Bird Dogs & Training  |  05/15/2024

Ask A Vet Ep. 9: How Do I Keep My Bird Dog Fit Year-Round?


It’s important that a conditioning program focuses on strength training in addition to endurance

By Seth Bynum, DVM

Maintaining peak physical condition in our hunting dogs is a year-round pursuit, not an activity confined to the week before opening day. Hunting dogs are similar to human athletes in that their bodies require training and conditioning to constantly perform at the highest level. We’d never expect a professional human athlete to spend the off-season on the couch and return to the field or court in top shape six months later, and bird hunters should uphold these same expectations for their hunting dogs.

While most hunters think of conditioning strictly in terms of endurance training, that’s only part of the regimen of a top-tier canine athlete. While it’s true that hunting dogs routinely put up marathon length outings multiple times throughout the season, it’s important that a conditioning program focuses on strength training in addition to endurance.

Strong muscles strengthen joints and protect the body from injury, and they also increase speed on ground and in the water. While often overlooked, basic strength training for a canine athlete is fairly straightforward, and it doesn’t require a gym membership. This offseason, try adding in these three basic exercises to build and tone muscle in your canine athlete: Sit-to-stand, down-to-sit, and biscuit-to-hip.


Think of sit-to-stand as doggy squats. This motion isolates the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, all of which propel the dog downfield when hunting. Healthy and strong hind legs are critical for jumping over obstacles in the field. Find an elevated training platform or any smooth surface and have the dog sit and stand repeatedly for multiple repetitions. After 5-8 reps, reward your dog with a small treat or a piece of kibble.


To increase the overall intensity and to work the muscles of the forelimb, add in some down position to stand exercises. Think of these as push-ups or burpees for the canine athlete, as they isolate both the front and rear limbs together for a great workout. Again, keep the repetitions between 5 and 8 for each round, then reward the dog at the end of each set.


It’s easy to overlook a strong core as a critical component of a high-performing athlete. Canine bends or crunches can be achieved easily with a few pieces of kibble and a willing participant. With a treat in your hand, guide the dog's nose to the side and towards its back hip. A few minutes of this each day is a great way to strengthen the bond with your biscuit-loving hunting companion while you simultaneously tighten the abdominal and oblique muscles he relies on for dexterity in the field.

Body Condition Scoring

The off-season is a great time to take stock of your hunting dog’s overall body condition. A healthy weight in a hunting dog is much more than a number on a scale, it’s a full-body assessment that factors in the distribution of fat over several key areas of the body. While the name sounds complex, the concept is rather simple.

A working dog in optimum body condition has ribs that you can feel and are visible through a shorthaired coat during activity and heavy breathing. The wings of the pelvis along the hips should be palpable and visible in an active working dog, but not protruding excessively.

From the side view, a hunting dog in ideal body condition should have a pronounced abdominal tuck, or a sharp rise from the deepest part of the chest to the belly. If your hunting dog is parallel from its chest to its groin, your conditioning program should start sooner rather than later.

Closing Thoughts

All of these activities require very little of your free time in the off-season, and they can make a big difference come fall. Additionally, they can also be performed indoors as temperatures rise during summer.


Proudly brought to you in collaboration with Purina Pro Plan, Ask A Vet is a twelve-part series featuring Dr. RuthAnn Lobos and Dr. Seth Bynum, answering YOUR questions about your four-legged friend. Come back next month for Episode #10, and check out Episode #1, Episode #2, Episode #3, Episode #4, Episode #5, Episode #6, Episode #7 and Episode #8!