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Gun Dog Preseason Conditioning 101


If you’ve been loafing around the house all winter, chances are your dog has been too. Thankfully, there is still time for both of you to get in shape for hunting season. However, dogs respond to conditioning differently than people and require a few special considerations when starting a conditioning program. Here are some factors to think about when it comes to conditioning your gun dog.

Trainer conducting a body condition score check on a black Lab

Know Where You Stand

Where to start depends on what shape your dog is in.

“The first thing is to evaluate your dog’s body condition going into hunting season,” says Dr. Ira McCauley, a Team Eukanuba Veterinarian and passionate waterfowl hunter. A body condition score is a number based on an evaluation of fat in a few key areas of a dog’s body and can easily be performed at home. Once you know your dog’s score, it’s time to make a plan.

If your dog is overweight, talk to your veterinarian about getting him to an ideal body weight. “A dog that is obese is going to take much longer to get in hunting condition than a dog that is just slightly overweight,” says Dr. McCauley. “The last thing you want going into a warm early season hunt is an overweight dog, so give yourself enough time to help your dog get in shape. Taking an overweight dog on a dove hunt on a hot afternoon is a dangerous way to reintroduce them to the field. Increased exercise and cutting back on calories are key to reaching an ideal body condition score.”

Starting a Conditioning Routine

When it comes to starting a dog’s conditioning program you have several options. Some dogs are highly motivated and do well free running while other dogs simply lay down and take it easy when given the chance. A hard running pointer might see the most benefit from roading with an ATV while a retriever may get better results from the swimming involved in water retrieves.

Dr. McCauley notes that training and conditioning go hand in hand.

“You’ve got to think about conditioning both physically and mentally,” he says. “If your dog is in decent condition, doing some training is going to have the dual benefit of conditioning the dog and refocusing their mind on the tasks involved with hunting. For dogs that are in decent condition the best thing is to just get back into a training routine around six weeks before the season starts.”

If your dog scores a seven or higher on the nine-point body condition score, more intensive conditioning is needed but remember to start slow. Dogs respond more quickly to conditioning than people, but just like we can overdo it the first time back at the gym after a long absence, dogs are sensitive to overtraining.

One great way to ease a dog back into hunting condition is to exercise with them. Start by taking your dog for a decent walk and see how they respond. If they do well, try running a few miles with your dog at heel or running in front on a harness. In many cases dogs are in the same shape as their handlers, so if you’re feeling it after a couple miles chances are your dog is too. Exercising with your dog means both of you will be in good shape come hunting season.

Dr. McCauley also suggests being aware of rising temperatures and humidity that go hand-in-hand with the preseason. Train in the morning if possible to help avoid the risk of your dog overheating.

Matching Diet and Workload

Matching the blend of nutrients in your dog’s diet to their seasonal activity levels is one way to combat off-season weight gain and still give your dog the complete nutrition they need in the heart of hunting season. The Eukanuba™ Premium Performance range comes in four scientifically formulated blends with varying levels of fat, protein, and carbohydrates so you can make seasonal changes in your dog’s diet based on their activity level.

View Dr. Ira McCauley's Profile & Articles