Very few dog owners and trainers know how to turn a dog into a true athlete. Mushers are one group of people that know the finer art of turning couch potatoes into extreme athletes. Long distance mushers are especially good at this. Long distance mushers start training their dogs months before the first snow falls. Once the snow starts sticking to the ground, their dogs are running countless miles every day. For a dog to reach this level of physical fitness, they have to be properly trained by a musher who knows what they are doing. Ryne Olson from Alaska fits this category. Ryne is a full-time musher who runs the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. These types of dog races are physically demanding on the dog and the musher. She says the key to success boils down to working the dogs out in the pre-season. “My husband and I have sled dogs and hunting dogs. In order for them to reach their full potential during race season and hunting season, we start physical conditioning several months before season,” Olson said.
When training sled dogs, Olson suggests starting the training process three months before they will be running races in the snow. For hunting dogs, she suggests starting four to six weeks before hunting season. “It is common sense that a dog that is physically fit is probably going to find more birds than a dog that got off the couch yesterday and started hunting today. You can do it that way, and I am sure plenty of hunters do, but starting 4-6 weeks ahead of time will help a dog perform better and the hunter will likely harvest more game,” Olson added
Train When the Weather is Cool
When training dogs, it is important especially early on in the training process to train when the weather is cool. Train in the morning or in the evening. Every year in states like South Dakota, dogs die of heat exhaustion. This is often caused by dogs that are out of shape running all day out in the heat.
Bring a Thermometer
To make sure her dogs aren’t overheating, Olson always has a thermometer with her. A thermometer is cheap and keeping one in a first aid kit is easy to do. “If a hunter is running their dogs in warm weather, checking their temperature is easy to do. If the dog has a fever, give it a break,” Olson said.
Start a Spreadsheet
One thing Olson does to make sure her dogs are ready for season is keep a spreadsheet that shows how many miles her dogs are running during training runs. This record keeping might seem like overkill for a hunting dog, but record keeping can provide great some great data. “With GPS units, dog owners can easily keep track of their hunting dog’s training and gradually increase the number of miles the dog is running,” Olson noted. “Let’s say on a good day of hunting, a dog runs 20-25 miles. When a hunter starts training, they can start with a few miles and go up from there. Each day they train, they can gradually increase the miles until they reach a 20-mile training session. By keeping track, a hunter will know when the dog is ready to hit the woods hunting. If all of a sudden the dog isn’t putting on many miles, they will know to check the dog. In my spreadsheet, I make comments on injuries or other problems my dogs may have. It helps me better understand what is going on with my dogs. I keep excellent records so I can even look back years later and find out if a certain dog is struggling with a reoccurring injury. At the very least, if a hunter keeps a log of the number of miles they train their dog and how many miles they run during season, they can look back after the season and tell their friends about all the miles the dog ran. It is fun.”
Real Meat is a Must
It is also important to note that all mushers feed their dogs dry dog food and other meat including chicken, venison and liver. Providing these meals helps keep a dog in shape during the season.
Hunters that keep records, train heavily in the pre-season, and hunt hard during the season, will likely result in more birds in the game bag. Over the years, I have hunted with countless bird hunters. One thing I have noticed is that hunters who are detailed-oriented that keep track of their training programs and the number of days in the field often bag more game. We owe it to Fido to train him properly in the preseason so he can stay healthy and be more productive during the season.