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Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017
What did you learn?
Thursday, April 20, 2017
The fine art of training a dog

Gundog hand signals
Bird hunters who hunt with dogs can get a little restless a month or so after the wild bird season has ended. If you are one of those hunters, and are looking to advance your dog’s hunting skills for next season, I suggest teaching him to take basic hand signals. It’s not as difficult as you might imagine, and can only enhance your communication with your dog.

Unfortunately, many hunters seem to know very little about how to implement skills of higher learning. Most of the gundogs I sell are trained to take hand signals. As part of my sales contract, I offer five free lessons for the person who purchases a dog I have trained.

In all of these years, I’ve had only one person come back for a lesson, and he only came one time. None of these people got their money’s worth because the lessons were part of the value. Also, these new owners possibly failed to establish the best communication with their new dogs, and very likely didn’t transfer the high level of respect their dog was accustomed to.

Still, there are quite a few gun dog owners who have trained their own dogs to take basic hand signals. They feel a basic course is all they need, and in many cases they’re correct. However, one of the biggest problems these novice trainers face is having their dogs go beyond a fallen bird or even the decoys spread to retrieve a dead or wounded bird. What some of these inexper­ienced trainers do not understand is that it’s an innate part of all dogs to perform something familiar, unless otherwise trained. So, guess what’s going to happen when you drop one duck in the decoys and then sail one beyond them that your dog does not see fall. When you send your dog on a blind retrieve to fetch the duck that fell beyond the decoys, guess where he’s going to stop: right where he picked up the last duck. If he is not trained to handle through a distraction, you’re either going to have to get out of your of duck blind and help the dog find that bird or consider it a lost bird — which is never okay in my book.

So here’s how you train your dog to go beyond distractions such as, roads, ditches, fallen birds or decoys.

First, teach your dog a known blind retrieve of at least 50 yards in distance. Once your dog has made a retrieve to this location many times and you consider the “blind” well established and solid in his mind, it’s time to add a distraction. Always run the blind a couple of times before each session to remind your trainee of its location. Then throw a bumper 90 degrees to your right or left, and have your dog retrieve that bumper.

When he returns with the bumper, line him up and send him for the known blind; if you have any problem, move forward a few steps towards the blind. As your dog gets more and more familiar with this procedure and completely understands what you’re expecting of him, it’s time to start moving the thrown bumper closer to the line to the blind. Eventually, your goal is to be able to throw the distraction bumper on the same line to the blind and have your dog run through the bumper he just picked up and get the blind. If he stops, simply handle him through with a back command.

Teaching this concept and then having your trainee flawlessly perform the procedure many, many times will solidify the process in your dog’s mind. If you have a bird source, it’s a good idea to teach this process with birds before taking it to the field. You may even want to get a little creative and use a wing-clipped pigeon as the distraction bird.

If your dog goes through the area where he picked up the fluttering bird to get the blind, you can probably depend on him to perform well under hunting conditions.

Have fun training!

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

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