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Rough, Tough and Ready To Hunt 

Pre-Season Conditioning

Waterfowl Magazine October/November 1992

Debra Folsom

If you were going to run in a marathon or even play a game of baseball, you would most likely do some training, practice a little, and generally try to get your body into some state of improved, physical condition. Ironically, when

opening day of the bird season roles around, we throw the old dog off the couch and into the pickup. Hopefully, Fido is rough, tough and ready to hunt!


Upland hunting is like running a marathon for a dog. A tremendous amount of physical exertion is required over a long period of time. To be able to perform in the field, a dog should be at a good working weight and have been exercising regularly, to build up his stamina.

If a dog is over weight, he will tire quickly and be short of breath. It is fairly simple to slim down a dog since they cannot open the fridge door for themselves! If the dog is kenneled, it is that much easier since you can regulate

exactly what they eat. To reduce the weight of a normal size Labrador, we will cut them down to one cup of dry food, per day. With an extremely obese dog we will even go to half a cup of dry kibble every day, until the dog reaches the desirable weight, at which time we will up the daily intake to a maintenance level. Today, there are many low calorie, weight reducing formula, dog foods available for overweight dogs that work very well.

For waterfowl hunting, especially in cold water, we want the dog to have a layer of body fat for insulation. The coat should be shiny, thick and waterproof. Besides diet, parasites are one of the most common causes of poor coat and inability and inability to

to hold body weight in the hunting dog. Retrievers are scavengers at heart. They eat every rotten morsel of exotic excrement they can find. The worse it smells, the more they are attracted to it. They roll in the dirt, have fleas, etc. They are going to pick up intestinal parasites from season to season. It is a fact of a dog's life.


A pre season trip to the vet is a must for a hunting dog. It is a good idea to take a stool sample in, on an annual basis to check for intestinal parasites. Some parasites are difficult to pick up in a stool check. If we are having trouble keeping weight on a dog, or the coat is poor, we often have the vet worm the dog for tapeworms, which

are difficult to pick up in a stool check. If we are having trouble keeping weight on a dog, or the coat is poor, we often have the vet worm the dog for tapeworms, which are common intestinal parasites in our area, even if the fecal 

sample is negative. While you are at the vet, have the dog's vaccinations updated if necessary. When hunting, a dog is often in contact with other dogs and may encounter wild varmints such as skunks that can carry rabies. Have your vet do an annual heartworm test, if you live or hunt in a heartworm area and your dog is not on preventative medication.


Some hunters like to feed a more concentrated, high protein diet during the season. We feed a good quality feed all year round, just less of it in the summer months. Retrievers require a diet high in fat content to sustain their oily, waterproof coat, rather than a high protein diet. We don't supplement our

dogs. A good quality, commercially formulated, dry, dog food is balanced for optimum digestibility. If you supplement, you can actually throw the nutrients in the diet out of balance, making them less digestible to the dog. Only

supplement in extra ordinary circumstances on the recommendation of your veterinarian.

It may be helpful on hunt days to feed your dog a light meal in the morning. This is especially the case for older dogs or dogs that have a tendency to be hypo-glycemic. Hypoglycemia is a low level of sugar in the blood. It is characterized by lack of coordination, confusion and or convulsions. The dog may become disorientated and fearful or appear to be having an epileptic fit. Feeding a light meal before hunting may help to prevent this problem. Regular exercise both during the hunting season, and in the off season, will help give your dog the

stamina he will need, to perform in the field, to the best of his ability. A fit dog can hunt longer and potentially produce more birds. Many of our customers send their dogs in for 4 to 6 weeks of

conditioning and training before the season. A trainer can get the dogs physically fit while brushing up on their hunting skills. If you are a jogger, you've got it made. Take the dog along, on leash, on cool days. Shooting a bumper gun over land or water is an excellent way to keep your retriever in condition. Running a dog beside the car is very dangerous. The dog can be hit by an on coming vehicle or you can easily run over him yourself. Don't do it with a dog you value. 

Unlike your gun, you can't shine up your dog the night before the hunt and expect it to work as good as new. It is unfair and inhumane to expect your dog to perform at his maximum athletic ability, with little or no preparation or conditioning. A hunting dog will give you many years of hunting enjoyment, if you keep him physically fit and well cared for, year round. 



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