Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gun Dog Training Between Seasons

Picture for a moment an NFL football player in March or April. Although he is not in the height of his season, regularly working with the team to improve plays and build stamina, he cannot afford to be stagnant. Athletes depend on their bodies to continually succeed, so they must train consistently, even when games and events aren’t regularly scheduled.

The same can be said of your hunting dog. Although you are not depending on his prowess during the lazy days of summer, it is still important to maintain your dog’s level of fitness and ability. You cannot expect the dog to jump back into the game without any maintenance of the dog’s skills. Your dog is an athlete who works strenuously to please you during the hunt. And the simple truth is this: it takes more than a week or two before bird season to maintain the level of skill necessary for a successful hunting experience. There is nothing worse on the first day of the hunt than having a dog full of a year’s worth of enthusiasm and only an hour or two of stamina.

Hunting can be tiring for us, but we are not literally running all day long, as are our hunting dogs. The dog enjoys this work, but it is still demanding on his heart and lungs. His muscles should be toned and ready for exertion. Another important thing is that your dog maintains tough pads on his feet. His feet should be able to physically withstand hours of running on rough and unpredictable ground. These are all things that can be maintained with mild, but consistent workouts consisting of runs, retrievals, and basic drills.

Another issue to consider is the dog’s exposure to climate control. If your dog resides in an air-conditioned home for the spring/summer/early fall, exposure to hard work in an uncontrolled climate can take its toll on the dog. The first day of the hunt has the potential to be quite warm or quite cold, depending on the area, and your dog should be prepared to work in that climate. It is not ideal to leave the dog outside all summer either, but consistent exposure to the outdoors will help to prepare him for hunting season.

Worse yet, the sudden exertion on the part of a dog that has been allowed to be lazy for 9 months can cause debilitating injuries. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be damaged if they are suddenly overused. Hunting dogs have such a desire and passion for the sport that they will actually hurt themselves in their enthusiasm. This can lead to a disappointing hunting season with your best hunting buddy out of commission.

An unfit, unprepared hunting dog reflects poorly on his owner. It is as if you have “put away” the dog during the off-season, much like you put away your orange vest. Spend a night or two each week during the off-season to exercise and condition your dog for the future hunt. Increase this time as the hunt approaches, adding drills, swimming, roading, and retrieving.

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