Everyone has their own training regimen on keeping their bird dogs in shape. I have my own method of keeping my dogs well conditioned all year. Being a wing-shooting guide, exclusively on ruffed grouse & woodcock, I try my best to keep my dogs in shape all year round. When one talks of exercising their gun dogs, obviously running and proper diet is essential, but keeping them physically conditioned in the game they're pursuing, in my opinion, is extremely important. For instance, my dogs are physically conditioned for the grouse & woodcock covers. What I mean is, you're not going to train a labrador retriever who exclusively hunts waterfowl and retrieves ducks from the water, in the grouse & woodcock covers. Nor are you going to run them exclusively in fields, when pursuing pheasants. Don't get me wrong, I have several friends who have what I call "universal" dogs. One friend has a German Shorthaired pointer who hunts not only grouse & woodcock, but ducks, geese and pheasants. He's a great hunting dog and excels well in all fields of wing-shooting.
In the grouse covers, your dog(s) will being constantly leaping over brush tangles, stonewalls, fallen trees, and weaving through alders. Dogs in the grouse covers can take a beating with all the obstructions they'll be facing.In the spring while they point returning woodcock in the muddy alders, or searching for grouse in the fall. I always describe the way I exercise my dogs is saying, I'm taking the dogs for a "grouse run." Most people look at me with a funny expression, not understanding the meaning. I tell them the way I keep my dogs in shape, is by not only running them in the fields, but taking them into grouse & woodcock covers, everyday, or try to. In the winter I will pack the trails with the snowmobile, and with deep snow through the alders, they can easily hop back on the packed trail. I always have my lanyard with me too, that way they'll always be sharp on their commands during grouse & woodcock season. So that's how I keep my dogs in shape, is run them in the grouse covers all year, and planting Bobwhite Quail to keep their pointing skills sharp. Plus, I feel that in the nine months they're not hunting, when opening day of grouse & woodcock season begins, they'll be in top shape for the covers they'll endure.
I've tried different workouts for my dogs. I can remember this one time my oldest dog, an english pointer, who is like all pointers, full of never ending energy. I had read somewhere about keeping your gun dog in shape, while also maintaining their range in the woods. This consisted of using a 4 foot long logging chain with a clip attached to her collar, and I wrapped 3 feet of the chain with duct tape, so it wouldn't get hung-up on stumps while she was dragging it through the woods. Of course she dragged that 8 pound chain through the field and woods, and it didn't seem to slow her down at all. This was great exercise, it was essentially weight training. The chain dragging behind her seemed to annoy her more than anything. The weight didn't slow her down, but even she knew she couldn't weave in and out of the covers with that bulky chain dragging behind her.
Through the years I tried different exercise methods, such as weighted vests, which worked well. Of course any kind of exercise is great for any dog, but when I exercise my dogs in the covers year round, they're familiar with the terrain and in great shape for the season. When grouse & woodcock season comes around, your dog(s) will be consistent with there commands in the thick covers and be in great shape, as well as you will be too, and be able to enjoy your hunt more!