Training in the Dog Days of Summer

By Justin Goethe
Bird dogs are made in the summer.If a dog can do his job during the hot, dusty days of July and August, he’ll have no problem once the crisp, cool afternoons of autumn roll around. It is our responsibility to ensure our canine companions master their tasks safely and efficiently when the temperatures begin to climb.
Ray Godwin has spent the last 30 years training gun dogs of every color, shape, and size. His Webfoot Retrievers, located in Holly Hill, South Carolina, has produced an astounding 565 titles for himself and his clients. While he specializes in the breeding and training of English Labradors, Ray got his start training pointers in the South’s piney woods.
Living in South Carolina, Ray has had more than his share of experience keeping a dog cool while training in some of the hottest, most humid conditions in the country. 
Here are a few tips for keeping your dog safe when the mercury starts to rise:

Water! Water! Water!

At his Webfoot Retrievers’ training facility, Ray dug several small ponds to allow his dogs the opportunity to jump in and cool off. According to Ray, if you don’t have access to groundwater, it’s important to carry enough drinking water to give your dogs during each break. 
"Dogs “sweat” through the pads of their feet and their tongue," says Ray. "When you’re cooling a dog down, pouring water on the back or head or even the stomach is a waste. Instead, try to squirt some in the side of the mouth or soak a rag and wrap it around their feet.” 

Know Your Dog 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to training. “A long-haired, thick-coated breed is going to get hot quicker than a short-haired breed," explains Ray. "Also, a dog that is overweight or acclimated to its owner’s air conditioning will become overheated faster. It’s important to understand these things before you start to train and adjust your plan accordingly.” 

Set up Your Training to Minimize Exertion

“When training a dog, I’m trying to teach a task - not punch a timeclock," says Ray. "If I’m training a dog to be steady on birds, [In the summer] I might put the birds out one at a time or maybe closer together so that he doesn’t have to run as far in between the birds.” 


When the Dog Understands the Command, Stop

“If the dog has learned what he’s supposed to learn in ten or fifteen minutes, put him up," says Ray. "Don’t keep pushing him. If I keep drilling a task once [the dog] has already got it, not only is it unnecessary, he kind of looks at me like, “Are you stupid? We already know what we’re doing!”

Know the Warning Signs

Before training in the summer, you should always have a plan for keeping your dog cool and allowing him time to rest. According to Ray, a dog’s normal temperature is 100-101 degrees. "At 104 degrees, the dog starts to lose brain cells," says Ray. "Keeping a digital ear thermometer with you will allow you to accurately gauge your dog’s body temperature.
You can also watch the dog for cues that he is starting to get overheated. "First, his eyes will begin to get bloodshot," explains Ray. "Second, look for a vein that runs along the dog’s muzzle and up under his eye. If this vein begins to bulge, it is time to stop and allow the dog to cool down. Finally, if the dog begins to stagger, it may already be too late. Stop and seek medical attention immediately!”
Bird dogs are made long before the leaves begin to turn. They must master their craft in the dog days of summer when bird season is but a distant glimmer on the dark horizon. It is our responsibility to ensure this is done safely. Keeping your dog safe while training in the summer takes just a little planning and a lot of common sense. If you can do that, you are sure to have a worthy hunting companion to keep your game vest filled for years to come.