Warming Up Your Hunting Dog
A common misconception hunters have is that they can take their dog directly into the field and begin training exercises right away by letting the dog feed off of its natural excitement for work. However, this approach can commonly lead to injuries such as strained muscles, torn ACLs, or joint damage. Instead, a short warm up is crucial for your athletic dog. After all, would you expect Usain Bolt to sprint out of the starting blocks without having jogged and stretched first? Doing so would certainly result in a torn hamstring. Running your dog hard without a proper warm up can affect him or her in the same way. Listed below are warm up exercises that will help you gain better control of your dog and lessen the risk of injury.
With your dog on-leash, take time to practice heeling both forwards and backwards. Your dog should calmly stay by your side when heeling forward, and when you back up your dog should turn around and walk towards you as you take two or three steps away. This exercise not only helps your dog warm up its muscles but it also helps your dog calm down after a car ride and understand that the task at hand is to pay attention.
Next, you might practice moving in a square and asking your dog to follow while heeling. This exercise helps you and your dog practice perfect alignment for when you are asking him or her to heel and wait before retrieving a bird or dummy. In addition to warming up your dog’s legs, you are also helping your dog’s mind get ready to make good decisions while listening in the field.
Warm Up Tips
In order to fully prevent injury, your dog’s muscles should be loose. A good indication of whether your dog is prepared for the activities ahead is that he or she is lightly panting. In pleasant weather, warm up exercises should last 8 – 10 minutes while in cooler weather 10 – 15 minutes of low-impact exercise may be more appropriate. It is always a good idea to incorporate skills you will use in the field into your warm up routine. For an older dog, physically stretching the dog’s muscles may be necessary, as well, to ensure proper blood flow and circulation.
What Not to Do
The worst thing you can do for your gun dog is to let it hop out of the car and immediately burn off energy by running hard through the fields. While this might tire your dog out and give the illusion of a calm demeanor, it will increase the risk of injury and also provide the wrong message to your pet that the field is a place for wild running and not listening, training, and learning. A hunter should never begin a training session with an overly excited dog, so it is of utmost importance that the warm up be used to get the dog’s mind ready in addition to its body.
Joe Scarpy – Owner / Trainer
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