Obesity and lack of conditioning are the prime causes of deaths in hunting dogs.  Obese dogs have the same health risks as humans.  They can develop diabetes, heart disease and other ailments that lead to premature death. 

So how can you protect your favorite hunting companion in the field?  Dr. Jill Cline, Ph.D., Senior Scientists for Purina PetCare, has some ideas.  Purina PetCare’s scientists completed a 14-year study with Labrador retrievers.  They looked into the effect of feeding 25% less food than would typically be feed to such dogs.  They followed the dog’s progress from 8-weeks to natural death.

“What we found,” reports Cline, “is that dogs that were fed to be very lean lived approximately 15% longer than their litter mates.”  In the lab that translates to about three extra years. 

They also found that it delayed the onset of chronic disease.  “It delayed the onset of arthritis by three years,’ says Dr. Cline.  “It delayed heart problems and muscle problems by about two to 2.5 years.” 

“Generally, we found that by keeping dogs lean they lived longer and healthier lives,” concluded Cline.  “We saw a difference in the way they aged physically.”  They noticed the delay in the growth of gray hair.  The lean dogs did not turn gray until about 10 or 11 years of age.  Other dogs turned gray at eight years. 

Is your dog obese?  The best way to check is to look at his figure.  The ideal weight for a dog is when you can feel the ribs.  Viewed from the side, the belly tucks up.  Viewed from above, there is a noticeable waist in front of the hips. 

Dogs that are overweight and poorly conditioned could get in a life-threatening situation on a hot day.  Dogs in somewhat this body condition will have a longer career.  They not only live longer but their effective time in the field is greater. 

“Additionally, what you find in over fed dogs is not necessarily obese,” says Cline, “but, you will see retrievers in the field that are over weight and out of condition.”  It seems unusual for a dog food company to advise that you feed your dog less.  On the other hand, if you feed them three years longer, they are going to come out OK. 

Getting rover in condition takes a little time and effort.  If you set your mind to the need, you going to hunt that given dog in September for a half or whole day.  The Purina dog trainers, like Bob West, have found that it takes six to eight weeks to get a dog in shape for hunting season.  “If you begin with a couch potato, who is a little overweight, you can start with 10 to 15 minutes per day kind of exercise,” reports West, a veteran dog breeder.  He is describing walks on leads. 

West maintains that you need to do different kinds of work with your dog.  Repeated retrieves in water, playing with a Frisbee are good fun things.  Sporting dogs know to heel when wearing a collar.  During conditioning, with a harness, they can be allowed to pull a little.  As you walk, putting a little pressure on the dog uses a little more energy.  “It is the weight lifting part of training,” says West.  “It helps build the back, loin and rear end.” 

In conditioning, you have to work different muscles.  The muscles are either contracted or relaxed.  You cannot do any one exercise all the time.  West recommends working uphill or downhill as it takes a completely different set of muscles.  At the same time, you are also doing cardiovascular and you are not boring the dog. 

Cline agrees and maintains that it is important to keep the dog’s head in the game is a big part of conditioning. 

West gives the dogs what they can take.  Dogs are like people, some condition better, some enjoy conditioning, some work a little harder at getting in condition and they look forward to that kind of work.  You can tell when they lose interest. 

On a hot day, swimming work might be appropriate.  It does cool them, but he has taken dogs out of cool water and found they had a body temperature of 105 degrees.  It can fool you. 

West recommends that you get use to their normal rest heart and respiratory rate.  He checks it for 15 seconds and then multiplies by four the minute rate.  It gives you what is normal for them.  Then you can exercise them.  Pay attention to when they begin to look like they are beginning to stress a little bit. 

The dog will give you signals when he is under stress.  You will begin to see a little less animation.  They get a little bit of an apprehensive look on their face.  “The glands right under their eyes begin to change,” says Dr. Cline.  “There are salivary glands up there.”  “You will see them kind of squinty and puffy eyed.” 

Another sign of stress according to West, is the dog beginning to sweat up.  Their gums begin to turn to a darker color.  The tongue will turn a little darker too.  “It is due to more blood flow coming to the surface.  The veins in the face will also start to pop out. 

West explains that moisture on the tongue tends to evaporate off cooling the tongue.  It cools that blood back down and it goes to the core and to the brain.  That is how the dog’s body tries to protect itself. 

West recommends carrying water with you in the conditioning and hunting situations.  He carries a little bicycle bottle and flushes out the mouth of that slimy stuff for more efficient cooling.  If you rest the dog and give them a shot of water every 15 to 20 minutes on hot days, they will be OK.  At the same time, he checks their eyes and face. 

“Dogs are such tremendous athletes,” says Cline, “that they can still work hard for their masters without any preconditioning.”  However, they will harm themselves in an effort to please their masters.  She points to the things that happen on those short weekend hunts or bursts of exercise as an example.  The dog will give you clues as to when he is over stressed. 

Hunters with lots of dogs can change them out frequently.  Most hunters do not have that option.  If you let a dog fatigue or overheat to the point where they are starting to fail or stagger then you have lost him for the rest of the day.  It might even mean a trip to the veterinarian to re-hydrate him.



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