Photo by Bill Buckley

Though waterfowl season is months away, you need to think now about a training regimen for your dog. As a diehard waterfowler, Total Outdoorsman Challenge competitor Scot Marcin knows all about keeping a retriever in shape. “You’re asking the dog to sit with you in a blind when it’s 20 degrees and jump into icy water to retrieve. He’s got to be in shape to do that,” Marcin says. Here are tips designed to ensure your dog is ready to hunt when you are.

1. Walking the dog regularly is good, but Marcin prefers swimming. “It’s low impact and it keeps all his muscles toned,” he says. “Plus, it gives him a great cardiovascular workout.”

2. Join the UKC’s or AKC’s Hunt Test program. Such programs simulate hunting conditions, such as retrieving fallen birds. “Participation not only helps the dog stay in shape, but it also lets him hone his hunting skills. And when you work the dog regularly, you’re also occupying his mind and letting him burn off excess energy. That means he won’t need to burn that energy in bad ways–by chewing shoes or digging holes in the backyard.”