Get Your Dog’s Days In This Summer

With summer upon us, now is the time to get in shape for hunting season. As hunters, we strive to have our body and mind tuned in so that we can fully appreciate and enjoy all our hunting experiences have to offer and get to where we need to be to fill tags and bag game. For bird hunters, now is also the time to get your dog in shape. 

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is not getting their dog in good hunting shape before the season starts,” notes breeder and trainer Steve Waller ( “This is the time of year dogs need to be working – not just a few weeks before the season.” Waller has been training canines for over 40 years. When it comes to doing so during the sizzling days of summer, there are different points to consider than when exercising them during cooler times of the year.

When it comes to getting a dog’s feet into hunting shape, train them on gravel. Doing so will toughen their pads, strengthen their toes, feet and legs and naturally wear down their toenails. (
When it comes to getting a dog’s feet into hunting
shape, train them on gravel. Doing so will toughen
their pads, strengthen their toes, feet and legs and
naturally wear down their toenails. (

“It may not look great, but one of the first things I do when training dogs in the heat is clip their hair,” Waller shares. “Clipping that coat short is one of the best things
you can do to keep a dog cool and comfortable. It’s also great for cutting down on grass seed problems; and don’t worry, it’ll grow back.” As far as actual training, Waller
points out the obvious. “Train early in the morning and don’t push it. Get up half an hour
early and get it done before heading to work, if you have to. Just don’t put yourself in a position where mid-day training is the only option. Cool, breezy evenings can also be
good times to train, but again, don’t overdo it.” Waller advocates training near water so you can let dogs swim every 15 minutes or so. Letting dogs play in the water will greatly
help cool them off and keep them more comfortable and focused
during sessions.

“If you can’t train near a body of water, be sure and take plenty of drinking water into the field and give it to your dog regularly,” Waller insists. “Dogs with a lot of drive
won’t tell you they’re getting hot or thirsty; they’ll just keep going until they fall over from heat exhaustion, so be sure to keep them hydrated. That goes for trainers too. If a dog does go down, cover them with water to drop that body temperature as fast as you can.” Even in water training, don’t push the dogs to the point of exhaustion.

Just because they’re in the water doesn’t mean they’re staying cool all the time, as their bodies can still overheat. Just take it slow and keep it fun for the dogs. Once they
start losing interest, stop. “When water training with bumpers, I’ll only toss it in five or six times, that’s it,” offers noted trainer, breeder and former Oregon State University professor of animal breeding and genetics, Howard Meyer. “I want them to stay interested
in retrieving that bumper their whole life, bringing it to me every time.”

When conditioning dogs in the heat, Meyer ( uses a canoe and has his dogs swim next to him as he paddles. “Tossing a bumper five or six times isn’t going to get them in shape, but swimming will. Just give them plenty of time to warm up along the shore
as the water can be cold, even on hot days.” A dog’s feet must also get conditioned.
For this, train on gravel, pavement or concrete. Again, do this training early in the day, near water, where dogs can be quickly cooled off.

If training on asphalt, make sure it’s not too hot for the dog to comfortably set foot on. Training in the field is obviously a great place to get a dog’s feet in shape, but this time of year, watch out for snakes. If your dog’s not snake-broken, there are classes and trainers who specialize in teaching this. As you begin conditioning for the upcoming hunting season, don’t forget about man’s best friend. Dogs require proper attention and direction to get in shape, and working
with them on a daily basis will also strengthen that bond that makes hunting with dogs so special. CS

By Scott Haugen