It might be cold outside, but winter is no time to hibernate—for you or your pooch. Dogs need activity every day to keep them fit, even when their masters might not feel like going out. And remember, a tired dog is a well-behaved dog—a lack of exercise can lead to obedience problems. Rabbit hunting is one way to keep your gun dog in the game during winter, but if you want to try something different during the off-season, here are two more activities to help keep dogs lean and their skills keen.
A dog, a pair of cross-country skis and some basic harnessing are all you need to get started in the growing sport of skijoring—think dogsledding, but with skis instead of a sled. Tracing its roots back to Norway, this fun winter activity is a great way for both you and your dog to exercise. Simply outfit the dog with a harness and attach one end of a special shock-absorbing skijoring line to it. Attach the other end to yourself by way of either a climbing harness or a specialized skijoring belt. One dog should be able to pull you along a groomed trail, but it might take as many as three dogs if you’re in deep, fresh snow or heading off trail. Larger dogs are typically used, but most any dog can participate. Skijoring dogs follow the same commands as sledding dogs: “hike” to start running, “gee” and “haw” to make left and right turns, and “whoa” to stop.
Winter is an excellent time to hone a gun dog’s skills because snow adds two new challenges to a typical training session: resistance and scent masking. Snow slows a dog’s forward progress, making for a harder workout. Just be careful not to overdo it; slowly introduce new exercises to avoid injury. And because bumpers buried in the snow are much more difficult for dogs to smell, winter makes a perfect time to work on blind retrieves and handling drills.