Hunting Dogs photo

Photo by Dusan Smetana

Bird season may be seven months away, but according to Steve Snell, owner of Gun Dog Supply in Starkville, Miss., this is not the time to let your dog turn into a couch fixture. “One of the biggest mistakes amateur trainers make is letting their dogs get out of shape in the off-season,” says Snell. “It’s not fair to the dog and can be dangerous.” Here are a few tricks to keep your hunting partner in field shape long after the guns are put away.

1. Careful With the Kibble
“Dogs are just like people. If you cut down on their physical output but keep feeding them the same portions of food, they’re going to get fat.” This is particularly true in the warmer months when gun dogs burn fewer calories. Snell keeps a watch on the physical shape of his dogs and adjusts their feed accordingly.

2. Get Wet
Swimming is the best low-impact exercise, one reason that Snell introduces all his dogs, including the upland breeds, to the water. “Swimming is especially good in the summer when it’s too hot to do field work.” Before you toss the bumper, be careful that your pond isn’t approaching the temperature of bathwater.

3. Do Road Work
Snell’s favorite off-season workout is roading: He attaches a roading harness to his dog, which, unlike a collar, distributes pressure across the pup’s chest, encouraging it to pull forward. At the same time, Snell pulls back but allows the dog to cover ground. The resulting tug-of-war can last for a quarter mile or so. If you’re not looking to break a sweat, roading can also be done on horseback or ATV. But stay away from paved streets, as the asphalt can tear up paw pads.