Keeping your bird dog conditioned is critical to performance and health.
Our hunting companions are athletes, and should be cared for and treated as one. Proper conditioning is the basic framework to keeping you both out in the field together, longer. Off-season conditioning, when done right, allows for peak performance from our hunting companions once opening day finally arrives.
An exercise regimen shouldn’t start right before the season’s opener. Instead, it should be a year-round event in order to prevent numerous illnesses and injuries. Off-season is a great time to sharpen skills and fine tune obedience. This practice keeps the dog both physically and mentally fit, so they’re ready to hit the ground running. But how exactly does it accomplish this for your partner?
Food Fuels the Body
Proper conditioning begins with a proper diet, which allows the dog to perform at his best. High protein diets ensure proper weight maintenance, muscle development and repair, as well as providing support for the overall immune system to keep your athlete going strong. A gundog that isn’t provided an appropriate diet can’t perform to the best of their ability, no matter how hard they try.
Consistent Exercise Increases Endurance
A good day in the field can average a coverage of four to ten miles for a handler. This can easily exceed twenty miles a day for a bird dog. Without endurance training during the year, many dogs will tire before a third of the hunt is even complete. It’s important to gradually increase distance and duration during training to optimize their performance in the field.
A Fit Dog is Less Prone to Injury
Introduce a variety of terrain and coverage during conditioning to increase muscle development and balance. This not only minimizes the risk of injury, but also can help increase confidence and sure-footedness while hunting, especially in unfamiliar territory.
We’ve all seen the under-conditioned and overweight dog during the weekend opener. They’re unfocused, tired, and can barely make it back to the truck. Temperatures can be warmer that first month, not only leading to a tired dog, but a potential greater risk of injury or illness due to overheating. Especially if they’re at an unhealthy weight. Instilling a consistent exercise routine helps keep gun dogs healthy, toned, and ready to go.
Conditioning Protects against Physical and Mental Fatigue
When a dog is out of shape and overtired, they can’t focus as well and sometimes completely ignore the handler or surroundings. This could be dangerous for the dog, and could quickly ruin a hunt. When conditioned properly, gundogs are able to remain physically and mentally sharp in the field when it matters most.
Hone those Communication Skills
Obedience work should always be a part of the off-season training schedule. Revisit the basics and work on recall and retrieving. It’s also a great time to work on areas that may have been lackluster the previous year. Not only will this assure the dog is up to speed on their commands, but it will remind the dog that this is a team effort, strengthening the canine-handler bond.
Conditioning benefits the overall health and wellbeing of all athletes. With proper care, nutrition, and a consistent exercise schedule, your hunting buddy will have a better chance to work harder for many more years in the field. Happy hunting!
Marissa is a licensed vet tech and biology major with a strong passion for the outdoors. Born and raised in Nebraska, exploring local uplands has become the foundation of her enthusiasm for hunting. She enjoys being involved in organizations devoted to helping others learn about conservation and outdoor activities. Much of her free time is dedicated to her family, fishing and all things related to bird dogs.