Upland bird hunting is a team sport, and the dog is definitely the athlete in that equation. And just like human athletes, our canine “teammates” benefit greatly from a good preseason conditioning program.
If you haven’t started your dog on such a program yet, now would be a good time. But make sure not to overdo it in the early going.
You’ll want your dog to be able to hunt for multiple hours – perhaps for several days in a row – once fall rolls around. Chances are good that he’s not in the same condition right now that he was when the last hunting season ended, and it’d be a bad mistake to expect him to pick up where he left off without some pre-season workouts. He needs to rebuild his stamina, tone up his leg muscles and shed any excess weight he might’ve picked up while lounging around during the spring and summer.
For starters, try to get him out three times a week for “free runs” lasting 15 to 20 minutes. You can progress to 30 minutes after a couple of weeks, and then to an hour if you’ve got the time, the space and the desire to get your dog into tip-top shape. And as a side benefit, you can use that time to improve your own conditioning through vigorous walking.
The ideal time to conduct these sessions is early in the morning, before the blazing late-summer sun climbs high in the sky. Heat stroke is a severe threat to dogs that expend a great deal of energy in hot weather, and it’s best to just avoid that possibility all together.
Also, be very aware of foxtails – those grass-like weeds with the spiky seed heads that can work their way underneath a dog’s skin and travel through the body to the spine or vital organs. They can be as lethal as rattlesnakes, which are another potential hazard to keep in mind.
Swimming is one warmer-weather exercise option, if you’ve got a dog that’ll do it (some pointing dogs won’t, and some are such poor swimmers that that almost becomes a dangerous activity in its own right). Others love the water, though, and they can get an excellent workout by bringing back a few wet bumpers.
If you have the means to expose your dog to birds prior to the season, then by all means, do it. There may be a bird dog club in your area that conducts regular training sessions, and such clubs are usually fairly easy to find through an Internet search. Another option would be to schedule a session with a professional trainer.
And remember, if you’ve given your dog a fairly rigorous summer workout, don’t just stick him back in his crate immediately afterward. Like all athletes, they need a little time walk around and cool down.
> Tomorrow or Monday we’ll take a look at getting you – yes you – in shape.