Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Thursday, September 5, 2019
Casting drill
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Finding downed birds

Believe what you see
The dove opener is the beginning our long-anticipated hunting season, and offers a great way to evaluate your dog’s readiness for the lengthy upcoming days ahead. Hunting dogs have no sense of whether they are out of shape, or if they’re not in a properly disciplined frame of mind. They will make a valiant attempt to do their part in the hunt, right or wrong; but it’s up to you to make sure it’s done the correct way.

All you can expect from your hunting dog is that he performs to his training level, and that’s it, fellow hunters. Expecting a dog to perform beyond his training level is never realistic, and can get you into a bunch of unnecessary trouble. However, not demanding that he measure up to his training level can get you into an equally unacceptable situation.

Not believing what you see is one of the problems faced by novice trainers — some of my clients, as well. Every hunter wants his dog to perform to his highest level while in the field. When that doesn’t happen, owners may make excuses for their dogs, instead of looking at the problem for what it is and seeking solutions to correct the difficulty.

Dogs take your inaction when they misbehave as a sign of weakness on your part. When a hunting dog figures out that you are going to do nothing about his misbehavior, he’s going to take advantage of your inaction and even misbehave to a new, higher, level. For instance, if you allow your dog to break (go before being sent), before long he is going to start breaking when you lift your gun to shoot an incoming bird. That of course will either spook the bird out of gun range, or, at best make for a difficult shot.

Anything less than making your hunting dog perform to his highest training level will teach him to be comfortable with his misbehavior. Then it will take a very large eraser to remove problems, even away from the hunt.

In a static situation like dove hunting, steadiness is the best indicator of your dog’s field readiness. If your dog is steady to shot, you’ve done a great job during the off-season maintaining his training level. If not, you’ve got some serious homework to do. If your dog has had a solid basic training program by a competent trainer, fixing just one of your dog’s bad behaviors will usually bring all the others back up to his former disciplined training level.

For those of you who are breaking out a new dog this season, be fair. Remember, your dog has never been hunting before. First hunts are often not pretty and require patience. You’re putting a green dog into an unfamiliar situation, which makes him uncomfortable. That’s why it’s the best for you to work your dog and have someone else do the shooting, at least for the first few birds.

Of course, it’s almost impossible to simulate actual hunting conditions while in a training situation. It’s doubtful that your young trainee has ever seen birds coming in from all directions and his excitement will build. Take a leash or a tie-down in case you need it. Your hunting partners will appreciate it, and your dog will learn steadiness under fire.

I’m not a big fan of any training during a hunting situation and most hunters believe you should go into a hunt with a well prepared dog. Nevertheless, there’s always a necessary first hunt.

If you want your hunting dog to be prepared for the season ahead, work him a lot. Then believe what you see because your dog’s actions will tell you how prepared he is for the season. Don’t make excuses for his bad behavior, again, believe what you see. Following only that advice, fellow hunters, will put you and your dog on a path to a successful season.

Good hunting.

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