|It’s unfair to take an out of shape hunting dog to the field. They get hot and tire very quickly, which could lead to unnecessary physical harm to your dog. This is the last thing any hunter wants — especially at the beginning of the hunting season. So, the main reason to get your dog into shape before hunting him is, of course, to remove potential health issues. And, your dog’s performance in the field can be greatly affected as well. For instance, did you know that your dog’s scenting abilities are reduced by 40 percent when he gets hot and begins breathing through his mouth to cool down? Also, his interest in finding and retrieving birds is impacted as well. A tired dog will not perform up to his training level and many will simply lose interest, some will quit altogether.
Getting your gun dog physically fit before going hunting doesn’t take a large amount of know-how — just some of your precious time. It’s a matter of fitness, not expertise. I’ve heard some owners say, “I’m going to hunt him into shape”. Although that is certainly an option, it’s difficult and potentially hazardous. I prefer gradual exercise on a daily basis for about a month to get a dog into perfect hunting condition. Not many hunters can, but if you are fortunate enough to be able to train your dog on a daily basis, this effort will not only get your dog physically fit, but hunt-ready as well.
I know several hunters who incorporate their dog’s physical readiness with their daily jog. This is ideal because not only do both of you get in shape for the season, but yoiu also deepen the bond and communication between the two of you. Roading a dog is a good conditioning exercise; however, there are some precautions you need to take. For instance, don’t overdo the exercise in the beginning. Increase the amount of running on a daily basis, and if you are using a motorized vehicle, extreme care must be taken so you don’t run over, injure or kill your dog. There are quite a few horrible stories that I could tell about the use of ATVs and autos to road dogs, so be careful.
As for hunting your dog into shape, that requires hunting on a moderately escalating, daily basis for at least a week. I’ve known hunters who planned a week-long pheasant and duck hunting trip to the Dakotas who successfully hunted their dogs into good enough shape to make the trip enjoyable. However, one week is simply not enough time to condition your dog for a full day in the field. But, as you might imagine, it can be dangerous to your dog if overdone. It can be difficult to know when to put the dog up for the day, and if your assessment is wrong the consequences can be harmful.
When a dog goes into a hunt season in good shape, he thrives on the exercise and gets stronger and stronger the more he is worked instead of getting sore muscles and too weary to work. Although I believe every hunting dog should be conditioned before being taken afield, a partial exception can be made for retrievers on a static hunt such as, for dove and duck where the retrieves are usually short and the birds retrieved are few. I’m not going to say these dogs do not have to be in shape, they just don’t have to be in excellent shape to properly perform their duties. If you are using your retriever as a flushing dog he definitely needs to be in very good shape.
Do your dogs a favor for the upcoming season fellow hunters, either get them into shape or work them sparingly until they are in good condition. It’s never a good idea to let a dog know he can quit the hunt on his own!
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Grady istre’s column appears every other week in WON, he can be reached at reibar.com