I was talking a couple of days ago with a friend of mine who has working gundogs, and we got on the subject of roadwork. We both do it, but we do it very differently. His dogs are at the height of their working season right now, dove season opened a few days ago and we always have a huge influx of out of town hunters. They hire the handlers and dogs to retrieve their birds, it works out well for both. Mike works his dogs 7 days a week in the months coming into dove season, even though that is a way too hot time of year for me to start. I was quite startled to find that he works his dogs at least 12 miles each day. But, when you think about it, it makes sense. Our dogs are normally expected to walk along until something is found, then charge after it, or if free coursing they will move along at a slow to moderate trot (once the intial willies wear off), but not really push themselves until there is something to chase. His dogs are expected to hit the ground really moving and move all day long without being lazy. While we may work different distances, the rest of our ideas are pretty much the same.
Where: we both work on gravel farm roads. This can be hell at first for a tenderfooted dog, and some never get used to it. I have found, however, that I wind up with feet like iron and really tough pads on my dogs. Since there is nowhere that I hunt that has nice soft footing, I like having dogs who can handle the terrain without frying their feet. For a tenderfooted (or thin padded) dog we will start out slow, but at some point I expect them to WORK. This is a hunting breed, they should be able to deal with all sorts of terrain. If their feet can’t toughen up, then I have some decisions to make, because that is a trait I really don’t want to get started. I very rarely have to deal with this problem. The roads I work on are mostly rolling terrain, so they get a good bit of uphill work.
How long: My dogs generally start out working a mile at a really extended trot, normally between 11 and 15 miles and hour. They don’t stay at a mile for long. I bring them up slowly, usually increasing .5 mile about every two weeks or sooner if they show me they are ready. I don’t work dogs more than 4 miles. Once you have a dog that will work 4 miles at a fast clip then there is really no benefit to working even further, and you risk inducing boredom, which can really trash your roadwork. One thing I will do with that 4 mile dog is take them over to another road I work on. This road has a huge, steep, long hill (over a mile, 5% grade). I will gallop them up this hill 2-3 times a week. I have seen a great benefit to doing this, developing the back and hindquarters and allowing the dog to literally exploded off the line and accelerate to full speed much quicker.
With what: My equipment consists of an 8′ and a 9′ bungee lead, a heavy double ended snap for coupling, pinch collars that are correctly fitted, and what I call a “swat stick”. The bungee leads are constructed out of heavy duty bungee cord 1/2″ thick, with a heavy brass snap on one end, a coupler ring about two feet up the lead, and a loop on the other end big enough for me to comfortably hang the leash above my elbow (I have found that above the elbow gives me a lot more leverage if things get wild and wooly). The swat stick is nothing more than a five foot length of 1/2″ cpvc plastic pipe that is taped on one end and has a string hand loop on the other. I use this to bang on the side of the van if they get too close to the wheels. The noise is enough to startle them away from the van most of the time, tho I do have one hardhead that I have to tap to remind him that he needs to be over there and not so close to the front wheel.
How often: I have two sets of four dogs that I work. They work on alternating days with one exception, and that is Bo. She is on an intensive conditioning and weight loss regimen, since she got just plain fat. She works daily. The rest of the dogs work every other day unless we are storming really hard or just too hot (a real factor this time of year). Other weather factors don’t slow us down. I expect the dogs to work in light to moderate rain, freezing cold, blowing sleet, and high winds. The weather won’t suddenly get beautiful just because we are hunting, and I don’t want fainting lilies in the face of crappy weather.
I roadwork at night for several reasons. The first is the rolling terrain. Working at night lets me see cars coming before they are right on top of me. Those headlights reflect a long way, plenty of time for me to get stopped and move the dogs in front of the van. It’s cooler at night, so I can start work earlier in the year. And after ten, there is very rarely any cars on the road, and NONE of the oilfield trucks that tear ass up and down the county roads during the day. And, I am a night owl, so I thoroughly enjoy being out in the country at night.
The only real hazards are loose farm dogs. The two roads I work don’t normally have any, but I do carry pepper spray in case I need it. Usually if I do encounter a dog, a loud “Hey, git back home” will send them away.
Roadwork takes dedication. You need to have a schedule and keep to it as much as possible. The dogs will enjoy it, and you will too once you slow down and relax.