Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Ending the season
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A different perspective now

Assess your dog
Once your dog is about six months old and ready for formal training, it’s time to assess his innate character and talent level so you can plan for adjustments to the training program you are going to follow.

You have been observing your young trainee since you picked him from the litter, so you should have an idea as to his trainability, desire to get birds and intelligence. You have probably taught him some basic obedience and thrown a few birds on both land and water, and have observed his reactions to all those experiences. These reactions reveal a lot about his character and will give you an idea as to how much pressure his training will require. You need to know this to properly train your hunting dog.

Your goal is to teach him to make proper decisions, preferably using some of the choices you have already taught him along the way. All any trainer should want from his trainee is a willing attitude, which leads to submission. A good trainer will seek out the level of pressure it takes to reach that goal and no more. Most of the best trainers in the country learned that rule the hard way, so take advantage of their years of experience and avoid being too rigid. Remember that every dog is an individual, and your training methods and techniques should be aimed at getting the most out of your particular dog.

In my experience, the most difficult dog to train is one that is both sensitive and stubborn; they’re a nightmare for any trainer — professional or amateur. These dogs require patience, a light hand, and to succeed they also need to have a special bond with their owner. In contrast, the easiest to train is a dog that has good desire along with good trainability levels, of course, intelligence is key for any type of dog.

To find the exact level of pressure it takes to make a given dog submit is quite a challenge for any trainer, but something worth striving for and understanding.

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your specific dog’s character and his natural talent level will give you confidence when you are put in a position where you have to make decisions relating to force or discipline. If you are working with a soft dog, you’ll find that you get much better results if you employ mild correction and/or repetition instead of harsh discipline.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the dog that will put up with almost anything to get the birds These kinds of dogs need to have every learned command super solid in order to have any chance of controlling them on a hunt. This high powered dog isn’t easy to have in a duck blind because you have to work hard to a large degree. Luckily, most dogs fall somewhere in the middle of those two degrees. Determining where your dog fits on this scale of desire and trainability, means you’ll do a better job training and you’ll be rewarded on down the road.

All any of us hunters want is a dog that will make the day afield fun for everyone on the hunt and maybe wow us in some special way every once in a while. The pride of owning a talented, well-trained dog and even the envy of your hunting cronies has a place in this somewhere and makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Have fun training!

Grady Istre can be reached at

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