Our clients are bird hunters and owners of field trial competition dogs. Since both seasons start in September, I've been on a serious regimen of pre-season conditioning.

I exercise our dogs using four-wheeler workouts, free runs, training time on wild birds or some sort of combination, depending on the age and experience level of each.

So twice per week, I'm up early in the morning—while it's still cool—to "road"—as we call it—our dogs. While I'm gathering equipment and readying the four-wheeler, the dogs are going wild, barking and bouncing around their kennel runs. They love roading and can hardly wait to go.

Over the years I've developed quite a system—most of it custom. (I've gotten to know a local metal works guy quite well!) Two bars extend from each side of the four-wheeler and one longer bar extends forward from the front bumper. With room for two dogs per side bar and five dogs off the front, I can safely accommodate 13 dogs.

Each dog wears a roading harness—similar to a sled dog harness—which is clipped to a heavy-duty bungee cord which is then clipped to the bar. Just like a sled dog race, I work quickly to harness the dogs and start. As soon as I move forward, all is quiet as the dogs start working.

My goal here is building a cardiovascular base for endurance so I road for long times at a slow speed, say 8 – 9 miles per hour, which is just fast enough to have the dogs leaning into their harnesses but moving in a pace gait. I start with a mile or two and slowly increase it to about nine miles.  

It's vital to keep the dogs cool and hydrated. After 10 minutes, I stop at a deep pond and let all dogs loose to drink and to cool off. At 20 and 40 minutes, I drive the four-wheeler right into a shallow creek and let them all rest for a couple minutes. Most won't drink much at 40 but all relish splashing around in the water.

After about an hour, we're headed back to the kennel and the dogs are tired but happy. I can't say who likes this early morning routine more—the dogs or me.

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