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Over the years I matched as many dogs as anyone in the history of thegame in the British Isles, and have over those years seen all the topconditioners that have competed, some that were well-known and some that werenot. In this time I have seen dogs that were conditioned on shots and some thatwere not. I’ve seen dogs that were conditioned on mills, bicycles, out of cars,motorcycles, jogging and a hundred other methods. Some were in great shape andothers were not. In this time I have put together my own methods of putting adog in shape for a match and have used these methods with some success, neverhaving had a dog beaten because he was in poor shape. They either quit or werebeaten by a better dog. Over the time I also matched dogs for other kennels with success. Ialways felt that the pre-keep was as important, if not more so, than the keepitself and have seen many dogs ruined by inexperienced
owners running before itwas time to walk. Most dog men seem to think that as soon as a show is made, orforfeits placed, that they have to get as much work into a dog as they can, ina mad rush. When the real key to success is to take it slow and easy. Ibelieve, that a dog should be at, or real close to its show weight when a matchis made. This way the pre-keep can be used for its true purpose, of cleaningthe dog out. This means that it should be free of all internal and externalparasites and more importantly clear of all internal fat, something nearly alldog men fail to do.
When a dog gets tired during a match and dehydrated, his veins andarteries shrink, and as his heart pumps blood and oxygen around his body itbecomes increasingly difficult if the path is blocked with fat. If the dogcan’t get his oxygen fast enough, then he’ll either ‘blow up’ or quit. The samething happens in hare-coursing, only they pull up or ‘stash’, and it happenswith working terriers if they are not fit. You end up digging to a dead dog,with the cause of death being put down to suffocation, when the real cause isfat or unhealthy dogs. Before a dog or an athlete can be put in any sort ofshape, for any sort of competition, they must first be stripped of all excessfat, both inside and out. In the old days they used to psyche out a dog orpurge him, which only showed the lack of understanding of these people.
It is far easier to start any sort of conditioning with a healthy dog.It is only commonsense that tells you this. But sadly it’s something that a lotof dog men don’t have. When you feel that your dog is ready to be matched, orthat it’s ready to compete in a competition of some sort, such asweightpull,flirt-pole, etc. then you’ll need to find your dogs best weight. This needs areal experienced eye and I’ve only ever seen a few that can spot a dogs trueweight. Most tend to matchthem too heavy. Once you have decided on the bestweight it would be best to show your dog at, then start to bring him down tothis weight slowly. If your dog is a forty pound dog, he should never be aboveforty-five pounds or perhaps forty-seven at most. If you have sporting dogsthey need to be kept in good shape. It’s no good having a forty pound dog ‘hogfat’ at fifty pounds and then expect to get him to his show weight in sixweeks. It can’t be done in good competition. Once you have the dog down toaround his weight, then it’s time to start looking for a match and this iswhere the real conditioning is done. I like to put a dog through a pre-keep of at least a month and this isfor a dog that may have been hand-walked for several months previously, for upto five or ten miles daily. During this time he would have been wormed everytwo months and I’d get him at least ten weeks before a show. The first thingthat I would do is actually weigh the dog and check out his weight and thenworm the dog out, using a multi-wormer such as Ivomec injection or Panicuremulsion. I’d also bathe the dog using an insecticidal shampoo. I worm the dogevery two weeks until two weeks before the show. If a dog is on or around itsshow weight, I give the dog at least two weeks pre-keep, but if I’m working thedog for another party, then I give them a four week pre-keep.
I start the keep by hand-walking the dog for an hour each day and ifpossible, like to have the dog running loose, which allows him plenty ofexercise. After each day of work I rub the dog down for fifteen minutes andthen give him a drink of freshly boiled water. I then crate him up and feed himan hour later. During the pre-keep I feed only fresh minced beef and feed onlyeight ounces the first week and give a mineral/vitamin supplement. At times adogs weight may drop below his show weight, but this is not a problem, as itwill come back when you change his diet. In the second week, I up the walking to one and a half hours andincrease the feed to twelve ounces. I always leave water down for the dog andonly remove it at night. This way, when I work my dog he’s empty of water. Ifyou work your dogs at night, then remove the water at about dinner time or atleast six hours before you intend to work the dog. The last two weeks I work the dog for two hours daily, just hand-walkingand feeding one pound of fresh minced beef. By the end of these last two weeksyour dog will be stripped of all excess fat, both outside and inside his systemand ready for a full keep. It’s far easier to condition a dog that has beenkept healthy and exercised regularly and not get ‘hog fat’ between matches.There’s no need to allow a dog to get ‘hog fat’ and it’s unhealthy for your dogto get like this. Remember a gamedog is the ultimate canine athlete and must betreated as such. When did you ever see an athlete put on five stones betweenraces? A pound in weight in a dog is the same as an ounce in a game rooster anda stone in a man.
The more weight you have on your dog, the harder it will beto get it off. If you don’t remove this body fat before you start working yourdog, then it will simply turn hard and though your dog may look in great shape,he most certainly will not be. His heart and other organs will have a layer offat on them that will weigh a couple of pounds. This gives your opponent a pullin the weights and leaves your dog in the heart attack class, that is if hedoesn’t ‘blow up’ or quit first.The number of times that I have conditioned dogs for other people andallowed them to make the match and then I’ve had them put the dog through aproper pre-keep, only for them to ring me and say that their dog is too light,which was never really the case. The dog was simply at his true weight and theyhadn’t matched him at his true weight. Many times I have been asked tocondition a dog that had been matched previously at a certain show weight. Butwhen I’ve conditioned the dog, say for a match at thirty four pounds, I’vefound that in my hands he was only a thirty one or thirty two pounds dog tops.One or two pounds in a match can certainly win or lose it for you. When you canput a dog in top shape and in a natural way, it gives you a big edge over thesteroid conditioner. The key to success in dogs, lies in the feed pan and the conditioning.It also helps if you have a game dog. Far too much emphasis is placed oncomplete feeds, like Febo, Purina, Iams, etc. and not enough natural feeds arefed. I myself, mix my own feeds for the dogs and feed no complete meals at all.I feed various types of meat with cereals and grain, with plenty of fruit andvegetables and my dogs are just as fit as anyone elses. If your dogs weightfalls below its show weight, then increase its feed by a few ounces. I like totake my dog a pound or so below his show weight and then leave him there for aweek. In this way, his body uses all the fat that is stored inside his body andthen you can start to condition him and build him up to his show weight. Whenyou strip a dog down in this way and then build him back up, he is far strongerand will be far bigger than his opponent when in the ring. You cannot take afat dog and start working him down to his show weight, without cleaning him outfirst. If you don’t strip them down inside, you will have a dog that is overhis true show weight and is at a disadvantage before he’s even matched. The best pre-keeps last at least six months and if you work a dog thislong for a show and keep him lean and fit, when you get him hooked up all yourhard work is done. Then you can cut back his feed a little and clean him outand he’s ready for some serious work.