Dog Day Exercise
The Dog Days make August a difficult month for canines, especially the sporting variety. Hunting season is just around the corner, but it’s been many weeks since the weather has been cool enough for serious field exercise. Inactivity takes a toll on human-dog cooperation and communication, not to mention their mutual physical conditioning.
Water play beats the heat and does the job.
The easiest form of training for any dog is masked by the semblance of play. Add the cooling effect of water to a series of basic lessons for great workouts for you and your dog. The games should include the essentials of obedience: come, stay and fetch, plus, at later stages, direction.
August’s heat has made rockfish finicky and unreliable. The invasion of small bluefish with their propensity to cut the tails off live spot has curtailed live-lining and has even made trolling soft plastic lures an expensive proposition. I hear reports of blues reaching 24 inches, but the majority are barely legal, not enough of a challenge to target as yet.
You need only three training items: a short lead, a whistle and a throwing dummy that floats. Keep your training early and late in the day when temperatures are lower and beaches, streams and waterfront are less populated.
Dog Training 101
With your dog on the lead, wade into water below the dog’s chest. If the dog is not a retriever or is apprehensive about water, keep activities to a comfortable depth. Don’t attempt to force a swim; that will come.
Release the dog, give a short blast on the whistle and make eye contact. One blast becomes the command for the dog to look at you no matter what is going on. Then give a release command; okay is a good one, but you can use any word you desire as long as you don’t vary it. The point is to get the dog moving freely in the water. Run alongside to urge a hesitant dog on.
Next, tease the dog a bit by waving the dummy. Don’t throw it yet. Give a few short blasts of the whistle and call the dog to you. Offer praise when the dog reaches you and let it hold the dummy.
Always praise and pet a dog when it returns. Never transfer your attention to something else when a dog is on its way back to you. Do so and you’re telling the dog it’s okay not to return. Always insist the dog come all the way back and reward the behavior lavishly. Come is the single most important obedience command.
Do this two or three times when you start the play sessions, always giving a number of short blasts on the whistle with the come command. After the affection reward, allow the dog to move off, then give one short blast. When the dog stops and looks at you, give the stay (or whoa) command and hold your palm up toward the dog.
Repeat the command; then hold the dummy up so that the dog notices it. Toss it 30 or so feet away in the same depth of water or more shallow while saying fetch, fetch it up or some variance you feel comfortable using.
When the dog gets the dummy, call the dog by name encouragingly and give the come command and the short whistle blasts. Most dogs will automatically return, if only so you can throw again. While the dog is returning, back up slowly. Never advance toward the dog.
When the dog reaches you, grasp and praise it. Never grab the dummy away from the dog. Only after you have praised the dog and stroked it should you accept the dummy.
Accepting the dummy is done with two hands, one taking hold of the dummy, the other hand gently pressing the side of the dog’s mouth over its teeth. Never pull the dummy away; wait for your dog to release it.
Make sure the dog understands that the point of the game is returning to you with the dummy. The game is not about the dummy; it’s the dog’s return. This focus will generally prevent the dog from creating its own game, keeping the dummy away from you.
Initially, 15 minutes is an adequate workout followed by a cooling walk on the lead, always in the water. Gradually extend the time of the exercise and the depth of water until the dog is making longer and longer swimming retrieves and getting a good workout. Never continue the session until the dog tires of it. Always quit while the pup is still eager.
Later you can add multiple dummies to teach directional commands and more complex communication scenarios. For now, you and your pup are re-establishing basic obedience and cooperation and getting some good exercise, despite the heat of August.