A “whole dog” approach that focuses on mental and physical recovery is the best way to prepare hardworking bird dogs for a successful field trial season. Although not all stress is “bad,” it is important to define stress tolerance for an individual dog so you can help your bird dog benefit from the right amount of stress.
“You have to know what stress is for each dog you work with,” says Purina Senior Research Scientist Arleigh Reynolds, DVM, PhD, DACVN. “Some dogs love competition, but not training. There are dogs that love traveling in the truck and others that find it stressful. Knowing what stresses individual dogs will help you decrease the negative part of that stress when a dog is recovering.”
Recovery should be planned. “No matter how well adapted to travel a dog may be, all travel is stressful and should not be considered ‘rest,’ especially for dogs that require a high level of athleticism for optimal performance. Little things make a difference and help dogs stay injury free,” Reynolds says.
Early in the training season, young bird dogs should be acquainted with the travel routine to help them learn to rest in an event environment. A positive approach helps to minimize the stress of travel, particularly for dogs that don’t eat, drink or sleep well on a truck. Dogs also should become used to having their bodies gone over during a tailgate exam and being massaged.
Handlers can help bird dogs rest easier at trials by choosing quiet, distraction-free places to kennel them for the night. Dogs should have soft, dry bedding. It also is important to take steps to rid their bodies of waste, such as carbon dioxide that can build up in the bloodstream, and soreness.
“Warm ups and cool downs are tools to help with waste removal,” says Reynolds. “Before and after an event, dogs should run loosely 10 to 15 minutes. Leash walking or controlled walking in groups of dogs allow you to evaluate them for soundness and identify a problem. You may notice a dog getting a little stiff that would benefit from a massage to help take away that soreness.”
Trainers of conditioned bird dogs that are at their peak with the sporting season underway should decrease the volume of training, increase the intensity and build in more time for rest. Between events, it is important to monitor your bird dogs for signs of stress, lameness and injury.
“It takes three to five days for the neuromuscular system to recover from work,” explains Reynolds. “This is why you don’t want to work a dog too hard right before a trial.”
It is always better to prevent problems associated with overtraining than to treat them. Promising bird dogs will not achieve their potential if they are not given adequate mental and physical recovery.
Key Points to Remember
- Rest is just as important as training.
- Travel is not rest!
- The immune system must be fed. Feed a complete and balanced high-performance dog food, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 or Advanced 28/18 Formula to sustain a dog’s energy needs. Visit proplan.com/dogs/platforms/sport to learn more about the Purina Pro Plan SPORT nutritional platform.
- Travel and competition can compromise immune function. Training and nutrition can help improve immune function in stressful situations. Give Purina Veterinary Diets FortiFlora canine nutritional supplement to support a healthy immune system.
How have the Purina Pro Plan SPORT Formulas helped your hardworking bird dog achieve success in the field? Let Purina know by writing a review at proplan.com/reviews