Dog-Training Days

What’s a bird dog owner to do this time of year?

By Rob Breeding

Triple-digit heat isn’t the sort of thing that gets most folks thinking of fall, but that’s what it does to me. The dog days of summer are my reminder: hunting season is near, so my pup and I better be ready.

This poses a problem. Getting the dog in shape means she needs to run. A few years back, when I jogged a dozen or more miles a week, this wasn’t a problem. I just put the dog on a leash and brought her along. An ailing knee has curtailed my jogging impulses, however, so I need alternatives.

Running the dog in open country is the best option, but out here east of the mountains, snakes are an issue. She’s been vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean I’m eager to test the efficacy of that canine pharmaceutical.

I regret that I’ve never had her snake trained. For those unfamiliar with this technique, it involves capturing rattlesnakes, removing their fangs, then introducing those snakes to dogs wearing training collars. When the curious dog approaches the highly agitated snake and it strikes (harmlessly), the trainer gives the pooch a full blast with the collar turned up to 11.

After a shock or two, most dogs are trained for life.

That training only works when the snake makes its presence known, however. I’ve come close to stepping on rattlesnakes a couple of times. In both instances, the snakes were stretched out and appeared to be maximizing contact with the warm ground. They were still groggy, in a cold-blooded stupor, and it took some prodding to get them to react. But I have no doubt they would have quickly directed their fangs toward my foot if I’d placed one on their back.

So snakes rule out a lot of nearby open country.

Then there’s the matter of heat. I don’t even like running Doll in those Indian summer days of fall when the temperature climbs into the 70s. And when the temps push 100, you’re talking possibly lethal conditions for an overworked dog. So I wait until late in the evening, or even after dark, to take the dog out for exercise.

In snake country that’s potentially the riskiest time of day. One of those snakes I nearly stepped on was laying in the road, and had positioned itself so it was stretched out in the washboard. The rutted depression wrapped around the snake, bringing even more hot ground in contact with its body, warming it even faster. We saw three or four rattlers doing the same thing that evening as we drove out.

That day was particularly hot, too hot for snakes. They’d been forced to hole up all day, and it was only when the sun headed for the horizon that they emerged from their dens. Groggy from the cool earth underground, the rattlers used the road to warm themselves up before a night of hunting.

So what’s a bird dog owner to do this time of year? Doll and I are currently getting our exercise in the grassy expanse of a city park, one with a handy stream running through the middle of it, and almost certainly no snakes. There are plenty of distractions at the park, which are good opportunities to remind the dog what “whoa” means. I sprung that on her the other day when she seemed ready to sprint across a field toward another unleashed pooch. She held up well considering it was the first time she’s heard that command since our last hunt in January.

Still, she looks at me funny when I release her with my other hunting season command: “Find birds.”

There are other dogs in the park and kids squealing in the playground and young lovers hiding in quiet places oblivious to the rest of us, but Doll’s nose tells her there are certainly no birds here.

That will change soon enough come hunting season.