Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Thursday, August 23, 2018
Dove season 2018
Wednesday, May 01, 2019
Dog blinds

Assessing Performance
Now that the early dove season has come to a close, it’s a good idea to make some notes on how your dog worked for you in the field. Did you feel that he was tuned into you and that the two of you worked as a team? Or, did you feel you had to constantly correct him? You are probably lucky if everything went perfectly, but it’s never too late to get in sync with your dog.

When studying a dog’s field performance, all you can expect from a dog is for him to live up to his training level. So, in looking ahead to the upcoming bird season, it may be time to work on the three areas I use to gauge a dog’s performance in the field. They are:

STEADINESS: Which is not only being steady in the field and calm while waiting, but also includes behavior during non-shooting time.

RETRIEVING: How quickly the dog finds the bird, and how well he delivers to hand.

COOPERATION: How easily the dog takes correction and is attentive to the handler, including his willingness to be helped under exciting circumstances.

Many of these elements of obedience can be improved just through simple drill work. Obedience in the yard does transfer well to the field. And, repetition of correct actions does make those actions a natural part of the dog. Of course, allowing disobedient actions also becomes part of the dog! That’s why disobedience in the field can’t be overlooked. Hoping a bad habit will go away on its own just doesn’t work, fellow hunters. Working on problems away from the hunting conditions really does carry over into the field later. Also, you want to keep the dog’s hunting attitude a positive one.

Of course, if this is your dog’s first season of hunting, you need to be understanding of mistakes that arise from simple inexperience. Some dogs can be intimidated by new things. And, it’s important to make his first outing a good one. Shooting only one bird at a time helps. Praise for a willing attitude also helps. You might want to have your hunting buddies do some of the shooting the first time out so you can concentrate on working your dog. The goal is to carry over the training to the field in a seamless way.

Even if you have an experienced dog, the first season’s hunt might require concentrating on your dog for the first few birds, to refresh the standard you want to maintain for the rest of the year. A dog that has at least one season under his belt should be more relaxed because he knows what’s going on. Then again, even older dogs get excited in the field and can act as if they’ve never had a day of training in their lives. In that case, correction in the field can be quite effective. For a green dog, correction during the hunt can exacerbate problems. I don’t recommend it as a rule.

Maintaining a standard of performance for the experienced dog should not be difficult. A periodic assessment of the dog’s strengths and weaknesses is important. Not only the dog’s training level and performance should be examined, but also his physical fitness. Fitness is, of course, critical. If your dog isn’t in shape, it’s unfair to expect him to perform well all day in the field. Extra care should be taken if your dog is overweight.

So, fellow hunters, good luck this season. I hope your dog with be a perfect hunting companion: obedient, joyful and fit.

Good hunting!

Grady’s column generally appears every two weeks in WON, and he can be reached at

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