A medium-sized brown dog with long, wavy facial fur sat on a platform, eyes riveted on a pond. His owner, Bob Bowater, tossed a plastic dummy that hit the water with a loud splash.
Bowater put his hand above the dog’s forehead, palm facing to the side. At his command, “Back!” the dog jumped into the water. Moments later, he was back on the platform holding the dummy, his coat dripping wet.
“This is Gibbs,” said Bowater, 73, a retiree from Hampstead who once owned a sign company. “He is a 17-month-old Pudelpointer. He has been in training here for three months, and I hope he is ready to hunt on opening day of the dove season.”
Bowater said he chose a Pudelpointer because the breed is a do-everything dog. They also make excellent house pets.
“I hunt doves, ducks, pheasants and quail,” Bowater said “I did a lot of research and Pudelpointers seem to have the best of everything. Right now, I am concentrating on water retrieves because the weather is so hot.”
Bowater was working his dog on the training grounds of Jerry Simmons. Simmons is 69-year-old professional dog trainer who lives in Castle Hayne and specializes in hunting retrievers and pointers.
“The key to a hot weather workout is water,” Simmons said. “The best advice I can give anyone is to put their dog in the water before beginning any training or conditioning session on a hot summer day like today, when the temperatures can go higher than 90 degrees.”
Simmons typically has 10 dogs at some stage of training in his kennels. However, in August, the number of dogs swells after hunters realize that dove season will arrive Labor Day weekend. They bring the dogs he has trained for them back to him for handling tune-ups and conditioning sessions.
“Their dogs have usually gained weight from lack of activity,” Simmons said. “Some have even been in the air conditioning all summer long. It takes me three weeks to put them back into the shape for hunting season.”
However, those are only the dogs with the smartest owners. He said more typical are the other owners who take their dogs out on opening day of dove season with no prior conditioning. Only after they realize their retrievers cannot do what they do best – retrieve – do they bring them back to him to prepare them for waterfowl season.
“I don’t worry about the dog’s weight,” he said. “That will come off with water work and road work. I feed the dogs what they will eat at one sitting and the weight burns away.”
Young dogs that are still undergoing training at his kennels need no additional conditioning. However, with fully trained dogs whose owners have dropped them off at summer “boot camp,” Simmons wets the dog and throws three marks (visible dummies) totaling 450 yards of running every other day. Alternate days are for the standard training and conditioning drill called the Double-T. It has nine dummies, run on a 100-yard long and 100-yard wide pattern that looks like a lower-case “T” with two crosses. Every morning and afternoon, he runs roadwork, with the dogs following his ATV.
“I turn lots of dogs out together and they follow,” he said. “I make a 500-yard circle around a pond and let them go into the water as often as they need. I slow down when they do and they swim and lap up water before we continue. I watch them constantly for signs of overheating. I can tell by their demeanor if they need to cool down. If the dog is disoriented, holds its tail low, or is panting heavily with its tongue lolling, you had better get that dog cooled down, fast.”
Tips for helping retrievers keep their cool
▪ Hunt in the morning, when temperatures are coolest
▪ Wet the dog thoroughly prior to entering the field.
▪ Hunt near a pond or ditch, where the dog can fully immerse.
▪ If no natural water is available, fill a plastic mason’s tray, stock trough or kiddy pool with at least one inch of water.
▪ Keep the dog in the shade. If natural shade is not available, use a camouflage beach tent or umbrella.
▪ Shoot your limit first, then get your dog and handle it while it retrieves doves for other hunters.
▪ Have water bottles on ice at hand. In the event of heat stress, allow the dog to lie on its belly in the chilled water, or pour the water on its belly and the undersides of its ears.