If you’re like me your dog situation is stalled out at a horse apiece. On the one hand your seasoned vet dog knows the hunting game inside and out and there are very few situations they cannot handle thanks to their experience and previous training. You’ve quit worrying about their abilities and can enjoy the hunt with minimal consideration to your dog’s steadiness and performance. It’s a nice seat to sit in, BUT…
Older dogs don’t have as much stamina as they once did and even if they don’t show it during the hunt you will see the toll cold weather and hard charging takes on them once things slow down and you get them home. It’s heartbreaking to watch your best buddy struggle to rise off the dog bed to go outside one last time before turning in for the night or dealing with the fact that they may not be able to handle multiple hunting days in a row anymore.
These old warriors won’t say a word and will give you everything they have until there is literally nothing left and that’s why it’s up to you to have them in the best possible condition going into your hunting season and there’s no better time than right now to begin.
Less training and more conditioning is the name of the game to make sure Mackinaw is ready to go for the fall. We do work on steadiness every single day as he’s never mastered it, especially when there are other dogs present but grinding him into the dirt running huge blinds or hundreds of marks every week won’t do anything but wear him out before season and put more strain on that old body than is necessary. At his age it’s all about keeping his skills sharp and his body strong and fit.
For land work I like a work out similar to what he will experience in the field… it’s not non-stop action, it’s more like short intervals of high intensity so that’s exactly how I run drills with him. Fast paced single, double and triple memory marks with rest periods between for a total of about 15 to 30 minutes a few times per week keeps him in shape while not beating him down. I like to do as much water work with him as possible when it’s hot because swimming is easier on his old joints. As for longer duration conditioning I’ve cut way back on road work and increased his time tramping around with me in the mountains while I’m trying to get into elk-shape. The elevation and terrain is great for both of us and not nearly as monotonous as road work. The smile on his face says it all.
Keeping those old greybeards in shape during the off season will help them perform better once it’s go time and help both of get the most out the last of the sand in the hourglass. Make sure they’re getting just the right amount of exercise, too much and you’ll see it in their mobility and feed a quality dog food. Ask your vet if you think a joint supplement will help your dog. Most importantly, enjoy each moment you have because all too soon those moments will be nothing but memories.