Canine off-season: year-round gun bird dog fitness
I was supposed to shoot a lead photo for an article assignment I’ve got this week on hunting clothing and footwear. The product I was featuring in the shot is a pair of knee-high boots. The problem: When I pulled them on and stepped outside into the snow, they disappeared.
My fellow Minnesota residents understand. Other than the phenomenal sledding that my little girls beg me to facilitate nearly every day, this level of snow is ridiculous. It only gets worse if you’re a bird-dog owner.
Now, a dog like my Lab doesn’t mind the snow at all, and I suspect most working dogs share her feelings on the matter. The hang-up is usually entirely ours, and it’s easy to let a dog get a little pudgy when it’s a chore to simply walk through your yard.
I’m not a fan of out-of-shape dogs, and don’t think it’s fair to serious gun dogs to ask them to sit inside all day without any exercise, so I’ve figured out a few ways to get Luna running in the snow.
The easiest is to walk through a park or some other green space and just let her go, but that’s a commitment of time. That means that it might just be a matter of 15 or 20 minutes of retrieving work in my yard or maybe at a nearby soccer field.
The problem with that plan is that it’s pretty easy to lose bumpers, Frisbees, or tennis balls in the snow. I tie a fairly long rope to my bumpers and always try to toss them in a patch of snow that hasn’t been run through already. This allows me to mark the spot and, I hope, find the dummy if Luna doesn’t mark it well.
This is important because when a dummy lands in the powder, it’ll dig in, and the odds of the dog getting downwind and getting a good whiff of it are low. For casual retrieves where you’re not working on steadiness or hand signals, this isn’t a big deal. But if you want to keep your dog active, in-shape, and mentally sharp, consider mixing in some obedience work, which can compound the difficulty of a deep-snow retrieve.
It’s a pain in the neck to work a dog in deep snow, but it’s worth it as a retriever owner. Suit up, grab a few bumpers, and determine how to make your dog happy in the snow, because it appears we have a long way before spring arrives.