetition your gundog will be ready for opening day.