Don’t let your dog down with fes­tive in­dul­gences.

Wendy Bardsley ex­plains how to keep your dog in good shape through­out the fes­tive sea­son.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month -

The sea­son is well un­der­way and the fes­tive ac­tiv­i­ties are im­mi­nent. Whether you have a pick­ing-up, beating or peg dog, it’s a good time to check they’re in good shape and re­view their per­for­mance in the field. Hope­fully you will be reap­ing the ben­e­fits of your pre-sea­son prepa­ra­tion and train­ing, but it’s im­por­tant to con­sider how you can sus­tain these en­ergy lev­els and get the most out of your sea­son. As the fes­tive pe­riod of overindul­gence ap­proaches, now is a good time to take stock and check if any changes need to be made – think about what is go­ing well and how can you main­tain your dog’s health to pre­vent a drop in per­for­mance and en­sure an en­joy­able, suc­cess­ful sea­son.

Wilt­shire gun­dog trainer Tracy Corbin from Corbins­bere Gun­dogs picks-up on a reg­u­lar ba­sis with her team of spaniels.

“I treat all my dogs like ath­letes,” ex­plains Tracy.

“It’s es­sen­tial to reach a good stan­dard of fit­ness prior to the start of the sea­son so they en­ter the field in good shape. Their work­load is in­creased a cou­ple of months ear­lier with more train­ing that in­cludes re­triev­ing up hill and down, long mem­ory re­trieves, hunt­ing, sweep­ing and quar­ter­ing, and ex­tend­ing the time to de­velop their stamina.”

It goes with­out say­ing that the bet­ter the health and fit­ness your dog en­ters the field with, the more likely it is they will sus­tain their body con­di­tion and per­for­mance lev­els for the whole sea­son.

Gun­dog com­peti­tor Matty Lamb­den is part of the Ir­ish team and en­sures his dogs sus­tain a good level of fit­ness in the work­ing test do­main to give a smooth tran­si­tion into the tri­alling and pick­ing-up sea­son.

“I have a large field with fairly steep hills be­side my ken­nels and I get the dogs to jog up and down the hills,” says Matty. “They ab­so­lutely love it and see it as their play time. It also gives the younger dogs a chance to learn from the older ones.”

Beating and pick­ing-up re­quires stamina and re­silience from han­dler and dog, so it’s im­por­tant to keep your­self in good shape, too. It’s likely your dog en­tered the sea­son with a good level of fit­ness, stamina and over­all con­di­tion that will en­able them to step up and per­form, how­ever, it’s easy to let things slide. Be sure to mon­i­tor en­ergy lev­els and con­di­tion, es­pe­cially as the win­ter weather sets in. Check­ing their weight, coat con­di­tion and stool com­po­si­tion reg­u­larly are good ways to iden­tify if any small changes need to be made to their diet.

Matty Lamb­den de­ter­mines his dog’s health by mon­i­tor­ing their stools.

“My dogs are in­di­vid­ual ken­nelled, so I know ex­actly what they’re eat­ing and if I see a change in their stools I can act on it straight­away,” he says.

Lit­tle ad­just­ments

Con­sider too whether you need to ad­just the fre­quency and du­ra­tion of train­ing ses­sions on non-shoot days and whether your dog needs a com­plete rest fol­low­ing a shoot day.

Tracy Corbin makes ad­just­ments ac­cord­ing to each dog’s needs.

“If they’ve had a long hard day pick­ing-up I would give them a rest day. In-be­tween there’s al­ways a fo­cus on train­ing and work­ing on spe­cific ar­eas such as the stop whis­tle, mak­ing sure the dog is nice and steady, and hunt­ing has to be tight.”

The shorter darker days in the win­ter can present a chal­lenge with your train­ing if you are jug­gling a reg­u­lar job with your shoot days. The late Gra­ham Cox en­cour­aged han­dlers to think ‘cre­atively about what can be done rather than be­moan­ing the im­pos­si­bil­ity of the sit­u­a­tion’. Sus­tain­ing your dog’s en­ergy lev­els and per­for­mance through­out the sea­son re­quires some train­ing in-be­tween shoot days and cor­rect train­ing in the dark may de­velop your dog’s tool kit for the field – prac­tice your heel work and mem­ory re­trieves and don’t let the dark evenings re­strict your train­ing de­vel­op­ment.

There is lit­tle qual­ity re­search on how dif­fer­ent di­ets af­fect the health of dogs in gen­eral. There are ad­van­tages and disad­van­tages to both kib­ble and raw di­ets and it’s down to you to se­lect one that suits your dog and fits with your life­style and pick­ing-up/beating sched­ule. How­ever, it’s worth speak­ing to the food man­u­fac­tures, de­vel­op­ing your knowl­edge and learn­ing more about what’s out there as this area is con­tin­ual evolv­ing.

There’s no doubt a dog’s diet must be man­aged ac­cord­ing to work­load and in­di­vid­ual needs, and as your dog’s en­ergy re­quire­ments in­crease as the sea­son pro­gresses, some ques­tion whether you need to in­crease the amount fed. It may not be the case if your dog has been in­volved in test or train­ing ac­tiv­i­ties out­side of the sea­son.

“I feed my dogs a raw diet as I think it de­vel­ops their stamina,” ex­plains Tracy. “They have a good qual­ity mince early in the morn­ing on a shoot day and, depend­ing on what day I have ahead of me, I may use the odd Kronch en­ergy bar at lunch time to main­tain per­for­mance through­out the day. Each dog is dif­fer­ent so it’s es­sen­tial they main­tain their weight and not lose weight through­out the sea­son.”

Tracy has seven ex­pe­ri­enced cocker spaniels as part of her team. These lit­tle dogs re­flect pure en­ergy and will hap­pily work hard all day. There’s no doubt they are an as­set to a shoot day and their flex­i­bil­ity al­lows them to beat and re­trieve. With their hard-work­ing ethos in mind, it’s cru­cial to man­age their en­ergy lev­els so that they don’t burn out by mid-morn­ing and risk a drop in per­for­mance.

High-en­ergy sup­ple­ment snacks on a shoot day may not be for every­one, but they can pro­vide sup­port and help in main­tain­ing en­ergy lev­els, es­pe­cially for dogs that need a lit­tle ex­tra fuel for the af­ter­noon shift. An­nette Clark, gun­dog com­peti­tor for the Eng­land re­triever team 2018, picks-up through­out the sea­son with a team of nine dogs. She gives her cocker spaniels Kronch bars on a shoot day for an en­ergy boost.

“I feed all my dogs tripe mixed with Simp­sons’s Chicken & Potato. We also feed a lot of minced tripe, chicken and beef, as well as good chicken car­casses.”

Matty also feeds his team of labrador retriev­ers tripe mixed with sal­mon oil and feels it works well.

“I usu­ally in­crease the amount of food dur­ing our busy days when the dogs are work­ing hard and the colder weather sets in,” he ex­plains.

Whether it’s the odd pork pie from your lunch or a spe­cialised en­ergy bar they can be in­valu­able on a shoot day. But be­ware of the fes­tive canapés and game pies that

are key in­gre­di­ents of a Christ­mas shoot. The fes­tive vibes will draw you in to en­joy a hearty in­dul­gence of vast amounts of food know­ing you’ll work off the calo­ries in the af­ter­noon drive. Try to re­sist ex­tend­ing the in­dul­gence to your ca­nine com­pan­ion – a wan­der­ing labrador re­triever may find the temp­ta­tion all too much!

Beating the el­e­ments

Be­fore head­ing off to the pub for a well-earned drink it’s es­sen­tial to sort your dog first as their com­fort and well­be­ing is paramount. Reg­u­lar checks and main­te­nance of your dog’s body is vi­tal, so dry­ing them down prop­erly at the end of the day and check­ing for nicks and cuts is a req­ui­site for ev­ery shoot day.

Depend­ing on the breed, it’s a good idea to keep a comb or bris­tle brush in the car for a quick groom at the end of the day, too. If your dog beats it’s im­por­tant to brush out any burrs, thorns and this­tles and check their body at the same time as burrs that are left can knot the coat and cause prob­lems down the line.

Dog coats aren’t for every­one but some need a good coat be­tween drives to avoid tired mus­cles get­ting cold. For retriev­ers and point­ing breeds that will be ex­posed to cold, wet con­di­tions, a good neo­prene vest will help to keep them warm. Some of the fleece coats can re­pel wa­ter well and pro­vide a warm layer in colder con­di­tions. There are a plethora of coats avail­able and some re­move a high per­cent­age of mois­ture from a wet coat quickly and cleanly, so do your re­search and find one that suits your dog’s in­di­vid­ual needs. At the very end of a shoot day when your dog is ex­hausted, wet and cold, fit­ting them with a coat for the jour­ney home can help to pre­vent stiff­ness set­ting in.

Pro­vide a dry dog bed at the end of the day for the drive home, too. And re­mem­ber your dog can lose a large amount of body heat overnight if they’ve been work­ing hard all day, so you may want to con­sider some form of heat in the kennel or warm sleep­ing quar­ters if the dog is kept inside.

Be­ing out and ex­posed to the el­e­ments means your work­ing dog also has a much higher risk of in­jury and dis­ease in the field. Check with your vet that vac­ci­na­tions are up to date as part of your mid­sea­son health check. As with any dis­ease, pre­ven­tion is al­ways bet­ter than cure.

En­joy­able days in the beating line and pick­ing-up are in full flow so now’s the time to im­ple­ment a mid­sea­son check­list to mon­i­tor your dog’s en­ergy lev­els and make sure you’re get­ting the most out of your sea­son. Whether you want to ad­just your train­ing, make small changes to di­ets or sim­ply mon­i­tor your dog’s weight and stools, ad­here to your list and en­joy the fes­tive pe­riod know­ing your dogs are in very good shape for the re­main­der of the sea­son.

A dog’s diet must be man­aged ac­cord­ing to their work­load.

Keep your dog warm and dry af­ter a day in the field to pre­vent stiff­ness and signs of hy­pother­mia.

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