I hated to do it, but had to get Gabe, my two-year-old Golden Retriever, “fixed” a few years ago. Most of you readers probably know this means surgery that involves removing two special parts of the male anatomy. No doubt, a woman first coined this term “fixed.” And, truth be known, it was my darling wife Kathy who was the driving force behind fixing Gabe.

On my most logical, rational level I agreed that it had to be done and my resistance was purely sympathetic and emotional. But we had five dogs at the time (six now) and Gabe, the only intact male, was causing considerable discord among the pack. Especially when the female rat terrier went into heat and Gabe’s love-struck behavior of constant whining, drooling, and inappropriate piddling drove us all crazy.

An incident just before a Michigan game farm hunt was the last straw. Gabe attacked my friend Ron’s male yellow Lab Beau (who had incidentally been recently fixed), drawing blood. Afterward I angrily told Gabe that a veterinary visit was in our near future. Despite this pending threat, he happily flushed and retrieved pheasants all day.

I would have liked to breed Gabe (he was a pricey pup from a kennel that specializes in hunting-stock and field-trial Golden Retrievers), but must admit that peace now reigns in our pack. He still exhibits lots of drive to hunt and train, and my arm wears out much sooner than his desire to keep retrieving throw-dummies does.

After surgery, he started gaining unwanted weight, and whereas he was once quite “ripped” (to borrow a bodybuilding term) his muscle tone was noticeably going soft. He reminded me of me when I turned 35 or so, and seemed to put on 10 pounds every time I drove by a McDonald’s and smelled the fries cooking.

The silver lining to this is that he needs more exercise, which means I get more, too.

In high school I lettered in track and would like to run with the dog, but my aging knees simply do not allow it. And walking is good for me, but doesn’t give Gabe a thorough workout. Three- or four-mile bike rides a few times a week are just the ticket.

With Michigan waterfowl and upland bird seasons starting, here are some tips, some learned the hard way, should you decide to ride with your dog.

  • Lay the foundation of what “heel” means. It should be a conditioned response for the dog to stay with his head next to your knee.
  • Start slow in a place void of traffic until the dog learns to stay next to you.
  • A mountain bike is best for heading off-road when the dog sees a rabbit, squirrel, bird, or butterfly and temporarily forgets what “heel” means.
  • Keep the bike seat low enough so that you easily can dig your heels into the ground should your dog start to take you off-roading.
  • To keep the dog from lunging in the first place, consider a Herm Sprenger Quick Release Steel Pinch Training Dog Collar. A Rottweiler trainer turned me on to these and they definitely do the job.
  • The breeder told me this: Don’t start long bike rides until the dog is fully grown—at least 15 months old; though it’s better when they’re closer to 24 months. Pounding the pavement when bones and tendons are still developing can damage shoulders, knees, and hips.
  • Use common sense when running the dog on hot days. Don’t push pup too hard and take frequent water breaks—pack some water squirt bottles in the bike bag.
  • Pack a poop bag. If your dog is like Gabe, he will have to “go” when a well-manicured lawn is the only option (usually with the homeowner sitting on the veranda). A sealable gallon Ziploc is worth the expense over a possibly leaky bread bag.

If you’re familiar with Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan (I’m a huge fan), you know he recommends at least 30 minutes of walking twice a day to keep a dog calm, happy, and receptive to training. No one I know has that kind of time, but regular bike rides pack in a lot of exercise for your dog and burn off a lot of extra energy, whether or not he’s bred to hunt.

Plus, it’s a fun way to spend a half-hour or so with your best buddy.

Visit our Pure Michigan page for more Michigan articles!

For more information on Michigan hunting go to michigan.orgClick here to purchase a Michigan hunting license online.

Image by Dave Mull

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One thought on “Bike-conditioning the Pooch for Bird Hunting

  1. What a wonderful story and so true. Mans best friend is just that, “BEST” friend and it’s sad some people haven’t experienced it.

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