Spring Training For Your Canine

An article from WWA’s Doctor’s Orders

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s March 1, 2019 eNewsletter.

By K.C. Brooks, an avid waterfowler, dog lover and practicing veterinarian at Lodi Veterinary Care.

Jojo’s internal alarm went off this morning just a little before 6:00 am.  Jojo is my 4 ½ year old Yellow Lab who has three passions in life:  food, hunting, and placing her muzzle as close to me as needed to have her ears ruffled.  This morning she was on a mission. As soon as I opened the bedroom door she bolted down the hallway as if there were a downed mallard at the far end.  I opened the patio door to be greeted by sub-zero temperatures.  That didn’t faze her.  She quickly urinated and defecated.  Next she took a quick spin around the back yard as if to warm up for a training session.  Then suddenly, she headed for the pond where many of her water retrieving sessions take place.  She reached the shore quickly only to find the pond covered with a thick sheet of ice and topped with a foot of snow.  Abruptly she turned back and returned to the house driven by passion number two: breakfast.

WWA Executive Director Bruce Ross’ dog, Callie, displays the fruits of her spring training labors.

It remained very cold today, but the sun was warmer than usual and the daylight is lasting well into the late afternoon.  Jojo’s sprint to the pond reminded me that soon it would be time to start her “spring training.”  Like many hunting dog owners, I do little formal training during the winter months.  Although Jojo would be up for training in any weather conditions, my human frailty means you are more likely to find us in front of the fireplace reading Stories of the Old Duck Hunters.   But today I realized that it wasn’t just time for major league pitchers and catchers to report to spring training.   While spring training in Wisconsin is not nearly as comfortable as being in Florida or Arizona as a big leaguer, it is still an important time for your “duck dog.”  Spring is a great time to gradually start a strong conditioning program before the summer heat limits physical exertion.  It is a time to slowly reintroduce training concepts that may have slipped a bit through months of inactivity.  The remaining snow can actually make some training exercises easier to accomplish.  When the snow is gone, fields with no or short cover can be used to your advantage to build confidence.  It is also a good time to be sure your dog is healthy and that preventative health care measures are in place for the warm weather months.

I made time in my day to journey to the basement and assemble my training gear and shifted some spring clothing from the upstairs closet to the main floor.  I even braved the cold to plow a small pattern field using the tractor.  I also made myself a reminder to schedule Jojo’s spring physical exam and annual bloodwork.  Jojo was beside me all the way and especially excited to see the training supplies being handled.  At one point, I let her back outside and she sprinted to the newly plowed pattern field in hopes that I would follow.  I glanced at the thermometer, which now read nine degrees, and looked at the flag pole which showed a stiff westerly wind.  I called Jojo back, retreated to my rocker in front of the fireplace, picked up my book with one hand, and ruffled Jojo’s ears with the other.  Spring training is almost here!  Enjoy your dog!