House-based dog training during the winter months
By all means, take your dog outside and let it romp around in the snow. Work some retrieving drills, get some exercise and fresh air. All of that is good and highly encouraged, but don’t forget there are plenty of drills you can do inside the house during the dead of winter that don’t necessitate bundling up and wading into the powder.
Steadiness, probably the No. 1 issue with bird dogs, is something that requires countless little drills during a dog’s life before it sticks. You can work on this at home by making the dog wait while you fill his food bowl, or if you toss a treat on the floor. This might seem like a far cry from behaving perfectly in a duck blind, but it’s a good step and an excellent idea for the off-season. A dog that learns to work for every reward is a dog that will be a better companion in the field, and having to sit still for a minute before being released to eat is a good thing.
You can take it a step further by working on a “place” command in your house, which not only translates to a dog that will be welcome in any duck boat or blind, but also won’t lose its mind when someone knocks at your door. Instead of bowling over your guest, your dog learns to sit in his place until released. This is something you can work on every single day in your house, and it’s really the cornerstone of a good, all-around sporting dog.
If you want to have some fun and give your dog a chance to use his brain, you can hide dummies or shed antlers in the house and command him to hunt ’em up. My little girls love these mini drills with our Lab, and to be honest, our Lab loves them, too. She gets to problem solve and have a job, two things every working dog needs.
It’s a poor substitute for the great outdoors… kind of like flipping a jig into a trashcan all winter long waiting for bass season to open, but it’s important to keep our dogs learning and working in the off-season. And the good news is, you don’t have to brave the cold to do it. You can accomplish a lot with a sporting dog right in the comfort of your own home, all winter long.