Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
In a few short weeks, your writer, wife and Dillon (my German Shorthair), will be heading north to Ontario, Canada for Ruffed Grouse hunting. We depart New Hampshire on September 13th. That trip will launch the 2009 bird hunting season for the Fuller family; a season that won’t end until February 2010. It’s a season that will cover numerous states and two Canadian provinces.
What’s the most important step in preparation for all this hunting and travel? The answer is getting both yourself and your dog in top physical condition. If you don’t have your legs, lungs and heart ready for long days in the woods and fields, then you won’t enjoy the upcoming season. And, if you don’t have your dog in absolute top physical condition, he’ll suffer and you’ll have even less fun. In fact, if you push your dog without proper preparation, you might even lose him.
Before we discuss exercise, we need to talk about the fuel that makes the engine go. I’m not a nutritionist but I do know how to care for my body. I’m 6’ 1” and weigh 190 pounds. That weight is not too bad, however, over the next six weeks, I plan to lose five pounds. Many store bought foods contain processed sugar so it’s difficult to control your sugar intake; however, I will attempt to eliminate processed sugar from my diet. I will not eat a single dessert or a piece of candy until…well, maybe Christmas. I will eat salads, fruits, red meat, chicken, fish and just enough carbs to fuel the engine. Remember, unused carbs turn to sugar so watch your carb intake.
Take care of your body and you’ll enjoy those beautiful fall days even more. Now, let’s talk about your partner…your bird dog. You have the ability to control your food intake; however, your valuable hunting partner doesn’t…he depends upon you to make intelligent decisions about what he eats.
There is a great deal of discussion and written material these days on dog food and nutrition. This subject is not new, however. My father was a veterinarian. We always had a kennel full of hunting dogs and they could run a marathon and I don’t ever recall them being heavy. I also recall how in the 1950s hound men frequently visited my father for feeding advice.
That same discussion, with all the same questions, continues today. How much protein/fat should a dog get and when. A few modern day gun dog trainers/writers promote feeding a high protein/fat level year around. They suggest simply adjusting the volume of food according to the workout level of the dog. That formula doesn’t work for me. When you go from high volume mode to low volume mode, your dog will always be searching for more food…perhaps even getting into trouble doing it. Plus, his stomach will shrink and that’s not good…what’s going to happen when you go back to high volume? Perhaps stomach trouble.
Today, most of the high quality dog food manufacturers offer food for working dogs with different levels of protein/fat. If you shut your dog down for most of winter, you simply go to a lower level of protein/fat. Native, Purina, Eukanuba all offer products that allow you to adjust the fuel level without adjusting the volume of food. Although they’re all good, personally, I’ve selected Native (nativedogfood.com) for Dillon. They make four levels of protein/fat content that makes it very easy to select the level to match the exercise your dog is getting. Dillon is fed Level 2 (26% protein/16% fat) during the off-season and he gets Level 3 (30% protein/20% fat) beginning August 1st. Along with exercise, that puts him at maximum performance level for our first grouse trip of the year in mid-September.
Now that we’ve talked about what fuels the engine, let’s talk about getting the engine in top shape. An avid grouse hunter walks five to ten miles per hunting day. That means your dog covers 15 to 30 miles a day.
I often read about roading your dogs from an ATV. It’s a very efficient way to condition your dog but it doesn’t do much for you, the hunter. I use a bicycle to road my dog. That way I get exercise and so does the dog. For both safety and healthy dog joints, don’t do it on a paved highway. Make friends with a farmer and use his tractor paths. For this purpose, you can buy a decent mountain bike for around $400. That’s a small investment for an item that will improve both your and your dog’s heart, lungs and legs. A word of caution, however. Break in the dog by attaching the harness and then walking the dog along with the bike. If the dog isn’t conditioned to this exercise, they’ll pull suddenly, the handlebars will turn and you’ll take a header.
If you haven’t been working out, start slowly…only a mile the first day. Eventually, increase your distance to at least five miles. That may mean peddling over the same dirt road several times but so what; you’re outdoors and enjoying the scenery. If you’re bird season begins October 1st, start roading yourself and your dog no later than August 15th.
How do you set-up a bicycle for roading? Get a pole, 1 X 2 or whatever you have in the barn that’s 5’-6’ long. Put a hole in one end that will take a clothesline hook. With snaps at both ends, make a dog lead about 3’ long and attach to the clothesline hook. Attach the pole to the handlebars of the bike. You can buy a real roading harness from a dog supply place (Google Dog Roading Harness) or simply buy a standard harness from any pet supply store. Put the harness on the dog, attach the lead and off you go.
Hunters and dogs, get ready now to insure a healthy, happy and productive bird season.