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A lean dog for a long race" is an old saying that a man ought to have in mind when he looks at his hunting dog this month. An. animal that has enjoyed the usual summer existence is probably in poor shape, with soft pads, weak muscles and too much fat. What the dog needs, of course, is some conditioning now so that he can hold up from the first day of the new hunting season.
While the weather is still warm it is a good idea to cut down a bit on a dog's daily ration, though not to the point of keeping him excessively hungry. One good meal a day is enough unless, as many hunters do, you prefer to provide a light breakfast and a big helping in late afternoon.
Exercise is important too, but at first it should come in small doses: say a 15-minute run in open fields in the early morning and in the cool of the afternoon. After a week of this you will find your dog's enthusiasm increasing and his stride snappier. Many hunters use these exercise periods to prospect for new covers and check old ones.
A leash against which the dog can pull will do much to harden his muscles. For this work a proper pulling harness is best so that the strain will be against chest and shoulders without fear of choking. The logical terrain for this sort of exercise is a country road, traveled half a mile each way to start.
Professional trainers who have access to open country that can be crossed in a car or light truck give dogs workouts by leashing them to a two-by-four bolted to the rear bumper and projecting a couple of feet at either side. The vehicle is driven slowly while an assistant watches carefully as two or three dogs are exercised at once.
Variations of this system immediately suggest themselves. A strong young boy on a bicycle, holding the leash so it can instantly be released if necessary, is a combination that I happen to know will work well. If a man is fortunate enough to own a horse but has never tried exercising his dog while on horseback, he is in for a delightful surprise.
Road work is good for toughening a dog's pads, but too much of it may injure them. After every session—particularly at the start of this training—the pads should be examined for signs of excessive wear. If this occurs they should be coated with Friar's Balsam or tincture of benzoin. A coating of fuller's earth and pine tar, mixed to the consistency of paste, is also helpful. There are several commercial preparations available that banish soreness and toughen pads.
Hunting boots for dogs are available in leather and rubber and are invaluable if a dog is hunted hard all season. They're a help in sandbur country too. It is advisable to send a footprint of your dog when ordering.
After each run in the field it is a good idea to wash out a dog's eyes with a lukewarm solution of boric acid. This will remove the weed seeds and other matter that may have accumulated and prevent inflammation.
As a dog's muscles harden and his exercise periods are increased, an extra helping should be added to his daily ration. While most canned foods are excellent, the gun dog that works hard should have this meal supplemented by raw beef or horse meat. Chopped up beef hearts and kidneys, with some vegetables added, make fine stews with which to soak commercial dog meal or mix with biscuits.