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Winter Training for Hunting Dogs

Endure the winter with these activities to keep your dog in top physical and hunting shape.

Winter Training for Hunting Dogs

Taking our dog on runs and going to the dog park is what we usually do in the winter. There’s nothing wrong with those activities, but they can get stale after a while. Endure the winter with these activities to keep your dog in top physical and hunting shape.

1. Shed Hunt

Go on a long walk with purpose.

You and your dog just came out of a taxing season that included early morning wake-up calls, hauling decoys and gear to honey holes, not to mention him retrieving downed birds. Going from that pace to a state of dormancy after the season is what leads to cabin fever. Luckily there’s a cure.

Looking for shed antlers is a leisurely activity that gets you and your dog outdoors. You don’t have to wake up a 3 a.m. or mentally exhaust your mind over hunting strategies. You just have to walk. We’ve never met a dog that doesn’t love a walk in the woods.  

Whitetail deer shed their antlers from late winter to spring. There are two ways you and your dog can approach finding antlers. One is to train your dog to help locate the dropped antlers. The other is to simply have him along for the search as you scour deer trails, creek crossings and feeding areas.

There aren’t many tricks to shed hunting, which makes it great for the family to participate. You can do it wherever there is a deer population (just be sure to read the rules on public land shed hunting in your area and have permission from the landowner if you are on private land).

Finding an antler to place on the mantle or use as a chew toy is really just icing on the cake. Shed hunting offers great exercise, fresh air and quality time with your best friend.

2. Hunt Birds, But Don’t Shoot

Perfect the routines before the shot.

Upland bird hunters can still hit the fields with the dogs after the season ends. Pointers can do they were bred to do: find birds and point. The there’s the flushing dogs, like Labs, that well, love to simply flush. The key is to get them out there honing their skills.

Instead of carrying a gun, take a camera. This is a great time to get action shots of your partner in the field.

If you just can’t go through the motions of hunting without shooting, consider visiting an upland game hunting preserve. Many have hunts for quail, pheasants, Hungarian partridge and chukar well into the spring.

3. Use the Snow to your Advantage

Replicate swimming exercises in the snow.

We found this tip in Gun Dog Magazine. If you live in snowy climates, there are two ways to take outdoor exercises to the next level. One is simply to do your retrieving exercises when the snow is deep. Plowing through chest-high snow works different muscle groups of a dog, much like swimming.

If the snow is not deep enough, use a sled. Sled dog harnesses are available online and not that costly. Hook your dog up to a sled, place some weight on it, maybe a young child looking for a free sled ride, and run. Again, this develops those muscles a retriever uses for swimming and can keep them in shape until the lakes thaw and you can resume normal swim sessions.

4. Join The Club

Get involved with competition, socialization and training clubs.

Competing in field trials is an excellent way to get you and your dog some off-season action. No matter the skill level of dog and master, there are clubs that cater to all disciplines and breeds. In addition to providing more motivation to get out in the field, these field trials and the clubs that host them offer socialization opportunities, training resources and a deeper bond between dog and trainer. Plus, you get the chance to be recognized for your talents.

There are many clubs and organizations around the country that host competitions. Start your search with the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club – two of the larger organizations in the country – to gain access to a community that shares the same love, knowledge and enthusiasm for hunting dogs as you do.

It’s easy to take the time after the hunting season to relax and recover, but it also leads to stir-crazy indoor dogs and weight gain if you don’t get out regularly. Make it a point to get outside and engage your dog this winter. 


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