The text below goes into the conditioning of a dog for the hunt and is a good account of the way it was done in the 1800s. Many of the points are still valid today and if followed we would have well conditioned dogs that are ready to work. Have a read and post your comments below.
This brings me on to what is termed "condition," in other words, that form of body best adapted to undergo long and continued exertion. It is equally certain that a dog too fat, as well as one all skin and bone, is not in this state. These are the two forms from which different people start to bring their animals to the mark. Of the two, I certainly prefer the fat one. During the summer time, dogs should have plenty of air, water, and exercise.
This is easily managed by taking them out whenever you go walking or riding, or letting them be loose all day, kenneling at night, and when this is done, by a mild dose of physic a fortnight before the season, and additional exercise along a hard road to harden their feet, say two or three hours daily, you have your dogs in fair working order. When you have a dog too fat, you must purge him, and put him through a course of long but slow exercise at first, quickening by degrees, till you work off the fat, and leave substance and muscle in its place. With a lean dog you have a far harder job to manage, and one which takes a long time to accomplish. A mild dose to put him in form first, then the best, strongest, and most nutritious food you can get. Oatmeal and strong broth, gentle and slow exercise, this is the plan to put beef on his[Pg 43] bones without fat. As he grows in substance, increase and quicken his work. Any person living in the country does or ought to take his dogs out when he rides or drives.
The pace is fast and severe enough for them, and generally lasts sufficiently long. My dogs are exercised this way every time the horses go out, and are kept in fine order, if anything too fine, perhaps; but, then, what there is, is all muscle and hard flesh. During the shooting season, always feed your dogs with warm meals. Three o'clock is the best time at that season of the year, and a separate mess kept warm for your brace at work, when they return. Nothing conduces more to the keeping your dogs in condition than regular feeding hours and regular work. One meal a day is sufficient. Three o'clock is the best hour, as the dogs have tolerably emptied themselves by the next morning. I omitted to mention in the proper place to accustom your pups to the same food as when kenneled they will get.
For this purpose, as soon as they feed well, give them regular kennel food, except that they must have three feeds a day for some six months, and after that two, till they are full grown. Use as little medicine as possible. Always feed your worked dogs immediately they get home. If you wait awhile, and they are tired, they curl themselves up, get stiff, and don't feed properly; and if they so refuse their food, and are by any accident to be out next day, they will not be up to the work.
No dogs, however, can stand daily work properly for more than three days, and even that is more than enough for them, but they will stand every second day, if well attended to, for a considerable time. Always see your dogs fed yourself. No servant will do it as it should be done. Ten minutes or a quarter of an hour devoted to this as soon as you return from the field, will be more than repaid when next you use them. If you ride, or rather drive to your ground, as is best to do when more than a mile away, ride your dogs also; ditto as you return.
Every little helps, and this short ride wonderfully saves your animals. I invariably do this. But when I drive, say twenty miles or so, to a shooting station, I generally run one brace or so the whole way, and the other brace perhaps ten miles, taking out next day that brace which only ran the short distance. Always on a trip of this kind take a bag of meal with you also. You are then safe. The neglect of this precaution in one or two instances has obliged me to use boiled beef alone, to the very great detriment of the olfactory senses of my dogs.
Their noses, on this kind of food, completely fail them. Greasy substances also are objectionable for the same cause, unless very well incorporated with meal. For this reason I object to "tallow scrap" or chandlers' graves; but this I sometimes use in summer.
Regular work, correct feeding, and regular hours, that is the great secret of one man's dogs standing harder work than others. A little attention to the subject will enable any one to keep his animals pretty near the mark. Amongst the receipts will be found one used in England for feeding greyhounds when in training, if any one likes to go to the expense of it.