Skip to main content Skip to main content

Off-Season Conditioning for You and Your Gun Dog

While most bird hunters are finishing the season and looking ahead to spring training, consider these creative calisthenics to keep yourself and your dog in proper condition all year-round.

Off-Season Conditioning for You and Your Gun Dog

Get creative in conditioning, you just might even wind up in the best shape of your life, too. (Photo By: Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com)

Keeping gun dogs conditioned year-round requires a lot of things. Don’t give up if the snow drifts are piled high, you’re shy on time, or don’t have an ATV with roading gear. Borrowing some concepts from active outdoor athletes is one way to do it, especially if you’re a hunter living in a populated area.

Be Bold in the Cold

Andy Weik, a professional dog trainer and hunting guide in Central New York doesn’t let Old Man Winter fatten himself or his dogs. Weik uses the snow to his advantage for his personal string of red setters and German wirehaired pointer, just as he does for maintaining off-season conditioning with client dogs. 

Dog Sledding

Weik mentions how using traditional wooden sleds or state-of-the-art racing sleds and a harness is an easy way to run one or more dogs in winter. “Dog sledding is an excellent way to condition,” Weik said. “Flats and downhills are easy with one dog, but I’ll need to step off and push when going uphill—it's a good workout for me too!”

Weik encourages dog owners to introduce the harness to their dogs prior to putting them in front of a sled. “I’ll walk them in the harness out front on a tugline so they get used to pulling. Much of the time I’ll do some of the summer sports such as bikejoring with them, so when it comes to hitching them to the sled, they already know what to do.”


dog sledding in winter
Dog sledding is a great way to stay active during the cold months after the hunting season. (Photo courtesy of Andy Weik)

Pad health in the winter is important and Weik suggests trimming hair between dog’s pads and cutting their nails as well. To combat snowballs and ice buildup, and to nourish healthy pads, he recommends applying a good amount of Musher’s Secret prior to hitting the trail. In cold or icy conditions, Weik says booties can also help keep dogs’ feet protected.

What you need to get started: Basic obedience commands, a sled, a harness, gang line and tuglines, a tub of Musher’s Secret, and booties. All this is available at sled dog racing suppliers, and they’ll help you with harness sizing. Used sleds are often available from sled dog racers. It’s best not to run dogs under two years old on a sled. Find a snowmobile trail or short-loop public hiking trail and get your winter workout going.

Skijouring

Weik is also a cross-country skier which means he’ll often skijour with his dogs. “Skijouring is cross country skiing with your dog,” he said. “A dog harnesss, tug line (which usually has a bungee section), and belt harness are all you need. Skijouring is ideal with one or two dogs, although with two dogs on icy conditions you may get going faster than you want! Mastering the snowplow braking technique is important for slowing down, particularly on steep descents. A typical outing might be three to five miles in one outing, and that includes a few breaks for rest and water.”

What you need to get started: Basic obedience commands, dog harness, tug line, belt harness, a tub of Musher’s Secret, booties, and cross-country skis. Sled dog racing suppliers often sell skijoring gear as well.


skijoring
Skijoring is another favorite way to pass the time during the snow-covered winter months. (Photo courtesy of Andy Weik)

Time to Warm Up

Bikejouring

Spring and summer means time for preseason training and conditioning. Bikejouring is biking with a harnessed dog that pulls the rider down streets and trails. A single dog or two wear the same sled dog harness with a tow line that connects to a bicycle. That tow line should have a bungee section and be attached to the bike via a ‘bayonet’ or spring which reaches out over the front to prevent the line from wrapping in the tire. Disc brakes, which allow the rider to stop quickly, are recommended. Some rigs allow dogs to run out in front, while others are slightly off to the side. Because they are stable, mountain bikes are traditionally used, and fat tire bikes are becoming more popular.

bikejoring
Bikejoring is becoming a popular way to stay conditioned during the warmer months. (Photo By: goodcat/Shutterstock.com)

What you need to get started: Your dog needs basic obedience skills followed by a familiarization with the harness. It’s helpful to teach directional commands like left or right. During warm weather, work the dogs during the cooler parts of the day, and plan water stops for dogs to get a drink, or ideally to get a dunk.

Canicross

If you’d rather run than ride, canicross is running with a harnessed dog or a string of dogs. The runner is connected to the dogs by a bungee-leash. The goal is to find the sweet spot where the dogs pull a runner forward when they’re in mid-stride and their feet are off the ground. A six-to-ten-foot leash connects the dog team to the runner’s specially designed waist belt. 

What do you need to get started: Dogs need basic obedience skills, leash training, and a Canicross harness. Runners need good running shoes and some grit to keep up with the dogs’ brisk pace.

bikejoring
Canicross is an easy way for both you and your dog to burn calories during the off-season. (Photo By: Raquel Pedrosa/Shutterstock.com)

Off-Lead Trail Running & Biking

When Eukanuba professional trainer Jared Moss of Best Gun Dogs in Beaver, Utah wants to get in shape for his guide season while working on his string, he’ll run on old Jeep trails. “Before setting out, I do a lot of drag leash work with a long check cord,” he said. “I’ll clip a 20-foot check cord that is 5/8” in diameter to their collar and run them through the varying terrain. That cord has weight, and the resistance helps build their muscles. After that, I like to run or bike on wide open trails at a slow, 3- to 5-mph pace. That slower pace lets me run for a longer period of time. Dogs running at a 5-mph pace for an hour get in better shape than those running at a 12-mph pace for 15 minutes. Start slow and build up over time, and strap on a GPS collar. Getting separated from your dogs can happen very quickly, and GPS collars make for a faster recovery.”

Staying in shape is a year-round effort for both you and your gun dog. Get creative in conditioning. Who knows, you might even wind up in the best shape of your life, too.

To Continue Reading

Go Premium Today.

Get everything Gun Dog has to offer. What's Included

  • Receive (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers

  • Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

  • Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

  • Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

  • Ad-free experience at GunDogMag.com.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or start your online account

Get the Newletter Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Gun Dog articles delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Gun Dog subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now
Dog jumping out of phone with Gun Dog website in the background
Make the Jump to Gun Dog Premium

Gun Dog Premium is the go-to choice for sporting dog owners and upland hunting enthusiasts. Go Premium to recieve the follwing benefits:

The Magazine

Recieve (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers.

Training Videos

Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

Digital Back Issues

Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

Exclusive Online Editorial

Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or Start your online account

Go Premium

and get everything Gun Dog has to offer.

The Magazine

Recieve (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers.

Training Videos

Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

Digital Back Issues

Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

Exclusive Online Editorial

Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or Start your online account