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Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Marking during force fetch
Thursday, October 20, 2011
What dogs should learn in a hunt

Read the signs
Because the dove opener is the beginning of our long hunting season, it can be used as an excellent gauge as to the readiness of your hunting dog for the months ahead. Even though the opener is fun, you should use it to your benefit as well. If you consider your dog’s performance on his first wild bird hunt of the season acceptable or even okay, pat yourself on the back; you did an outstanding job preparing him for the season ahead, and you will reap the rewards of your efforts as the season unwinds.

Unfortunately, many hunters were not as motivated and were either inconsistent or did nothing at all to shape up their hunting dogs until they actually witnessed the disobedience the long layoff of the summer months created. This first hunt in September can be an unpleasant wake-up call for those hunters who neglected preparing their dogs for the field beforehand. If you are one of those hunters, you’re lucky that there’s still time to get your dog under control before the duck, pheasant and quail season begins.

Of course, you have a choice: if you simply don’t have time to work your dog, send him to a professional trainer. But if you have the time and motivation, then you should shape him up yourself because it’s good for your relationship and communication. Many of my clients send their dogs back to me for a refresher course before the main season begins.

If you are a longtime reader of my column, you know I don’t believe in taking an untrained dog to the field, so, the tips in preparing your dog for the remainder of the season are aimed at a dog that has some training, otherwise they won’t work. Here are some of the problems hunters have encountered on opening day; dog takes off when you raise your gun, he chases missed birds, he plays with the dove instead of bringing it back.

I’m sure some of you hunters have dogs that have even more creative antics in which they display their disobedience, but these are what I consider the major infractions on opening day. Remember, you can only expect a dog to perform to the level he has been trained, no more.

When you are attempting to bring a dog that has been properly schooled back to his training level, choose one of the infractions to work on instead of trying to fix all of them.  Usually, correcting one of the broken commands will remind the dog that he must work to the level he has been trained to, and all other commands will fall into place. In my experience, just working on making the dog steady will remind him that the hunt is a team effort and not for his exclusive enjoyment.  Before you begin the steadying effort, I’m going to advise you to start with a drill I call, “advance heeling.”

To begin, I recommend you first put a choke chain and leash on your dog and heel him down the road, to gauge his obedience level. Your dog has been taught how to properly heel so a few jerks on the choke chain should remind him of his schooling. If he’s really bad, it may take a few days of heeling with the lead until he submits and heels properly. The dog should not only follow you at heel doing turns and pivots but should also back up as well. Light taps with a stick are good reminders

Once you are satisfied with your pupil’s performance on this very basic drill it’s time to remove the choke chain and lead so the advanced heeling drill can begin. Now, place the electric collar on your dog and begin heeling him down the road. Any distraction that makes him lose concentration and get out of line warrants some disciplinary action with the collar. If you’ve done a good job with him on leash, the off leash work should fall into place nicely. Now that you have your dog’s undivided attention, it’s time to move to the steadying drill. Give your dog the sit command, and throw a bumper, and watch his reaction.

If he’s rock solid steady he got the message; if not, nick him with the collar and repeat the entire scenario. Next test him by using dead birds, then finally a live shot flyer. At this point, your abilities as a trainer will be revealed as well as the dog’s attentiveness and willingness. The final exam of course will be your next hunt. That said, you must remember that a dog can only perform up to the level he has been taught. Applying discipline without clear instruction is a mistake. 

Good hunting!

Dog trainer Grady Istre can be reached at

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