For those of you who are unable to get your dog back to the trainer for a fall tune-up, there still are some things that you can do to get your best buddy ready for hunting season. I’m going to break this down into three different categories because there are three different levels of gun dogs.

      The first level we will call your “A” dog. This can be any age dog that has little or no hunting experience. Most of the time these are puppies that have been through a solid, entry level gun dog program and just need some time out in the field. Always remember that your pups first year of hunting should be about learning and positive experiences. Don’t ask your dog to do something for you that it has not been trained to do. As far as tuning-up goes, there shouldn’t be much needed at this level because everything is still very fresh on their mind. The main thing you want to do is get your dog accustomed to whatever type of hunting situations you’re going to be in. If you’re a public lake hunter and a boat is your main source of transportation and concealment, make sure the first time in a boat for your dog is not opening morning. Make several trips to the lake and get your dog used to riding in the boat, getting in and out of the boat, and staying steady on a dog stand. If you are on a duck lease and your dog will be riding in your ATV or running next to it, make sure this is practiced before that first ride in the dark on opening day. You and your pup have worked too hard to have a mistake sideline your first season when it could have been prevented with a little prep work before the season started.

   The next level is a “B” gun dog. This dog will have a few years of hunting under its belt. Steadiness is always something we want to tune-up before we start raining groups of mallards out of the sky. A dog that breaks can flare your ducks but more importantly put itself in harm’s way. If it has been a while since your dog has been at your trainer, make sure it is still in shape. Dogs are just like athletes, you can’t expect them to lie around for eight or nine months and then just pop up on opening morning and give everything they have without risking injury. I like to take this type of dog and let them run beside me on the four wheeler for a couple miles at a nice, easy pace. If you do this two or three days a week, there should be no problem when it comes to conditioning during duck season. Remember this though, if your dog is eating three cups of food a day with no exercise, you will probably need to go up to four cups a day with exercise. It’s a long season and proper nutrition needs to start now.

   The third and final stage of a gun dog is the “C” dog or “old veteran.” This is your war buddy whose life is spent trying to do nothing but please you. While you, as an owner, are just trying to hang on to a couple more seasons before you have to retire the most loyal friend that you have ever had. With an older dog, swimming is going to be the best form of exercise you can provide. Get a kayak or pirogue and take off while your dog swims behind you. This keeps the weight off of the joints and will provide a high level, low impact workout for your retriever. Always take into consideration things are not as easy for this type of dog as they used to be. They may need help getting up on their hunting stand or climbing back into the boat. It’s also fine to go out and help pick up some birds if there are several on the water; at this age, your dog will appreciate it. And last but not least, as hard as this may be, don’t take your buddy every day of the season. Keep the dog’s hunts to a minimum and make sure to make them count. These could be some of the last memories you will make duck hunting together. 

   Always have your dogs in shape and up to date on vaccinations before the season starts and never hesitate to call your trainer if a problem occurs or something just doesn’t seem right. Hopefully this will make for a smooth transition into hunting season no matter what age or skill level your dog is at. Good Luck and Happy Hunting.

Michael Huey is the owner of AJ Kennels and provides gun dog training plus all-breed obedience training and boarding.  Michael is also the Head Duck Guide at Broseco Ranch.  To book a trip or for more information on AJ Kennels’ services, call Michael at 903-399-8605 or online at