The dog days of July and August are a misnomer. Hunting dogs need action, but it’s too hot for exercise. Neither old Drake nor young Lady can afford to vegetate now. Hunting season is just around the corner. In a month or two they’ll launch all-out assaults on fields and meadows, woods and waters. How do you get them in shape for that without killing them?
Water world. Yeah, let ’em swim trim. The H₂O will keep them cool while they splash in and out to fetch those bumpers. This is as natural as panting for retrievers, spaniels and versatile breeds, but what about setters and pointers? Ideally you’ve trained them to love water at a tender age, like 8 or 9 weeks. If you missed this phase, it’s not too late. Even old, water-hating dogs can be eased into an amphibious life if you take your time.
First, run your dog until she’s uncomfortably hot, at which point you magically arrive at the edge of the pond or river. Snap on the lead, get into the water yourself and entice or carry your canine companion in with you. You are her support, her rock and confidence man. Don’t let her sink or swim. Buoy her with chest and belly holds, and gradually lower her deeper until her legs are working. Don’t let her head go under. Keep up the support, both physical and emotional (“Gooood girl!”). Calm and easy until she’s relaxing and realizing she’s cooling, not drowning.
If you can arrange the depth so her back is nearly submerged but her feet touch solid bottom, perfect. She’ll feel in control with her head comfortably above the waves. Keep her there. Give her time to calm and realize the liquid world isn’t threatening her very existence. Help her walk out slowly, minimizing splashing.
Repeat this exercise regularly and your old dog will gradually learn that cooling summer waters are her friend. At some point you ease her into deep water and, when she’s floating and dog paddling steadily, let go. Once she’s swimming, she’s ready to put in some serious aqua-training.
Dogs that don’t care to leap in for a retrieve should be seduced into joining you for a swim. If you don’t swim, get in a canoe or row boat with Dog paddling alongside. You might need to get him in the boat the first time or two and launch him toward shore, but don’t throw him in! Lower him easy-like to avoid panic and a setback to your efforts. Minimize anything “scary,” and you’ll eventually get any dog to enjoy a hydro-workout.
If yours is a waterless world, try nocturnal runs. Pre-dawn is usually the coolest time, but in some parts of the U.S. even that’s not cool enough. So stay in an air-conditioned space with a treadmill. Sounds pretty downtown for a country dog, but it’s a good option. Most dogs learn to handle a treadmill. Make it a non-threatening introduction, balancing Dog in place as the mill picks up speed. Incline machines are ideal for adding stress, and building muscle and endurance. Cool.