For long days in the field you want your trusty hunting companion to have the stamina and mental sharpness needed for a successful hunt. Whether you have a Labrador retrieving ducks and doing a lot of water work, or a pointer in the field covering a lot of terrain, or a coon hound dashing through the woods the more fit your dog is the better your hunt will be.
A dog needs to have not only cardiovascular fitness but you must also have their paw pads and muscles ready for various types of terrain. A soft pawed, soft muscled dog will not perform as you need and will be very uncomfortable as well. An out of shape dog is also at risk for injuries that can be very costly.
Living in the south, summertime heat and humidity is always a challenge when trying to exercise. I get up early in the morning, at 4:30, to exercise my two dogs. We get in an hour or two work out in before I have to leave for work. Of course we worked up to that level slowly and if your dog has been sedentary you should start off very slowly with the time and effort involved in the work out. Your hunting dog is an athlete, and needs regular exercise. A full exercise program shouldn't be in place until the dog is skeletally mature, usually at 12 months of age. Of course consult your veterinarian for specifics related to your breed. Exercise that is too vigorous and too high impact in a pup under 6 months can cause permanent joint damage.
I like to take my dogs swimming a lot in the summer. It is fun for them, good for the cardiovascular system and easy on the joints. It is an opportunity for them to build strength and stamina. Keep in mind that dogs can get overheated while swimming. It depends on the water temps so be vigilant about the hot weather. A naturally cool spring fed creek may be fine, our local creek is a constant 68 degrees all year round. But a pond can get in the 80's and that can get your dog in trouble by getting too hot.
In addition to the swimming I do a lot of walking as well. This helps us work as a team. I take the dogs on mountain bike trails as well where their noses get a good work out too. I bike around the neighborhood with them using a contraption called a Walky Dog. They get a good run, helps condition their feet and we get to check out the sights. I have a varying routine and avoid road running on consecutive days to help avoid joint irritation. The dogs love getting out and are more focused when in the field, that makes the hunt more successful.
My dogs have very tough paw pads and that is needed for different hunting terrain. The field may be stubble, berry bushes and thorns or be rough and rocky. They need to have their feet toughened up for the season. I exercise my dogs on pavement, sand, gravel roads, mowed fields, mountain bike trails and bike paths. I of course start off with short distances as doing high mileage early on can give your dog open wounds and lameness. It is important to inspect your dogs’ paws before and after each jaunt so you are aware of any problem areas and foreign bodies. Be mindful if they are licking their feet excessively as that may be a sign of injury as well.
They key to being successful and avoiding injury is to start slowly and increase gradually, I can't stress that enough. Working with your dog each and every day will help you bond and will make the hunting team more successful. Spending more time with your dog will help you learn your dogs’ subtle cues and quirks and that can help you in the field. The more time you spend together the better team you will be. Now get out there and start getting Fido pumped up!