|Of course, if you are badly out of shape, have a history of heart disease or other physical problems, you should talk to your doctor before you do this, and if any of those conditions are true of ol’ Bullet you should talk to Bullet’s vet before you take him out. However, I am guessing that most hunters are fairly normal (if that can be said about hunters) and that most of us own fairly normal bird dogs (is there such a thing?). So put on some decent running shoes, grab the dog and let’s do some conditioning work!|
A couple of items will make life much more enjoyable for you and your dog as you run. First, use a long lead. Your dog is going to want to get out there and go, not run under your feet. If you think about it, you want him to get out some, don’t you? Not many coveys are found under your boots. Let him run a bit. I run with Ranger on a fifteen-foot lead, and when we get to a safe area where this are no cars, I drop the lead and let him range out. I am fortunate to have such a place to run and he is well-trained to the whistle (more on that in a minute). Please don’t ever run your dog in traffic off-lead. Such is asking for a catastrophe. A rabbit, a squirrel, a cat – any animal could dart out and lead your dog on a merry chase right across the street into oncoming cars. You just cannot count on a dog making the right decision in that situation, which is why you have already decided for him by putting him on a lead. When in traffic, keep it on him.
Second, get a harness. If you clip the lead to your dog’s collar, he will be straining and pulling with his neck. That is not good for the dog and makes it hard for you to control him. A chest and body harness distributes the pressure across the dog, building all his muscles as he pulls evenly. It also doesn’t hurt his neck or impair his breathing.
Third, put a bungee cord on the end of the lead, then clip that bungee cord to the harness. Running with a dog on a bungee cord is a shoulder saver, to say the least. Bullet is going to pull against you (and that is good) but you don’t want him jerking your arm out of its socket. The bungee cord helps the dog work hard, and work constantly, but makes it much easier on you to run with him.
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to brush up on training while you are running. Make your dog "whoa" at every intersection and not move until you give him the okay. This reinforces his steadiness on point and keeps him from creeping in on point. You can "hup" him when you want him to turn, reinforcing quartering drills. If you run with a whistle make him come in when called on the whistle. Work on heeling as you run, even as you let him range out and pull hard. A buddy of mine runs his dogs with their e-collars on, using runs as a training situation for every command he uses, all enforced (rarely, but as needed) by the collar.
Yes, there are other methods of getting dogs in shape for hunting. Pros "road" their dogs, using special rigs to hook up a whole line of dogs to a four-wheeler or truck. Some guys have managed to talk their dog into running alongside their bike. Yet the simplicity of going out the front door to your local jogging path, street, or sidewalk is hard to beat.
Opening day is coming up fast (isn’t it great?). Make use of the time you have now to get yourself and your dog ready. If you will do some road work now, you will have a much better hunting dog, and as a bonus you will be surprised how much more you enjoy hunting when you shed a few of those extra pounds. Go to it, and good luck this season!