How to Weather-Proof Your Sporting Dog’s Off-Season Training
Weather extremes make it difficult to train and keep your sporting dog sharp during the off-season. Just as you probably don’t want to work in knee-deep snow, heavy rain or brutally hot, humid weather, neither does your dog.
However, just because the weather outside is not ideal it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your dog in great shape until next season. Advanced nutrition like Purina Pro Plan SPORT formulas should provide the fat and protein your dog needs to maintain his metabolism and endurance, and regular conditioning and training will help keep him or her healthy and fit.
Professional gun dog trainers Paul McGagh of Glencoe Farm & Kennels in Bismarck, North Dakota, Clyde Vetter of Sharp Shooter’s Kennel in New Richmond, Wisconsin, and Josh Miller of River Stone Kennels in New Richmond, Wisconsin, recommend short training sessions consisting of simple obedience drills to keep a dog tuned up year-round, even when outdoor training isn’t an option.
“It is so important to train your dog every day, even if only for a few minutes,” McGagh advises. “When you can't go outside, indoor training in a garage or workshop is a great substitute. A physically and mentally engaged dog is a happy, well-behaved dog."
Follow these simple, engaging obedience drills straight from the pros that can be done indoors even with limited space to help keep your dog in top mental and physical shape, regardless of the weather.
1. Out of the Box
McGagh trains his dogs on box drills using boxes or platforms he builds. “I call for the dog to sit or stand on the box. Then, I’ll add a second box and whistle for him or her to place from box to box. Finally, I’ll add retrieves with a tennis ball and have the dog retrieve from box to box,” he describes. This box drill can be made as simple or complex as needed for an individual dog and as indoor space allows.
2. Slow & Steady
Practicing the “place” command reinforces steadiness and control and can be done anytime, anywhere, whether it’s in the garage while changing the oil in the car or in the living room while watching the game. “Have your dog sit or stand (place) on a dog bed or platform and remain there until you give him or her the appropriate command to release,” explains Miller. “The beauty of this drill is it doesn’t require your undivided attention – just be sure your dog stays in your peripheral vision so you can make a correction if needed.”
3. Follow the Leader
To ensure a quiet, controlled dog, Vetter recommends advanced heeling drills, which can be done simply as you walk around the house. “I train a dog to heel in a tight figure-eight motion, shift into reverse and back up with me, and make small left and right clicks as if I were positioning him or her on a lining drill,” Vetter says. “I also teach that when I lead with my left foot, the dog is to heel. When I sidestep with my right foot, he or she is to ‘whoa.’ I overlay a command to an action, then wean the dog off the command as he or she becomes accustomed to my body language and actions.”
4. Hold, Carry & Release
If your dog developed a bad retrieving habit this past season, now is a good time to fix it so you can hit the ground running again once the weather is nice. “No matter how old or young your dog, it never hurts to get back to the basics,” Vetter advises. “Work on trained retrieves by running your dog up and down the training table. Use several different objects to reinforce what’s already been taught or to get a correction in as needed.”
5. At Your Command
Before you assume obedience 101 drills — such as “here,” “sit,” “kennel,” “down” and “no” — sound boring, think again. “Consider the next season and the areas you’d like to polish with your dog before then,” says Miller. “More than likely, any of those skills will begin with rock-solid obedience.” Vetter agrees, “Lay or sharpen the foundation when the weather isn’t cooperating so that when you can get outside, the groundwork’s already covered.”
If you do take your dog outdoors for a training session in less-than-ideal weather, it’s important to be vigilant about keeping your dog safe in these conditions. Check your dog’s footpads regularly after outdoor exercise. Constant exposure to moisture caused by rain, snow, ice or mud can irritate a dog’s footpads, causing skin damage, cuts and infection from bacteria or fungi. If a dog has cracked or bleeding paws, consult your veterinarian.
You should also pay attention to your dog’s tolerance of plummeting or soaring temperatures. Keep a close eye on puppies and senior dogs, as they cannot withstand weather extremes as well as a dog in his or her prime. A good rule of thumb for limiting outdoor exercise during high or low temperatures is that if it’s too hot or cold for you, it’s too hot or cold for your dog.
The bottom line is to use common sense in caring for your dog in weather extremes. Although you can't change the weather, you can be sure your dog is healthy and comfortable.
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