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The Dog Days of Summer

Soon, the calendar will turn to August. That means the temperature and the humidity will be hanging around the mid-nineties for the next few weeks. It also means the pheasant season is only two months away. I should start thinking about getting my dogs into hunting shape, but right now I have two yellow sacks of fur sleeping comfortably in the shade. They won’t be moving any time soon.

I am faced with the same dilemma every summer. How do I get my dogs off their hind ends and ready to face the rigors of a South Dakota hunting season, especially when it is so hot outside?

Some people like to get up early in the morning, long before the temperatures break above seventy, and run a quick 5K with their canine companions. I usually see them running through my neighborhood just as I’m grabbing the Argus Leader from my front doorstep. I tell myself, “I could do that…if I was 25 pounds lighter and 25 years younger.” To be honest, it really isn’t a matter of weight or age; I just don’t have the requisite discipline to run with my dogs at oh-dark-thirty every day.

I prefer to exercise my dogs in the evening. The temperatures have calmed down to a tolerable degree and the dogs have plenty of stored-up energy that needs to be released. On most nights, I walk to a nearby football field and toss a training dummy— just enough to get their heart rates up for an extended period. I keep a watchful eye on their breathing to make sure they are not overheating. Then we cool down with a two-mile walk around the local park. The highlight of our 40-minute excursion is a brief stop at the park’s drinking fountain. Despite my own beliefs about the sterility of dog saliva, I don’t let them drink from the faucet. (Some people frown on that.) Instead, I use a separate spigot that is conveniently located about head-high to a Labrador.

Training dogs in the middle of town isn’t ideal, but it also isn’t impossible. There are plenty of open spaces where I can let the dogs run free to get a good cardiovascular workout. Off-leash dog parks  are good examples. However, when I need to avoid the distraction of other dogs and people I have been known to conduct covert training sessions in new housing projects with undeveloped lots. (Apparently, this is frowned upon too, so I don’t recommend it.)

Of course, the simple solution is to take my dogs to the country. Despite the fact that I live in a city surrounded by cornfields, there are very few places where dogs can run free and hone their hunting skills.

According to South Dakota Game Fish & Parks, designated Walk-In Areas are off-limits to dog training throughout the year. In addition, federal rules prohibit dog training year-round on Waterfowl Production Areas. When it comes to state-owned Game Production Areas, you cannot train dogs on wild game birds from April 15 through July 31. These regulations help protect young pheasants during the summer months and ensure a quality hunting experience for everyone in the fall.

With proper planning, I can still get plenty of field time with my dogs before the season starts. When August rolls around, I begin training my dogs at an open Game Production Area just a few miles outside the city limits. This provides a completely different training experience with real sights, sounds and smells. If I didn’t do this prior to the start of pheasant season, I think my Labs would explode from sensory overload on opening day.

August field training requires a strategic approach to keeping my dogs well hydrated. I typically carry four large water bottles in my hunting vest—two for each dog. This is enough water to last approximately 15 to 20 minutes. I can’t venture too far into a field before I run out of water, so I try to keep the training sessions short and focused.

When the parks are off-limits and the fields are too hot, I like to take my dogs to Lake Alvin just east of Harrisburg. The boat dock is usually unoccupied, which makes it the perfect launching pad for Retrievers. I stand at the end of the dock and toss a training dummy about thirty feet into the water. The instinct that tells dogs to chase stuff automatically kicks in and they propel themselves off the dock with complete abandon. Like kids at the beach, Labs will play in the water until the sun goes down and they are told to come in and dry off.

Getting my dogs ready for the upcoming pheasant season takes planning, perseverance and even a little creativity—and it starts today. But first, I have to wake them up.

Copyright 2015, The Dakota Sky

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