Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Friday, January 19, 2018
Discipline and pups
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
'Heel and sit'

A matter of control
There’s a fine balance between having a dog under control in a hunting situation and allowing him the freedom of the uncontrolled quest. It’s not easy to determine just how much freedom to give him to find and/or retrieve birds and still maintain enough respect that he doesn’t interfere with hunting conditions.

Whether you have a pointing, flushing or retrieving dog, you should not over-control any hunting dog to the point where he becomes apprehensive and cannot do his job. Taking the hunt out of any dog will create problems that most amateur trainers can’t solve without some sort of experienced help.

As a professional trainer, I try to impress upon clients the necessity of maintaining control of their dogs, and I know that’s never easy for most of them.

The excitement of seeing the birds and the noise of guns going off is tremendous for most dogs. Most hunters are also focused on the hunt and aren’t interested in being a good disciplinarian while in the field.

That’s why you see pointing dogs hunting over the next hill from their master, flushing dogs hunting out of gun range and retrievers chasing fly-aways, only to return an hour or so later. It can be chaotic and frustrating, and the dogs are not an asset to the hunt.

To guard against these problems, we trainers attempt to teach clients how to control their dogs under exciting circumstances. But teaching control can go too far. There’s a happy medium between having a dog maintain his natural instincts and also being a willing and obedient partner for his owner. It’s a delicate balance. You don’t want a dog that dominates the hunt, yet you need a dog that feels free enough to do his job.

When I put dog and hunter together after the dog has been in training, I try to assess the relationship between the two of them. Then, I try to either emphasize the kind of control that comes from drill work, or I try to encourage the shy or uncertain dog to open up a bit and enjoy a partnership with the owner.

There is no template for this. Each owner, and each dog, is different, and each solution must be tailored to fit the situation. I try to encourage the owner to work with his dog at home on either drills, or just house manners, to reinforce the strength of commands. This will allow the owner to find out for himself what’s needed in their relationship.

Working with the dog away from the hunting situation is always good, for many reasons. Respect and rapport result from simple, every day work. Small things, like going through a doorway first, then calling the dog, or even making the dog sit before jumping into the truck or crate — all these small things build communication that carries over to the hunting situation.

Most hunters focus on the hunt and hope their dog will perform properly without assistance. That’s a great goal. And, often it is the result of work and training. But, before you get into the heat of the hunt, it’s nice to know what to expect. Consistent, frequent, work of any kind with a dog pays off.

The fine line between control and diminishing desire is sometimes elusive. So, notice what your dog does and tailor your training accordingly. Remember that training should be fun. Keep it that way and enjoy your canine hunting companion.

Have fun training!

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Grady’s column generally ­appears in WON every other week and he can be reached at

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