Keeping your working dog fit through the offseason will result in a dog more able to hunt with vigour, and longevity throughout the hunting season. Also, year-round activity and training will keep your dog’s hunting skills sharp and maintain your position of alpha.
Just like a professional athlete, a working dog should be kept in shape all year round; the health benefits are undeniable. A marathon runner wouldn’t dream of competing without months of preparation, and your dog is no different. Moreover, a lean, fit and healthy animal is far less prone to illness or injury; and a mentally stimulated working dog is a happy dog.
Here are our five top tips for keeping your hunting dog fit through the offseason
1. Start slow
If you’re bringing your working dog out of hibernation, and into a training plan, be sure to ease him in gently; you don’t want to risk an injury. For starters, simple games like stick throwing are perfect for getting his body moving.
Taking your dog for a daily run is one of the best ways to keep him fit and build condition. Be sure to increase the distance gradually. Be patient and consistent, and it won’t be long before progress is visible. Why not get involved yourself? You don’t want to be left behind, stiff, slow and out of shape come shooting season!
2. Keep the prey drive stoked!
For a super motivated dog come Autumn, keeping those prey drive embers burning throughout the offseason is vital. And, you don’t necessarily need to shoot live birds to keep your dog’s eager for the hunt; offering a sniff of a duck, grouse or pigeon will keep their noses quivering and excitement piqued!
3. Keep up your command training
When out in the field, your dog must respond rapidly to the sound of your voice or a whistle; you and he working in perfect synergy. But like any activity, when training or practice falls to the wayside, muscle memory and responsiveness decline also.
Practice the basic commands, and your whistle commands a few days a week. This training will help your furry friend to recall the commands more quickly once back in the field.
Repetition and perseverance will keep your dog primed and ready for the hunt; plus, your animal is a working dog so the exercise. learning and practice will keep him happy and content too.
4. Fire your guns regularly
Regular exposure to gunshots is essential for your hunting dog, especially if young and inexperienced. Bring your dog along to a dog-friendly firing range for a few hours. Alternatively, target practice with your pup in attendance is also useful.
If your dog hasn’t heard a gunshot for a while, ease him in gently to the sounds. You don’t want to scare him or leave him traumatised; starting with a smaller gun is advisable. This practice will help your dog to keep his cool in the field and avoid sending him darting off in shock.
5. Beware of heat exhaustion
Training too hard in the summer heat can result in heat exhaustion. Dogs don’t sweat like humans; they release most of their body heat by panting. However, there’s only so much panting can do so it’s essential to look out for signs of heat fatigue.
One obvious way to tell if your dog has had enough is the angle of a panting tongue. If the dog’s tongue is lolling out to the side, he’s too hot, and it’s time to call it a day. Ensure you keep a supply of fresh water on you while out exercising – and that your dog has access to a freshly topped up bowl at home.
Your hunting dog is an athlete; so, should train like one. If you expect peak performance during the hunting season, you both need to put in the work. Long daily runs, gunshot training, voice command practice and the odd sniff of his future prey will keep your dog on his toes, fit and healthy and primed for the season ahead. Not only this, but it keeps the two of you mentally connected, as necessary to perform as a team.
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