Establishing a training, conditioning and feeding regimen for your duck dog

© Chris Jennings

Retrievers are athletes that need a regimen. It's important to establish a yearlong training, conditioning and feeding program to help your dog be consistent in the marshes come fall.

In preparation for fall hunting, your retriever isn't going to rebuild his or her strength and endurance overnight. Therefore, you should gradually begin a conditioning program. Professional retriever trainer Tom Dokken of Dokken's Oak Ridge Kennels in Northfield, Minnesota, advises, "When a dog is getting back into shape to prepare for the season ahead, you should have him or her run and swim short distances, gradually increasing the distance over time. This is key to regaining strength and endurance."

When trying to increase your retriever's endurance, you should be aware that when going for a walk with your dog, what may be a walk for you is actually a crawl to him or her. Dokken suggests that if you live in or are traveling to a suburban area, you should seek out a place where you can let your dog loose to run, such as a soccer or baseball field. Make sure to be a responsible owner and clean up after your dog.

"For retrievers, simply strolling along the sidewalk isn't beneficial because it doesn't help a dog build his or her endurance," he says. "You have to scout out safe places where your dog can really run."

It's also important to adjust a training and conditioning program according to your dog's age. Puppies don't yet have the long-term drive, energy and mental endurance of adult dogs, so short bouts of exercise are more effective for them. As they get older, you can gradually increase the amount of time spent training as they begin to have greater attention spans.

"You can't exercise pups as you would adult dogs because they are still developing mentally and physically," says Dokken. "You should make training and conditioning a gradual process."

Similarly, when a retriever reaches the senior life stage, he or she begins to slow down. Purina Research Nutritionist Brian Zanghi, PhD, explains, "When a dog is anywhere from 8 to 10 years old, his or her full recovery is going to take an extra 24 hours. When working with your senior dog, make sure he or she gets enough rest afterward."

A key component to a solid training and conditioning regimen is keeping your duck dog in good physical condition with a lean body mass. This means the dog's ribs are palpable without excess fat covering. When a dog carries around extra weight, it slows him or her down in the marshes.

"Petting your dog daily becomes a prime opportunity to feel his ribs to check his body condition. That way, you'll notice subtle changes faster," advises Dr. Zanghi.

When a retriever is properly trained and conditioned, it shows in his or her performance. The same goes for proper nutrition. A dog's coat is a good example of how well the dog food you're feeding is working. A sleek, shiny, healthy coat indicates a dog is getting the proper nutrition he or she needs.

"Nutrition powers everything a dog does," Dokken says. "It's up to you to feed a high-quality dog food."

A complete and balanced high-protein/high-fat performance dog food, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula, will provide your retriever with the correct nutrients needed for optimal strength, speed and endurance, while helping to keep him or her properly conditioned.