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Just over two months until the Ruff opener in the Northwoods. I can’t wait! 🙂
I can’t wait for NWBC 2012! That’s Northwoods Wild Bird Camp. It’s where it all comes together for me and the Llews. But, am I ready? Are the dogs ready? Is the equipment ready? 🙁
I seem to go into panic mode about this time every year and this is no exception and might top out at being the worst for not feeling as though I am any where near ready and that I just might not have all that I need when the season opener comes around. I’ve had every excuse there could be–first work and no time, then work, puppies, and even less time, then an injury, work, puppies, and no time at all. Then nesting season and I shouldn’t be in the woods. Then 90-100° F temperatures and I won’t go outside, let alone run around in the woods with hot dogs… so, here it is just over two months until hunting season, the sweltering heat has finally broken for a while, and I am in a panic (okay, not really but could be) thinking about everything I need to do to get pups, young dogs, and even the seasoned veteran dogs ready for hunting season, traveling, bird camp, etc., and looking over the broken, missing, or just worn out equipment and tallying the list of needs is suddenly very overwhelming. Reality is setting in.
In the weeks and months before (now), we work on many things rather it be simple yard commands, whistle and hand signals, scenting (and hearing) situations, e-collar conditioning, introduction to the gun, and even things some may not think about such as riding—and even spending nights—in the box in the back of the truck or in the dog trailer. Anything I can think of to expose the dog to before the trip or even the ride to the closest game lands will make it easier and less stressful on me and the dogs. It should all be nothing new to the dog because it’s all been rehearsed many times… in theory anyway…eh?
Introduce Traveling Situations
I have started taking the younger, 4-month-old pups for short rides in crates in the back of the pick-up (it has a cap on it, too) . As soon as I build a stand for my insulated dog box and can get it onto that stand, and then into the back of the truck, they will get used to that as well. I much prefer (and so do the dogs) the insulated boxes. I usually have one of the 2- or 3-hole boxes in each truck, but haven’t been able to get one in there yet! The young dogs will also get to go for rides in the dog trailer. These are experiences they will greatly benefit from having and reduce stress when we go on a hunting trip.
Adjust Feeding Times Now
Another thing I’ve started doing is adjusting feeding times so the dogs can begin to get their systems on schedule with training/hunting camp. For instance, I feed twice a day in the winter/off season when we are not working/hunting/training. I gradually switch over to a once-a-day (night time) feeding schedule when we are training or hunting. A dog works better empty and it’s better on them to not eat at least two hours before traveling. At least that has been my experience. So, I have already switched them to the night-time meal and a biscuit for breakfast. Several of the dogs don’t even eat the biscuit until evening. I also personally do not change their food to something different during the hunting season. I know a lot of folks switch to a higher protein food, but I simply give them more of their everyday food if they need and want it. I rarely have an issue with the dogs not eating, but I’ve seen a lot of folks that do. The stress of the trip, different sleeping situations (usually outside in the truck or trailer vs. in the house or their kennel at home), the change of water, perhaps other dogs and people around and such alters their comfort zone enough to make them not want to eat. Anything we can do to introduce these situations beforehand will lend to better eating habits and a healthier dog come hunting time!
Work your Dog in the Cover it Will be Hunting
Since we primarily hunt the thick Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock cover-types, I only work the young dogs in this kind of cover. I never understood why folks work their dogs in fields on planted birds all summer but plan on hunting in a completely different situation. I understand many will be hunting pheasant, huns, quail, etc., in the fields and Grouse and Woodcock in the thick cover too, but I find that once a dog learns to work the cover and scenting conditions in the woods, that dog will also adjust to a field-type situation much more easily than the opposite scenario. The dog needs the beforehand experience of learning how to find you in the woods! Give the dog half a chance to learn what is expected come time to hit the Grouse woods. Obviously, however, if you will only ever hunt field-type situations then by all means, work your pup in them! I also realize that some may not live near the same cover-type situations they will be traveling to for hunting, but if you can get the pup into the same-type situation, it will greatly benefit the pup and you. The dog will actually be hunting when you get there, instead of trying to figure out new cover-types, scenting conditions, etc. But, if you are not able to give the pup these opportunities, at least know, plan, and expect that a lot of the hunting trip will be a learning experience, which isn’t a bad thing at all–as long as you know this and don’t become frustrated with the poor dog because he is figuring everything out for the first time (and that’s your fault, not his).
Purchase, Test, and Introduce New Equipment Now
Something else I like to do now in the months before hunting season starts is to get the pup used to things such as the bell or beeper-collar. Decide which (or even both) you will use. If you haven’t purchased the bell or beeper collar, you need to do so soon and get the dog used to working with it on, learning the feeling of it, the sound in different scenarios, etc., well before heading out to hunt. This also gives you a chance to work out any issues such as how you will attach the bell–will the collar fit through it or do you need to attach it with a clip or zip tie? I’ve clipped or even used the Velcro-loop-type on many a dog just to have them fall or get knocked off 20 minutes into the hunt. I’ve learned to have extras in the truck (and even my hunting jacket) and to attach them to the collar with a zip-tie if they are not the type that slip on a collar. Bells are expensive, but even worse is to be 20 minutes or even an hour away from the truck and not be able to hear where the dog is. Also test different size and sounds of bells. Maybe you want a different bell or several for different situations. For instance, I use certain bells on pups, certain bells on closer-working dogs, certain bells on wider-ranging dogs, and even different bells on windy or rainy days. I don’t use beeper collars, but the same would apply for testing it out now and getting your dog (and you) used to the different sounds it makes in different situations. I’ve seen many dogs freak out when that beeper collar is put on them for the first time. Perhaps you can get the pup used to the sounds it makes before putting it on her. I’ve also seen a few dogs freeze up and tippy toe around when a bell is put on them for the first time. It’s a great idea to add a bell very early on and anytime you have pup out for a run. I also like to be sure the bell is hanging at a proper length from the collar. I’ve seen dogs with huge bells hanging much too low (in my opinion), banging them in the chest! I like the bell much higher up so that it is not beating up the poor dog. I feel it also gives a better sound when up high and not muffled by the brush, water, or the dog’s chest.
Speaking of the dog’s chest, I see many hunters using vests on their dogs. If this is an accessory you plan to use, please be sure to get the dog used to it as well. One of the most popular reasons hunters end up at the vet’s office while on a hunting trip–believe it or not–is due to horrible chaffing these can cause. The dog’s under arm areas get rubbed raw if they are not fitted properly or because they are not used to wearing them causing more of a problem than if no vest was worn. Realize also most of them tend to cause overheating. Do your research and test them well ahead of the hunt.
Do you plan on getting that GPS-tracking collar, new camera, a new jack, game vest, or boots this year? There can be a learning curve for all equipment, electronics, and a break-in period for new clothing or especially boots; make your decisions and purchases as early as possible and learn how to use the equipment, break-in the boots, and introduce your dog to everything well ahead so it becomes old hat.
Conditioning You and Your Dog
Conditioning is a subject that could take many pages to cover. There are a myriad of things folks do and I won’t get into them in this post. However, it is definitely very important that we do all we can to get ourselves and our dogs into shape rather it be for a one-week trip to the Northwoods, a 3-day weekend to the prairies, short few-hour hunts weeknights after work, or the weekend warriors. If you have just a pup or one dog, you can’t expect to do nothing to get them ready for a week-long, hunting all day everyday trip and to not get injured or be severely stressed or exhausted 3 days into it. Just as you couldn’t get off the sofa and go run a marathon without a training program, your dog can’t either. Well, actually, the dog probably could–they live to hunt and will go, go, go until it kills them. But, the damage that is being done to them is probably beyond repair and most-likely not even visible to you. I feel this is especially critical in puppies and young dogs–dogs that are still growing. I hear people say their pup will run and run and run… and they worked them 3 hours or more and I cringe. Sure the pup will, but I don’t feel you should let him. The damage that is doing to their joints is irreversible. Short, frequent outings are the key. Make them rest. Keep an eye on their gait, breathing, eyes–everything. I could go off on a rant about this, but will stop very short and just remind everyone to use their common sense and to remember the pup is still growing. That he lives to hunt and wants to hunt and doesn’t want to stop. It’s up to us to be sure he isn’t damaging his joints, causing future problems. Yes, it is essential that any sporting dog gets lots of exercise but too hard and too long at critical growth stages in a young dogs life will cause more problems than it’s worth–think!
A good conditioning program will also help to toughen up the pads of the feet. This will help pup–or any age dog for that matter and especially those couch dogs–when it comes time to hunting long hours and on all types of ground cover with sticks, stubble, stones, etc. I’ve seen dogs with bleeding pads by the 3rd or 4th day into a hunting trip. I’ve seen products that can be applied to pads to help with the snow/ice build up, and products that are supposed to help toughen up their feet, but I’ve personally never tried them. I wonder about products that would possibly block or hinder the sweat glands in their feet. Booties are another great option depending on where you will be hunting and how well-conditioned your dog’s feet are. You’ll always need to have extras on hand, because no matter how hard you try, then always inevitably lose one. Running your dog on asphalt helps toughen up the pads rather quickly, but be very careful and avoid it completely on hot days.
That’s all for now.