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3 Things To Focus On To Get Your Hunting Dog Ready | Gun Dog Preseason Tuneup

3 Things To Focus On To Get Your Hunting Dog Ready | Gun Dog Preseason Tuneup
August 22, 2022

The mornings are getting cooler and the days are getting shorter. That means the season, and time afield with your dog, is right around the corner. It also means that the time is running out to prepare your dog for the rigors of hunting. Here are 3 key areas to focus on as you get ready for Fall hunting. Before we get to those key areas, it’s important to note that because we are so close to hunting season for most,  we aren’t looking to introduce anything new, but to refine the skills your gun dog already has developed based on their training level and experience. 

The Dog's Conditioning

The most important thing you can do is to start conditioning your dog. This is one aspect of training that many forget about whether your dog is chasing pheasants in the upland field or picking up ducks in a marsh. Fatigue causes trained behaviors to break down and shortens your hunt. A well conditioned dog allows you as the handler to continue the quality habits you’ve trained into your dog and keep your expectations high. 

The last benefit, and maybe the most important, to conditioning is preventing injury. I view gun dogs much like athletes. When athletes show up for the season out of shape, their likelihood of injury increases dramatically. The same is true for dogs. Get your dog out running and swimming as much as you can before the opener. They’ll love it and you won’t regret this time either. 

The Dog's Obedience

The foundation of any gun dog is obedience. From steadiness in the dog blind to recall in the switchgrass, having control of your dog while hunting is key to an enjoyable and safe hunt. A summer spent lounging on the couch without training will cause even the most well trained dog’s obedience level to atrophy. 

The great part about obedience training is that it's easily done anywhere. Start in the yard, keep your sessions short (5 minutes) and up beat, and start building connection and expectations with your dog again. Better yet, do your obedience sessions at the same location you are conditioning your dog, and then start to add more elements and distractions to your training sessions. 

Put Your Dog In Hunting Situations

The last piece of the puzzle as you get your gun dog ready for the upcoming season is putting them in hunting situations. This is the most fun piece of preparation and the one that gets folks excited about. Before diving in, there are many questions to think through as you plan this piece.

Planning To Train Your Dog In Hunting Situations

  • Where will you be hunting? - fields, marsh, farm ponds, big water, etc

  • What will your dog be hunting from? boat, dog blind, etc?

  • Will you be hunting with a group?

  • Will you be hunting with other dogs?

As you start to answer these questions, they’ll guide you to simulating a hunt. For example, if you’ll be duck hunting with a group, get together a few buddies, set up a blind, call, shoot blanks, and work on your dog's steadiness and marking. If you’ll have multiple dogs hunting, add that element. If you will be solo upland hunting, get your hands on training birds - pigeons, training birds from a local game farm, etc. - and handle your dog like you would during a hunt. 

When you start simulating the hunt, the work you’ve put in conditioning your dog and shoring up obedience levels will pay off. Continue to demand and expect the same standards you’ve been training to in this simulated hunt. There will be more excitement, more distractions, and more stimulation than you can replicate any other time outside of an actual hunt, which makes it an amazing training opportunity. While it might not be perfect, this exposure is going to benefit your dog. 

Always Be Training Your Hunting Dog

I view every situation as a training situation with my dog. He’s always being conditioned based on the taught behaviors I expect and what I allow. If you haven’t set aside the training time with your dog in the off season, that’s okay. You have time to put together an off season training plan for 2023. Right now, focus on what’s most important, and accomplish what you can before the season is here and you are out making memories afield with your 4 legged hunting partner. Like any type of hunting, preparation is key. Take the time you have now to prepare your gun dog, and enjoy the season ahead. 

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