Preseason Training of Bird Dogs Should Begin Early

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It’s never too early to begin thinking about the next hunting season

It’s never too early to begin thinking about the next hunting season. In fact, preparing a dog for the season takes year-round work. Serious bird dog enthusiasts never let up from conditioning and training mode, though the intensity of day-to-day routines may relent a bit during the off-season. 
 
Preseason training varies by age, experience and individual dog, but experts agree success results when a program focuses on optimal training, conditioning and nutrition. These components are essential when it comes to developing your dog for hunting.
 
“Dogs need to be in good physical condition going into the season, which means owners should focus on getting a dog into top condition way ahead of opening day,” says Purina Senior Manager of Sporting Dog Programs Karl Gunzer. “Those who build a performance platform that balances training, conditioning and nutrition are enabling a dog to be his or her best.” 
 
Gunzer, a pro trainer for 20 years, understands the rigorous requirements on the front end that produce the desired results in the field. 
 
“Training is a process that takes time. A dog must mature physically and mentally to the challenges being taught,” he says. “Nutrition supports the hard work. Feeding a nutrient-dense, high-protein/high-fat performance food helps to increase a dog’s capacity to metabolize fat, thus giving the dog a higher oxygen capacity to work.”
 
The ideal food for hardworking dogs should be high in protein and fat, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula, a quality performance dog food containing 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat.
 
“Feeding a high-protein/high-fat diet primes a dog’s metabolic engine to efficiently convert nutrients into energy,” explains Purina Senior Research Nutritionist Brian Zanghi, PhD. “Keeping a dog on a performance diet year-round, reducing the amount fed during the off-season, is essentially giving him or her a two-month conditioning edge over a dog fed a maintenance diet that is lower in protein and fat.”
 
Gunzer adds, “Feeding a nutrient-dense food also allows you to not have to feed an excessive amount to keep weight on a dog. When a dog eats less food, and thus has less volume in his or her stomach, the dog is more comfortable.”
 
“The goal of nutrition is to optimize performance, which means feeding a food containing key nutrients in an optimal balance to provide optimal benefits,” says Dr. Zanghi. “This enables a dog to hunt longer. Food can metabolically prime our dogs to promote optimal endurance.”
 
If your dog worked hard last fall and winter during the hunting season, he or she should be in ideal body condition. Maintain your dog’s figure by adjusting the amount of food fed accordingly based on the nine-point Purina Body Condition Score System. A dog should have a score of four to five, meaning the ribs are palpable without excess fat covering. By keeping your dog at a healthy weight, he or she will be ready to hit the ground running in a training and conditioning program in order to prepare for the following hunting season. 
 

Nutritional Do’s & Don’ts for Bird Dogs

DO Adjust the Amount of Food Based on the Season  During the winter months, a dog needs nearly 7 percent more calories for every 10 degrees the temperature drops below the mild temperatures of spring and fall. Likewise, in the summer, a dog needs about 7 percent fewer calories for every 10-degree rise above spring and fall’s moderate temperatures.
 
DON’T Feed Before Exercise  Because complete digestion takes from 20 to 24 hours, you should feed your dog the night before a hunt or training and conditioning session. A dog fed six hours or sooner before exercise results in the body’s fat-burning enzymes not being optimized, which contributes to reduced endurance and energy generation.
 
DO Feed Once a Day  This allows a dog time to completely digest his or her food. A young dog or high-maintenance dog requiring a larger portion of food can be fed twice a day with a slightly smaller portion in the morning.
 
DON’T Always Feed the Same Amount of Food  During the first four to six weeks of conditioning, food quantity should increase but then level off and decline slightly. Each dog is an individual, so you should always adjust the amount of food fed to maintain your dog’s ideal body condition.
 
DO Provide Plenty of Water  A dog should be well-hydrated, as exercise is a heat-producing activity, and water is required to dissipate heat. Water also is needed to remove the byproducts of energy metabolism, which is essential to endurance and performance.