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Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Wednesday, October 02, 2019
Believe what you see
Friday, November 29, 2019
Crate training


Finding downed birds
Conservation is a part of every hunter’s goal, and no hunter wants to leave shot game in the field. That’s why dogs are a valuable asset for both waterfowl and upland hunters. A well-trained dog is essential in many situations where it would be difficult and time consuming for a hunter to retrieve a crippled or dead bird.

Often, it’s difficult to lure waterfowl into gun range. It takes excellent decoy placement and, usually, a hunter who has practiced extensively on his duck or goose call. Then, if he’s luckyenough to get the birds within gun range, he still has to make the shot.


If he accomplishes all those feats, the next step is to find the downed bird. Upland hunters have the same problems as duck hunters. Except that first, their dog has to point or flush the bird. Then, you need to make the shot, and finally, recover the bird.


Finding that downed bird will take the effort of both hunter and dog. And the process is one that should be part of a dog’s proper training. Every hunting dog should be well-schooled, and become obedient and proficient in this skill.


With both retrievers and upland dogs, I begin teaching them to find downed birds only after they have reached the force-fetch level of expertise in their basic training course. By then, these dogs have had enough birds shot and thrown for them so that they understand the nature of their job within the team of hunter and dog. The cue I use to explain to my dogs that we are hunting a downed bird is: ”Dead bird, fetch it up.” That “dead bird” part takes a young dog a while to understand, but the “fetch it up” part they understand immediately, because of the force fetch sessions they’ve had in the yard.


Any time I introduce a new skill to my trainees, I try to incorporate vocabulary that they are already familiar with — that way, there is less chance of confusing the dog during this learning stage.


As it is with most new techniques, many repetitions over time is the key that will familiarize him with the process. Do it over and over again until you feel that the animal completely understands what is being asked of him.


To incorporate this new skill into daily training, I begin by throwing a dead bird onto the open ground while the dog is in the process of retrieving an­other bird. When he returns from his retrieve and delivers the bird to hand, I line him up facing the dead bird on the ground, then I give him the command “dead bird, fetch it up,” and gesture in the direction of the downed bird.


Teaching a young dog to follow your hand gesture is not at all difficult, and will become a valuable tool when in a hunting situation on down the road. As your dog gets more and more comfortable with this new learned skill, you increase the difficulty by throwing the bird into heavier cover. To make it more challenging, you might have one of your cronies hide a bird and just tell you the general area. That way, you and your dog have a more realistic hunting situation, and you add some fun to the routine.


For dogs that are proficient in the water, find a pond that has a good tule patch along the shoreline and throw a dead duck in the middle of the patch. It’s much more educational for a novice dog if the wind is blowing across the pond and onto shore.


Bring out your trainee and give him the cue, “dead bird, fetch it up,” as you encourage him towards the tule patch. He should get scent of the bird from shore and dive into the bullrushes and recover the bird. Having success during the teaching part is it essential to making your trainee confident.


As always, when training with birds, you should make the session a pleasant experience. Discipline when teaching and using bumpers is a much better time to use pressure. The use of birds is an occasion for letting the dog feel free to use his natural instincts, with just encouragement from you.


It’s reward time, have fun with your dog. A well trained, obedient dog is in a partnership with you, and that’s what all of us who use dogs to hunt think this sport is all about. Always have fun training.


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Grady’s columns generally appear in WON every other week and he can be reached at reibar.com.


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