So it’s early spring and the shooting season has come to an end, the guns are back in their cabinet, the breeks and the waistcoats are back in the wardrobe but what of your loyal four-legged companions? Regardless if your working dog takes a uniformed break during the off season or if they continue to dabble in work throughout the year, this article will aim to give you some food for thought on some alternative activities you or another member of the family may enjoy with your dog.
There are several benefits to adding in alternative activities to your dog’s lifestyle. A time ago, some trainers may have considered ‘fun activities’ to have possible detriment to field training, but if done right can provide excellent mental stimulation and variety to their lives which can act to ‘freshen them up’ when it comes to returning to the field come September. There may be certain aspects of your dog’s work that you want to fine-tune and some of these activities may be able to aid you in doing just that, others will purely be alternative exercise but perhaps learning a new skill.
Scurries and Field Trials
An excellent opportunity to hone dummy retrieval skills, particularly speed of retrieval. Scurries are generally run as a ‘have a go’ event at game fairs and country shows which provides an excellent insight for amateur or first-time handlers whilst still allowing more experienced handlers to expose their dogs to busy atmospheres. They are often not as strict as time trial events and working tests where there are specific handling requirements and aspects of dog behaviour that can result in disqualification. Field trials aim to replicate a day out in the field to test the working ability of gundogs in competitive conditions. For field trials there are four main breed subgroups with various requirements dictated by the breed’s historic use and place out in the field; Pointers and Setters, Spaniels, Retrievers and HPR (hunt, point and retrieve breeds). For example, judges will be looking for the Spaniel to have good directional control and be steady to flush; Retrievers will be ideally steady by the handler, steady whilst shot over until instructed to quest for dead game from land or water.
Scent Detection Classes and Workshops
These classes and training sessions are a perfect adjunct to a working dog’s repertoire of skills. A target scent is used where your dog will learn to indicate where the scent is and as they progress be able to search and indicate where their scent is in more challenging environments that require the dog to search. Distractions are also added, requiring your dog to remain focused on you as a handler as well as the search itself.
Not only is it an excellent therapeutic aid to rehabilitate animals following injury but also a useful adjunct to your fitness routine for your working dog, and a very relevant one at that given that a bold retrieval dog will confidently and efficiently collect game from water. Several properties of water are utilized, buoyancy renders the animal weightless which reduces joint concussion which would often be experienced during high intensity exercise, viscosity of water and ultimately resistance means the dog needs to work harder to move through water than if they were moving through air. A hydrotherapy pool or treadmill will have different benefits, the former may help your dog improve their swimming technique- some are front end splashers which is not overly efficient. Equally a water treadmill can use water at different heights to target the building of and conditioning of different muscle groups. Aside from the physical benefits, hydrotherapy acts as excellent mental stimulation and something ‘a little bit different’.
So if you are looking for an activity to broaden your skill set as a partnership and have some fun, why not give one of these activities a go?
The off-season can either fly by or perhaps become a challenging time when it comes to nutrition, several of our diets may be suitable for your dogs during a time when their metabolism and condition is not being challenged in the same way as in the thick of the season. Chudleys Classic and Original are both tried and tested maintenance diets, the former is a complete chicken diet with added vitamins and minerals supporting muscle development and gastric health. Original is a highly palatable muesli-based diet that focuses on coat health, digestion and muscle recovery- a good option if your dog prefers muesli diets. Both of these diets are designed so that volume does not have to be restricted to a point of not satisfying appetite and dog’s still feel like they are getting a ‘proper meal’.