For many hunters, a day spent afield without their favorite four-legged hunting partner would be worse than staying home. However, hunters should remember that sporting dogs are athletes and, like human athletes, they need some preseason training to perform their best. Even if your dog has spent the off season lounging on the couch and gorging himself on treats and table scraps, it’s not too late to get him in tip-top shape by opening day. Use these tips to get your pooch prepared and see more bird hunting success this fall.
Get Him Moving
A good hunting dog is driven by his urge to find game and will run himself to the point of exhaustion if you let him. Therefore, no preseason training program is complete without some canine cardio workouts.
Make an honest assessment of your dog’s fitness level and start off slow to prevent injuries. Time your dog’s workouts for early morning or late evening to avoid overheating and get them out and moving for 15 minutes to an hour at least three times a week.
Cater your dog’s exercise to the task you’d like him to perform in the field. For example, waterfowlers should spend most of their time on water training while upland hunters should focus on running their dogs. Start slow, carry water, and monitor your dog’s physical progress to avoid over training.
Back to the Basics
A daily refresher course on basic obedience commands will save you a lot of trouble when hunting season rolls around. Commands like here, sit, down, kennel up, heel, and whoa should be second nature to your dog by hunting season. Keep obedience training sessions short and make them fun for your dog by offering lots of positive reinforcement when they perform as commanded.
Once your dog has mastered the basic commands and is performing them flawlessly, you can move on to more technical and hunting specific commands like using hand signals to help your dog find a downed bird and multiple retrieves.
Watch What He Eats
If your dog has packed on a few pounds over the off season, put him on a diet. Limit food intake (while still providing adequate nutrition) and cut out all treats and table scraps from his diet. If your dog is at a healthy weight, you may need to feed additional food to keep him going strong as training sessions become more rigorous. Nobody knows your dog better than you. Monitor his weight and energy level and feed accordingly and he’ll be in prime condition come opening day.
Go On a Practice Hunt
Exposing your dog to some live birds before the season is the best way to get him ready for hunting season, even if they are pen raised. Whether you choose to raise them yourself or visit a local shooting preserve, there’s nothing like getting some feathers under your hunting partner’s nose to get him fired up for the upcoming season.
Preseason training will strengthen the bond between you and your dog, get you both in better shape for the season, and help reinforce good habits. It will also help you put more birds in your game bag.