Most hunters recognize the importance of getting in shape before hunting season, but some don't think about getting their hunting dog ready for that first hunt of the season.
Clyde Vitter, a professional dog trainer, who also does some training and research for Purina, says getting a hunting dog in shape is just as important, maybe more important as the hunter being physically prepared.
Vitter recalls that open day of pheasant of a recent season in South "Dakota was a disaster for bird dogs. In excess of 100 dogs died in the unusual heat of opening day. The heat and poor conditioning were a fatal combination for the dogs...The dogs overheated and were overweight."
What happened opening day in South Dakota was extreme, but it happens all too frequently. In most cases the lack of conditioning and proper nutritional food simply results in a dog that can't properly hunt, thus often leading to a disappointing outing.
"Good dog food and conditioning are critical to the dog's health and hunting ability...A good, upper level dog food is needed to provide the dog what it needs for a good hunt," he explained.
Vitter says just like with humans, it takes time to get dogs in shape for hunting.
"You can't just start feeding a high performance dog food and have it take immediate effect. It takes two to four months to effect the dog," he said.
And like with humans, exercise for the dog should start slow and then be increased. Vitter passed along several conditioning tips:
- You can ride a bicycle while the dog runs along, but the initial run should be no more than 10 minutes, not 10 miles. Build up the time daily. He suggested short runs at higher speeds mixed with slower speeds. A dog in the field does run at one pace.
- He said for some people, jogging with the dog is good. It conditions both the dog and the owner. He said training should gradually be increased to the point where a dog can work without fatigue for 45 minutes to an hour.
"Water is very, very critical. It is as important as dog food," Vitter added. "If a dog gets dehydrated, it goes down much faster."
Take along a water bottle to give dog water from time-to-time, not just a lot of water once.
A large amount of water can be harmful to the dog. The water also should be given to the dog's head level or lower. The dog should not have to look up and extend his head to receive the water.
Vitter said there is a myth that hunting dogs shouldn't be permitted in the house and made pets.
"Totally opposite is the best," said Vitter who has trained and raised world class bird dogs. "By keeping a dog in the house, you teach it manners, develop a bond with the dog and it will want to hunt for you. It isn't going to take off and leave you in the field."
He also said a hunting dog should be kept thin. A trim dog usually will live four-to-five years longer than an obese dog.
Vitter also recommends feeding a dog once a day (evening) is sufficient. For research purposes, he split his kennel and fed half the dogs twice a day and the others once per day. He said the dogs fed once a day out-performed the dogs fed twice per day. The dogs fed once in the evening with much more energetic and ready to hunt in the field of a morning.