Dear Old Trainer: I have a 3-year-old German shorthaired pointer, Fritz, who is trained for quail and pheasant hunting. The trainer I hired told me to keep him locked in his 20-foot run except when I take him out to hunt. When I do, he runs wild for about 15 minutes, and then is so tired out that he can barely work and wears out in half an hour or so. What is wrong with him?
-- Clueless, Mariposa
A: Clueless, the only thing wrong with Fritz the pointer is that his trainer and owner don't get the point.
Sorry to be so pointed in my criticism, but it is pointless to expect Fritz to be in shape when you have failed to exercise him.
This idea that you keep working dogs locked up except when they work is a hangover from the Dark Ages. It is nonsense, and The Old Trainer gets cranky every time he hears it.
Fortunately, the problem can be solved by taking two simple steps.
First, fire your trainer. He doesn't know what he's talking about.
Next, recognize that the reason that Fritz is out of shape is because you have not done your job.
A working dog is like any other athlete. He needs constant training to be able to perform when the time comes.
Keeping an athletic dog the size of Fritz in a 20-foot run 24 hours a day is the same as keeping a marathoner in a 6-foot cell for months -- and then expecting him to go out and run a marathon.
Fritz has been driven so crazy by being locked up around the clock that he runs wild when he is first released.
The fact that he has been locked up ensures that he has no endurance and that he will be exhausted by his wild run.
Getting any working dog into working shape requires nothing more than simple logic. Like any athlete, Fritz needs exercise and training every day. It's up to you to train him. And I don't mean walk him half a mile on a short leash. To Fritz that is the equivalent of a couch potato getting up and walking to the fridge for a piece of pie.
Use a retractable leash, the kind with the plastic handle that allows the dog to have 20 to 30 feet of leash.
If you are in shape to run -- and every hunter should be -- start Fritz at two miles or so a day and work up to five miles. If you cannot run that distance, start by walking and increase the mileage. You will benefit as much as Fritz.
Use the walk or run to emphasize the various commands, bringing him back to you and allowing him to run ahead. Use voice commands and hand commands to indicate the speed and direction you want from Fritz. Praise him as he responds correctly. Daily walks and runs enable you to develop outstanding communication with a working dog.
In addition -- not instead of -- an excellent training device is to hit a tennis ball as far as you can with a racquet, then have Fritz retrieve it. If you have a hill you can hit the ball down, so much the better. Running up an incline is excellent training for a working dog. Make sure Fritz spends extensive time out of his 20-foot run, interacting with you, every single day.
Fritz, if properly trained, can easily run 20 miles a day at the speed of a man running, and he won't even be breathing hard. Any working dog can do the same if his owner takes on the responsibility of proper training.
Develop a proper conditioning routine, Clueless, and you will find that Fritz will perform like a champion when hunting season starts.
Send your questions for The Old Trainer to: TheOldTrainer711@yahoo.com.