Preseason Training Tips from the Pros – Part 1

Training is important regardless of age or experience. Continuous training helps dogs maintain their skills.

Opening Day is coming in low and hot, and so is the autumn trial season. Pro trainers “plan their work and then work their plan.” Here’s what some Eukanuba™ Pro Trainers focus on to get their strings ready for go time.

Ethan Pippitt of Standing Stone Kennels, Kansas
Specialty: Breeding and training German shorthaired pointers for upland and waterfowl hunting.
1. Evaluate Your Dog

Look back at the previous season and identify things your dog needs to work on. How does the dog respond to birds? How steady is he? Is your dog breaking to flush? Maybe you need to work on “whoa” training. Maybe he needs some formal retrieving work. An honest evaluation is the best place to start your preseason training.

2. Evaluate Yourself

How do you approach your dog? Are you patient, or quick to lose your temper? Can you take your time and move at your dog’s pace? Are you willing to adapt your training to your dog’s temperament and progress? Are you willing to consult with professional trainers if your dog has a problem that you don’t know how to address? Stepping back and looking in the mirror will give you a fresh start for a new season.

Create training scenarios that simulate hunting environments. Incorporating water work also helps dogs cool down.
3. Train to Your Dog

Dogs learn at their own pace, and training is an ongoing process throughout their life. A dog can have a stellar season one year and then get sloppy the next. Good trainers know that a dog is never truly “finished.” Even an excellent dog needs continuous training to maintain his skills.

Jeremy Criscoe of Whistling Wings Kennel, Alabama
Specialty: Breeding, training, and competing with British Labrador retrievers.
1. Conditioning for Heat

Heat is something you have to consider in the early season. Start with short work sessions and build up to longer ones that are about as long as the hunt you’re going on. I like to start conditioning early in the morning or late in the afternoon and transition slowly to working in the heat of the day so the dog is conditioned and accustomed to the heat.

2. Training for Heat

We combine conditioning with training to prepare for days with bad scent conditions and for the heat. I start with conditioning to get a dog warmed up, and then do scent work to stimulate his physical and mental state. It’s a way to increase the dog’s focus when working in the dry heat.

3. Keep Your Dog Hydrated

Heat is always part of our early season, and that’s why I focus so much attention on training dogs to perform when it’s hot. Dehydration is a common problem with hard-running dogs, so we teach young dogs to drink out of a water bottle. That way I can keep them properly hydrated in the field. We use treats and put them around the end of the bottle to get the dog  to lick the treat and start with small amounts of water until they are comfortable drinking from a bottle.

Always make sure dogs have plenty of fresh, clean water to drink during preseason training.
Stephen Faust of Stoneybrook Outfitters & Gordon Setters, North Carolina and Minnesota
Specialty: Breeding, training, and guiding grouse and woodcock hunts with Gordon setters.
1. Physical Fitness

Conditioning isn’t just for dogs. As a hunter and guide, I also need to be in shape. After the season ends, I take my dogs jogging with me every third day, and eventually work to a point where I am running with my dogs on a daily basis.

2. Bird Work

When I’m not hunting, I’m training. I’m fortunate that there are woodcock around my house. I take my older dogs and let them work birds just like any other time of the year. I match up my younger dogs with an older dog and let them learn the ropes once their obedience work is done.

3. Simulate Hunting Conditions

I don’t like to train my dogs in open fields. I hunt thick cover, so I want my dogs to learn how to move through the woods. They need to learn to be obedient, keep up, and not get lost. When I have an older dog point, I bring in a younger dog and “whoa” them until they start putting the pieces together. It’s a gradual process, but it creates a good dog.

Conditioning in actual hunting situations helps prepare dogs for the upcoming season.
Josh Miller of River Stone Kennels, Wisconsin
Specialty: Breeding and training British Labrador retrievers.
1. Set Realistic Goals

Too many people try to jam an entire summer’s worth of training into a couple of weeks. The top reasons are that they had a busy summer and life got in the way. If that’s you, accept the situation and be fair to the dog. Focus on a couple of achievable things that will be of the most use come hunting season, and work on them regularly well in advance of the season.

2. Situational Training

Dogs need to be trained for the environment and situations in which they will hunt. From boats to blinds to decoys, there are a lot of factors involved in a successful retrieve. It’s important to create training scenarios that closely simulate a hunt so that your dog is ready for everything he will see in the field.

3. Conditioning

There is a reason pro trainers are always talking about conditioning—it’s important. Don’t let a dog go from months on the couch straight into the field. Even a seasoned dog needs to knock the rust off and get in shape before hunting season.

Training is important regardless of age or experience. Continuous training helps dogs maintain their skills.
Jerry Havel of Pineridge Grouse Camp, Minnesota
Specialty: Breeding and training pointers, and guiding for grouse and woodcock.
1. Realistic Expectations

Practice makes perfect. If you haven’t put in the time for conditioning, steadiness, and handling, don’t expect your dog to perform like a polished bird dog.

2. Conditioning, Conditioning, Conditioning

To me, nothing is more important for a trained dog going into hunting season than being in good shape. If you are exercising your dog only once a week, you can’t expect him to hunt five days straight. Ideally you should be conditioning your dog five days a week by the start of July.

3. Consider Your Dog’s Nutrition

When I start conditioning my dogs to get them in shape for hunting season, I switch their diet to Eukanuba™ Premium Performance 30/20 SPORT. It provides the energy they need for their workouts, and the nutrition to help build stamina and muscle for hunting season. With proper conditioning and nutrition, I know my dogs are ready to roll when Opening Day comes.

Performance nutrition is designed for dogs that work hard like gun dogs. Make it part of your gear list.

The season’s coming in hot — now that you’ve got your goals, it’s time to start the work. Follow @eukanubasportingdog on Instagram for training drills from the Team Eukanuba™ pros. Share your own preseason training videos with us using #EukanubaContest for a chance to win a Eukanuba™ prize pack.