Off-Season Exercise Is A Must For Your Dog

Some of you may know that in addition to my duties as a blogger here at Field & Stream, I also write a twice-weekly blog for the conservation group Quail Forever. It's an organization and a conservation mission I believe in wholeheartedly, and although what I write for QF focuses primarily on pointing dogs and quail hunting rather than all gundogs, some of it applies to all dogs regardless of breed or style. Such is the case with one of my recent blogs on roading dogs.

Off-season exercise is a must for hunting dogs, but it's something a lot of gundog owners forget about once hunting season's over. You can't expect a dog who lies around the house all spring and summer, gobbling down Scooby Snacks and vegging on the couch, to hit the ground running on opening day.

Dogs - like humans - will happily regress to the fitness mean given the choice. It's up to us to not give it to them. And there is no better way to keep your dog in shape than roading them in the off-season. "Roading" however, is a pretty generic term for running your dogs. In fact, there are any number of ways to create a canine conditioning program. One of the most effective is simply snapping your dog to a logging chain that weighs about 30 percent of its body weight and letting it run.

There are two problems with that, however. One, everyone's busy, and we don't always have the time to devote to exercising our dogs. Two, it's great for the dogs but it doesn't do a damn thing for you. And you won't be doing your dog any favors if you're the one keeling over on opening day.

So get creative. If you live in the northern states you can take your dog skijoring. If snow is scarce you can do canicross. And if you're into biking you can go "bijorking" with a specially-designed leash that attaches to your bike.

And if you're a poor redneck like myself, you'll improvise. I like to mountain bike. In a previous Field Notes blog I showed how I sometimes use my bike as a hunting tool, but I also use that very same bike and trailer as a roading platform for the dogs.

I get exercise, my dogs get exercise and my 4-year-old son gets a fun ride. Win, win, win.

All I did was drill a hole in the lip of the trailer, snap a lead into it and then snap the other end of the lead into the dog's collar. It took about two minutes for the dog to get used to it.

So that's my home-made roading gadget. I'd like to hear how you do it.