Sporting dogs are athletes
Just as it would be tough for a person to randomly run a 10K road race, handlers shouldn’t expect their dogs to run several miles on Opening Day. Regular off-season conditioning is important, for it builds strong, healthy dogs. Not only is it unrealistic to think your dog will work efficiently, but it is also dangerous. Running an out-of-shape dog can make your buddy more susceptible to heat exhaustion and injuries.
If you’re shy on time, take your dog swimming. Swimming is a great way to boost cardiovascular exercise without increasing the pounding on a dog’s joints. It’s especially important if they’ve had a few seasons under their belts—they know what’s coming up, and their drive will make them do things for which their bodies are not conditioned.
Another option is to take your dog trail running or mountain biking. Avoid pavement, as it can tear up their pads. Trails are softer and more natural, and they closely resemble the terrain in which they’ll run during the season. Let them run alongside you. Chances are that when you get tired, they’ll get tired. The benefit is that you’ll both get into shape together.
Obedience is key
It’s important to continue and refine obedience with your dog throughout the year. Everything you do can be turned into a training session. Oh, you’re washing your car? Work with your dog to sit patiently while you work, then toss a fun bumper to reward his good behavior. Try having your dog sit on a stand while you cook dinner and work on his “place” command. When you have a well-trained, obedient dog outside the blind, your season in the blind will be much safer and more enjoyable.
Train the way you work during the season
One of the most important things to do before the season is to recreate in training experiences what your dog will encounter during the fall and winter. If you work from a boat, then your dog should be comfortable getting in and out of the boat. If you’re typically working flooded timber and place your dog on a stand, then you should toss marks from there. Dogs that are familiar with their in-season situations work at their best.
Remember, you can’t expect your sporting dog to know what to do if you haven’t routinely practiced with him. Your mindset shouldn’t be “OK pal, let’s knock the rust off this morning.” If you truly want to prep your dog for a smooth season, then the first run of the season should be just another repetition to which your four-legged partner is already accustomed.