Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Thursday, October 20, 2011
What dogs should learn in a hunt
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
More than just heel and sit

First time duck dog
Because duck season is in full swing all over the state, I thought I would share some of my observations about duck hunting with a novice dog. Not many handlers understand the many insecurities of a young dog who has very little or no duck hunting experience at all. The fact that your dog has retrieved ducks in training many times does not ensure success in the field under actual hunting conditions. It’s important that you follow certain guidelines that will give your hunting companion every possible opportunity for success. Building on these successes will eventually make him a competent hunting dog now and in the future. Here are some guidelines to follow:


Make every effort when setting up your duck blind to put your dog in a position where he can see the birds in the air and where they fall. A very important part of the learning experience for inexperienced dogs is the concept that the birds are already flying in the air and not being thrown to be shot. He probably has never seen this scenario in a training session. It’s best to have a hunting partner shoot the first few birds while you work with your dog to give him a better chance at seeing the falling birds.


I know it’s difficult to shoot only one bird when a flock of many come into the decoys, but here again, it’s possible to confuse your inexperienced dog. The rule to follow in this situation is to shoot only one bird at a time and not fire your gun again until your dog has delivered the duck to hand. I have witnessed situations where a young dog is on his way to retrieve a duck in a pond and the owner shoots another one or two birds that fly by, only to confuse the youngster, causing him to come in without any birds. He may then refuse to go back to retrieve any birds at all. This is usually when the owner comes unglued and compounds mistakes through his anger.


Not all, but some dogs have a problem handling the pet/hunter role that so many hunters have placed on their dogs in today’s world. Until the past 10 to 15 years, hunting dogs were just that, hunting dogs. They did not have to handle the double role of being a pet to the kids and ready to go hunting at a moment’s notice. Some dogs handle that transition well, but many do not. It helps to begin working seriously with the dog at home and in the yard for a few weeks before taking him to a hunt, so that he understands that you are the boss.

I should remind you that the dogs I’m talking about in this article have successfully completed a basic training program — I’m not talking about a dog that has no training. Any basic training course puts demands on a dog; the trainee knows that there is a certain way he must perform each command that he has been taught. But even a lot of this knowledge can’t prevent the insecurities of facing a new situation in the field.

If ever you get into a problem while hunting where your dog refuses to perform, stop and think before reacting. Use your good common hunting sense and look at the situation through the dog’s eyes. Often that perspective helps to understand his confusion. Try to introduce only one new thing at a time; multiple new things may compound the circumstances for an inexperienced dog. Your goal is to have a confident dog for the future and to achieve that goal, you may have to sacrifice one or two hunts.

Good hunting!

Grady Istre can be reached at
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