By Chris Larsen
Duck season seems like it is eons away in June. But the fact is teal and early goose seasons are right around the corner. Here in Wisconsin, early goose season opens September 1. Not only do you need to be ready, your dog does too. If your dog is like mine, he has probably sat on his butt quite a bit since last season. Old Wilbur likes to lay on my bed during the day and if my toddler drops some food off the dining room table it is usually snapped up well before hitting the floor. Long story short… he needs to get back to work!
It is important, especially during summer months, to start out slow. Take your time getting him back in shape. Take your dog for walks and swims everyday. Progressively make periods of exercise longer as the weeks go by. Don’t overexert your dog, especially on hot days. A lot of hunters will start right off with bumpers. My dog is very birdy and will sprint back and forth to bumpers. If he has been laying around during the off season, those short bursts could cause him to pull a muscle or ligament. A hunting dog is an athlete. They need to have some conditioning before giving it all they have.
Athletes not only train, they eat right. Your dog should do the same. Find a dog food that offers all he needs to work effectively. Take a look at the ingredients list on your dog food. If the first thing on the list is a plant product like corn or beans, it is time to find a new dog food. Look for a dog food with meat as it’s leading ingredient. A good dog food should have around 25 percent protein and 13 to 16 percent fat. I personally would never feed a “lite” or diet dog food. They are lower in calories because companies use fillers to produce the same volume of food for less calories. You don’t want your dog eating that stuff. Just get him more exercise. If you’re looking for recommendations, I feed Fromm Family Gold. It’s a little pricey but my dog does really well with it. Of the store brands, I prefer Purina Pro Plan. There are several other good ones, those are just two I use.
Alright, now that Fido is in good condition and eating well, it is time to start making him use his brain again. Retrieving bumpers is fun for the dog and the trainer. It is also a good way to start training. But don’t forget to get back to the basics. Obedience training and heeling drills are always important. Have the dog sit for long periods of time as well.
One of the best things to practice during the off season is steadiness. Toss some bumpers out but don’t allow your dog to retrieve them. Make him watch you pick them up. Dogs are often overexcited on opening day and can make the hunt miserable. Working on steadiness is a good way to break him of bad habits. If he will consistently stay steady as you pick up bumpers, work in another dog. Teaching a dog to honor can be tough but you will ultimately end up with a very steady dog.
With duck season right around the corner, it is time to start preparing now. But remember, small steps are required. Even an experienced retriever will need some time to shake the rust off.
Read more hunting dog training articles at www.gamebirdhunts.com