Your dog has been dormant since the end of winter and has fallen out of prime shape. Before the beginning of next season he or she will need to get back into form. Follow these steps and your dog will be ready to hunt this fall.
Just like any athlete, your dog needs to warm up before high exertion. The best way to accomplish this is through reviewing basic obedience. It is easy to be lax during the off season with your dog so let’s begin by tightening up command response. Tell the dog to “sit” and it should stay seated until told otherwise. A good sequence would be to heel the dog around on lead while stopping and sitting. Leave the dog in place and work on “here,” mixing up the distances between you and the dog. Throw a few bumpers to work on steadiness. This will stretch the dog’s muscles out as well before any heavy exercise. End the session the way it started as a cool down period before resting the dog for the day.
Back into shape
Most retrievers spend the majority of their off season time lying around. This long period of inactivity will cause them to gain weight but also to lose toughness in their foot pads and overall muscular strength. So keep them off hot asphalt and concrete and on the grass. Walk with the dog, jog with it, send it on long water retrieves; these will all help to restore a high level of fitness.
Focus the training
Throwing marks for the dog is beneficial but your focus should be on blinds. This plan of course is for older trained dogs and not for inexperienced pups. Blind retrieves require teamwork so the pre-season is a great time to reinforce that bond. Start out with simple pattern blinds (blinds familiar to the dog) on land so the dog can build confidence. Move into land cold blinds, water pattern blinds, and finally cold water blinds. While working on blinds it is always a good idea to go back to casting drills as well to sharpen basic blind retrieve skills.
Spend more time together-
Make it a point to spend as much time with your dog as your schedule allows. Take the dog along while running errands but please do not leave them in a hot vehicle. The more time you spend with the dog, the more comfortable they are with you in different situations and thus are easier to handle.
Start working a minimum of 30 days out
Ideally there will be more time than that to get ready for the season. But if not, make sure to start at least a month in advance of the opener. This is the minimum time frame that will see your dog shed extra pounds and tighten muscles needed for a hard day in the field. Remember, it is your responsibility to make sure your canine companion is ready to go when the time comes. Start slow, work on the basics, develop teamwork and enjoy a great season with your dog this year.