The time most hunters seem to think about getting their dog into shape, if they think about it at all, is right before the hunting season begins. It’s natural to let your dog’s conditioning slide in the off-season. After all, hunting season always seems so far off. But when you’re halfway through a week-long hunt and your dog is already out of gas, well, it should make you rethink the importance of keeping your dog healthy.
A year-round conditioning program, besides offering the obvious benefits of making your dog more productive during the hunting season, provides for an overall healthier dog too. And that will likely mean a longer, more comfortable life for your hunting companion.
At our kennel, we constantly monitor the correlation between our dogs’ food quantity and weight. During the hunting season and in cold weather, we typically feed a high-quality food comprising 32 percent protein and 20 percent fat. Although we condition our dogs year-round, we back most of them off to a 24/16 food mix for the rest of the year in an effort to keep them from gaining unneeded pounds.
To keep our dogs active in the off-season, especially in hot weather, nothing beats taking them swimming. This exercise makes a dog use all of his muscles, and there’s no joint stress whatsoever. It’s one of the best exercises there is. If weather permits, we often “road” our dogs with a four-wheeler. We can run up to four dogs at a time by chaining two to each side via extensions we attach to the vehicle.
We really crank up the intensity and frequency of the workouts as hunting season nears. Interestingly, we’ll sometimes check a dog’s weight if he appears a little thin and find that a 50-pound dog has actually gained three or four pounds because of increased muscle mass from his hard work.
If you own enough property to let your dog run in a big area, an in-ground fence is one way to ensure your dog gets more exercise than he would if he was locked in a kennel most of the day. I like the Deluxe Fence from Radio Systems for hunting breeds. With a little training, a dog quickly learns he can run all he wants as long as he stays inside the boundaries you’ve set.
And here’s one final idea to relieve the stress of a hot summer: Make a hard plastic baby pool available to your dog while he’s out of his kennel. Most dogs don’t need any encouragement to jump in and cool down on a hot August day.
Always check your local and state regulations related to dog training and the use of game birds on private and public property.