|Does your trained dog believe that obeying a command in a new situation — such as hunting in the field for the first time is an option and not mandatory? Trainers of all levels, who think they have schooled their hunting dogs to an acceptable level are sometimes blown away by their dog’s lack of control on their first few hunts.
I have witnessed a young, well-trained pointer go completely out of control when a covey of quail flushed after a beautiful first point. The dog picked one bird out of the 10 or so that flushed and took off after it at full speed. When this happens, it’s unlikely the dog will hear any whistle or verbal commands. Still, in these situations, the owner must make every attempt to get the animal back under control. It may even take using a light nick with the collar.
This is why having a dog wear an electric collar on his first acquaintance with the action of a hunt can be beneficial. However, I should warn you that discipline in any form on a dog’s first few hunts is risky; it can backfire on you by making the experience a negative one. If you have a soft dog you might consider putting a leash on the animal while he’s on point and allow your buddy to shoot the birds while you control your dog. Being willing to work with your dog and give up shooting is a great idea anytime you take your dog to an exciting situation.
I can remember taking my Labrador female on her first duck hunt in the marshes of Louisiana. I had worked for hours training her to lie down in my pirogue, (very small Cajun boat) only to have her almost sink the thing when she first saw a muskrat swim across the bow. Had I not managed to throw her out of the boat she would have ended the hunt before it got started. I had trained her to the point that I could make her lie down in the boat on land in my yard while I went into the house for a cup of coffee. Even half an hour later, she would still be there.
As a rank amateur myself at that time, there was no way for me to predict the kind of behavior she exhibited on that first hunt, and because of my lack of experience, I thought the problem was due to improper training techniques. Not so, my dog understood all her commands and would perform well under normal conditions, but when she got excited watching that animal swim so near the boat she figured nothing was more important than her getting that rat.
I did have an electric collar on the dog, but believe me that was the last thing on my mind at this point. I had my hands full trying to counteract the rocking and rolling of the craft in my attempt to keep myself and all my equipment dry.
On that day I saw that no matter how hard you try to make things exciting for your dog in training, there simply is no way to duplicate the excitement of a hunt; you just gotta live through it all.
So, fellow trainers, be prepared for anything on your first few hunts with your dog. It’s not always a lack of proper training that creates unwanted behavior in the field; in many cases its simply excitement. An inexperienced dog does not always realize that the rules he learned in training apply no matter how stimulating the circumstance in the field. All that said, one of the great things about a hunting dog is: they will eventually get it right.