Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Friday, October 07, 2011
Read the signs
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
First time duck dog

What dogs should learn in a hunt
When you take a young, inexperienced dog to the field for the first time, you should have an idea in mind as to what you would like him to learn, or at least begin to learn. Reinforcing a dog’s basic training skills in the field is important, but in this case, can’t take precedence over new concepts that can only be learned in a hunt; you can always solidify his basic skills at a later time.

In my opinion, one of the most important things a dog should learn on his first few hunts is to recognize birds in flight. Inexperienced dogs know nothing about looking into the sky to seek out  a bird coming into gun range — or even more confusing a flock of birds coming within close shooting distance. It’s difficult to duplicate those conditions in a training situation, they have to be learned in the field.

It may take more than one hunt with your young dog before he can comprehend the idea that the birds are already in flight when they are shot. You need to get a little lucky and hope you’re able to drop the first few birds where your dog is looking. You can improve those odds if you just allow your hunting companion to shoot the first few incoming birds while you handle your dog. When you’re not concentrating on shooting, you can manipulate your dog into position so he is able to see the bird being shot and watch the fall.

I was very pleased that my new hunting dog, Zack, was able to put things together within the first few shots while on his first dove hunt in Mexico. After only six or eight birds, he was also able to understand that dove was our prey and no longer followed every songbird in the sky. His young eyes were able to pick up dove flying at greater distances than my eyes could make out, which led to fewer foolish quick shots on my part — a situation all dove hunters can relate.

Another important skill that young dogs need to learn from field experience, is to follow the movement of the gun. Like spotting birds in flight, this skill is learned more easily by some dogs than others. I should ease your mind by telling you that the learning curve for both of these skills is not necessarily a gauge of your dog’s overall quality. Don’t get discouraged if it takes your dog a few hunts for him to fully understand the situation. Another problem you will encounter with your young dog is when multiple birds come in and you shoot only one. Inevitably, your inexperienced dog will follow the birds that fly away instead of the one that dropped from the group. Here again, be patient, he will eventually catch on, but it may take awhile.  

It’s up to you fellow hunters to make it easy for your novice dog to acquire these important hunting skills, so, make it all as simple as possible. For my dog, Zack, I shot the first limit of dove in a plowed field where there was no cover and a clear view of the birds coming in from the open field. Focus on your dog instead of the hunt and give him the time he needs to understand what the glorious sport of hunting is all about.

Good Hunting!

Grady Istre can be reached at

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