The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
The Dog Days of Summer
Keep your hunting dog in training at the beach
My pointer was quivering with tension as she held steady, waiting for permission to break. Sweat stung the corners of my eyes, and I hesitated until I was sure that she had the bird clearly marked. Then I gave her the go signal.
Launching like a rocket, she was at full speed within two strides. Hitting the water with an impressive splash, the dog bounded swiftly through the shoals toward deeper water. I followed calf deep but was far behind as she closed, swimming strongly to the floating dummy. We were in summer training at the beach.
Unrelenting hot summer days are often called dog days. The origin of the phrase goes back to the Romans, who noticed that the Dog Star, Sirius, was close to the sun during the hottest months of the summer. Unfortunately these dog days, though named for our four-legged buddies, are not at all kind to them, particularly the sporting breeds.
During this period any kind of extreme physical activity, especially all-out field training, usually comes to a screeching halt, and for good reason. Intense physical action in hot weather can easily result in heat stroke. This can be fatal for a dog of any breed.
If your love of the field includes canine companionship and participation, as mine does, it can be a difficult time. The beginning of bird hunting is still a few months distant, but if your four-legged partner stays inactive, it can mean a season slowed by adaptation to the increase in activity levels. Dogs need to stay in shape as well as us humans.
Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries are the key to safe summer exercise for your pup. A water workout is a cool, safe way to keep your dog in top condition during the sultry months and improve physical development and field performance as well.
If you have a Chessie, Lab or any of the water dog breeds, you’ll have no trouble getting cooperation in aquatic drills and wet exercises promoting fitness. Some of the other sporting breeds, however, may need a gentler introduction to water-based gymnastics to secure their whole-hearted cooperation.
My own dog, Sophie, is a German shorthair pointer, and while all the literature claims them as enthusiastic, natural, water lovers, my experience has been different. I have had a number of GSPs over the years, and each needed varying degrees of encouragement to develop love of the doggie stroke.
The natural solution to full canine participation on the water is patience, encouragement and duplicity. Get your dog involved in a game of fetch, which all dogs love; then subtly switch the game to a marine environment.
Sprints through the shoals will keep them cool, add muscle-toning resistance to their running efforts and abolish any apprehension they may have about the wet places. If they are hesitant to go into deeper water, end each session for the first few weeks with retrieves that just barely make them swim. Then gradually extend the retrieves into deeper water. If they balk, don’t force them. Be patient. The love of the game will win them over.
The use of retrieving dummies is a good idea, for they lend uniformity to the process and are easier for the dog to see and grip. A good drill, right out of the water dog manual, is to have your pup stay and watch you throw dummies into the water in opposite directions from where they are sitting. Then point to the dummy you want the dog to retrieve and give the fetch command. As the dog catches on to what you want, it will be absorbing (or reinforcing) hand command training as well as sharpening retrieving skills.
If you’re lucky enough to have some high grass or brush near the water, you can initiate retrieves into those areas, followed by water retrieves to ensure your dog remains cool. Eventually, of course, you will build to the long-water retrieve, which provides maximum muscle-building activity plus a thorough cardio workout. And all the while you and your dog will be playing a game.
The culmination of your efforts will be in the field. Your four-legged partner will be in top condition, ready for a full day at the start of the season, and more than eager to pile into the water at any opportunity. What’s more, your dog will have the confidence and cooperation that you’ve been building all summer long. Now you’ll need to stay in shape to be up to the task as well.
Note: Caution must still be taken, even in the water, to be sure dogs don’t get heat stress. Check them often, and exercise in the cool of the morning and evenings.
Anne Arundel County has two dog-specific beaches, one at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis (410-222-1777), the other at Downs Park in Pasadena (410-222-6230). Check with other county information offices, or the Maryland DNR website for similar access on public areas near you.
Fish Are Biting
Rain, rain and more rain early last week buggered the run of good striped bass, perch and croaker fishing in the mid-Bay. Not because the fish stopped biting, but because not many people got out on the water. Now that the deluge has stopped, I recommend focusing on where the fish were last concentrated: The channel off of Podickery Point; Hackett’s Point; Tolly Point and Thomas Point on the Western Shore; Love Point; The Dumping Grounds and down to Bloody Point and The Hill on the eastern side. Freshwater anglers will do well again once the waters clear. Good luck to all.