Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

Click here for Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

Tuesday, November 15, 2011
More than just heel and sit
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Hunting with older dogs

Like most definitions of terms used in the dog training world, “distractions” has both a simplified version and a more complicated version. Generally speaking, anything that diverts a dog’s attention from the job at hand is a distraction. The complicated version involves testing competition dogs with man made diversions. The simplified one involves situations that occur naturally under hunting circumstances. It’s these latter events that concern gun dog trainers like me.      


For example, the most common distraction faced by a gun dog occurs when you shoot another bird while your dog is returning with an already-shot bird. The natural behavior of a young, or partially trained, dog is to drop the first bird and go after the newly-shot one. Ten out of ten novice dogs in this situation will go after the fresh shot bird; that’s just what a dog’s instincts tell him should be done — and it also pushes his fun button.

Unfortunately, this is not the desired action a hunter wants from his dog. Just suppose that the bird the dog has in his mouth is not dead. What do you think that bird will do when the animal releases it?  If the dog is retrieving on land, the bird is going to run like hell, and if it’s a duck in the water, it’s going to dive.  In either case, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose one of those birds, and maybe both. That situation alone is well worth teaching your dog to complete one retrieve before being sent for another.

And, there are other benefits you get by teaching this skill: you add a higher level of discipline and obedience to your dog’s repertoire and your young dog begins to better understand the meaning of “hunting for the team.”

Of course, before you can work on distractions your dog should have completed a basic training course that incorporates the use of the “here” command, which is done as part of his basic training work when you teach him to “come on command” in the yard. After you’ve completed those basics, you can work on distractions.

To begin the teaching process, send your dog on a single retrieve, then when he’s coming back, throw a dead bird behind you. As your trainee drops the bird he is carrying in an attempt to get the newly thrown bird, give him the “here” command.


Hopefully, he will stop, but, if you can’t keep him from picking up the second bird, just make him sit, take the bird away, put a leash on him and make him pick up the original dropped bird. If you continue to have trouble with his dropping the first bird and rushing to retrieve the distraction bird, you can work from the gate opening of a fence. Throw the primary bird on one side of the fence and then as the dog is returning throw the distraction bird on the other side of the fence.

Obviously, your dog will not be able to retrieve the newly thrown bird and you can gain control of the situation, allowing you to better explain to your dog  that he must hold onto the primary bird and deliver to hand before going for the distraction bird. After a few repetitions he should come to you and deliver the primary bird before being sent to retrieve the distraction bird. After he’s mastered this through many repetitions, you can begin complicating the lesson by throwing the bird at a more tempting 90 degree angle instead of behind you. Then, of course, there’s the final step: shooting a flyer when he is returning with a dead bird.

Once you’ve accomplished that, your dog is ready for the field. No matter how much time and effort you put into teaching this drill, it will be worth it when your dog shows off this valuable skill under exciting hunting conditions and in front of your envious cronies.

Good hunting!

Grady Istre’s column on dog training appears every other week in Western Outdoor News and can be reached at 

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