The Old Trainer: Before taking a dog hunting, make sure it gets the proper training

D ear Old Trainer: I have a 2-year-old chocolate lab named Willy I want to use for duck hunting this winter. My vet told me to keep him in his run at all times so he will have the energy and the will to work. I hate to keep him locked up, but I want to do what is best for him. What should I do?

– Richard, Sacramento

Dear Richard: That advice from your vet was conventional wisdom half a century ago, but we now know it makes no sense. And, to paraphrase Bob Seger, I’m glad we know now what we didn’t know then.

We have advanced light-years in our knowledge of conditioning since the time when “experts” thought the heart was pre-wired to have only so many beats in it before it failed. The heart is a muscle and the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. That’s why athletes in every sport work out year-round.

Canine athletes need conditioning just as much as the human variety. A dog loses both physical conditioning and mental acuity when locked away. The better condition Willy is in, the better he will perform when the time comes for him to do the job he was born to do.

Put Willy on an exercise regimen today. And I don’t mean walk him 10 blocks on a short leash. To Willy, that is the equivalent of a couch potato getting up and walking to the kitchen for ice cream.

Willy needs to run every day. Start by walking a quarter mile, then running a quarter until you put in a mile. Add a mile every week until you are doing 3 miles every other day. Use an expandable leash, not a short one.

In addition, work on Willy’s retrieving skills every day. Hit a tennis ball as far as you can with a racquet and let Willy retrieve it. Find a pond or lake and hit the ball into the water so Willy can work on his swimming conditioning.

Use voice commands and hand signals to sharpen his response to your orders. Praise him when he responds correctly. The more you interact with Willy, the better the two of you will communicate, so any time you are home have Willy with you instead of in his run. The more he is with you, the faster he learns.

Add formal duck retrieval training to the mix, but work on conditioning every day.

Alert to all dog owners

Dogs are dying again from eating treats made in China. Thousands of dogs have gotten ill and almost 600 have died. The FDA is seeking information from pet owners whose pets were affected. Visit for more information.

If you want to keep your dog safe, never buy any pet product made in China. Your dog doesn’t need any treat purchased from a store, for that matter. If you feel your dog needs a treat, make it yourself. There are thousands of recipes online.

And remember, as far as your dog is concerned, the greatest treat of all is a bite of whatever you are eating.