Thinking ahead to fall hunting seasons: bird dog cardio
Hunting your dog into shape is a bad idea. It just is. Even though it’s a somewhat common strategy, it mostly puts your dog in a losing situation that can lead to injury, or in rare cases, death.
We wouldn’t go from couch potato to marathon runners by entering a bunch of 26.2-mile races and crossing our fingers, so we shouldn’t ask our bird dogs to do the same. Instead, it’s much better to get our dogs a daily dose of exercise the right way.
The natural concern this time of year is usually the summer heat, which can turn a backyard training session into a short, futile effort to get your dog running when the temperatures tell him to find some shade and pant away.
A better strategy is to either work your dog early in the morning or late in the afternoon, or swim him. If you’re a bird dog owner, swimming is a great option. It results in killer cardio, and is nice and easy on the joints. Running, especially on a hard surface, isn’t.
What I like to do, instead of just tossing a few bumpers into the water and letting my dog retrieve them, is to work in some extra lessons with each swimming session. Steadiness always comes into play, because it’s the foundation of all good bird dogs and an absolute necessity for duck dogs.
It’s also a good idea to add some hand-signal work. Accomplish this while running blind drills, or just about any retrieve. Most trainers work hand signals into their verbal/whistle commands, and you should, too. This gives the dog extra opportunity to pick up your meaning with each directive, and allows you to have more tools in the kit while controlling your dog during the hunt.
The best part? While your dog is shoring up his obedience game, he’s also easing into hunting shape during the months when a lot of hunters let their dogs get a little too soft.