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Summer Conditioning for Your Hunting Dog

Get your gun dog ready for hunting season with this fun and simple guide from DSG Outerwear. This guide includes general conditioning, water work and more.

Hunting dogs are special. They aren’t just lap dogs or members of the family (although they can certainly be that too!), they’re athletes. So how do you keep your hunting companion from turning into a couch potato in the off-season? Summer can be a less active time for our pups, so utilize this opportunity to work on some skills that will not only keep him or her in tip-top shape, but also improve performance on opening day.

General conditioning

We know that both you and your dog are itching for hunting season, but welcome summer as an opportunity for you both to hone your skills and reinforce your bond. Step up your summer dog walks by walking your dog through some sort of actual cover. Whether it’s wooded areas or fields, encouraging your dog to “hunt” these areas maintains their prey drive and stamina. Trails and preserves are great environments to recreate field atmospheres. Make sure, in warmer summer temperatures, to keep your dog hydrated and cool. Shady areas or cooler times of the day are best for running drills with your dogs during the summer months.

Back to basics

Think about the previous hunting season, how responsive was your dog to general obedience skills? Did his recall lag? Now's the time to reinforce these early skills that you probably haven't worked on for a while. Similarly, let your dog hear gun fire throughout the summer, even if she isn’t gun-shy. Waiting until opening day to hear a gunshot could cause a break in your dog’s concentration. It’s important to note that summer training drills don’t have to be long and arduous training sessions. Shorter, repeated sessions throughout the week are more beneficial than cramming in all your training to weekend hours.

Water work

In the heat of summer, tossing dummies out into the water for your dog to retrieve is an easy, enjoyable drill for both you and your dog. Summer is also a great time to introduce a dog to water because the water is warmer and more approachable. If you’re introducing your dog to water during the summer months, let them wade around in the shallows and retrieve dummies that are clearly visible and not in swift currents. Imposing multiple challenges on a dog just learning water retrievals won’t make the experience fun for your dog. If you hunt from a boat, summer is ample time to practice climbing in and out of the boat with your dog.

Wagon wheel drill

With just a little time and a few dummies, right in your backyard, you can easily increase your dog’s retrieval skills with a wagon wheel drill. Start with two dummies, 180 degrees apart, and you can increase the number of “spokes” on the wheel by throwing out more dummies or bumpers at various angles and distances. Stand at the center of the action, with your dog at a heel. This drill teaches your dog to retrieve on a line, with a specific intended target, based on your direction. Encourage this by directing him or her to retrieve a dummy that wasn’t the last one you threw out, because his attention is certainly already on that one.

Hunting scenarios in real time are exciting, exhilarating situations. But they aren’t exactly the best time to correct and fine-tune your dog’s behavior. Soak in the sun this summer, and pick a few goals for you and your dog to work on, together. Keep it fun, and, most importantly, keep your dog active.

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