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Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS



FIELD DOGS /
WON News Column by Grady Istre

WON’s canine columnist Grady Istre was born into a family of waterfowl hunters, but as he grew up so did his passion and appreciation for any kind of bird hunting.

His knowledge of dog behavior has been gained through his 30 plus years of training both competition and hunting dogs. He takes pride in the fact that he trains the hunter as well as the dog which makes a very productive team in the field.



Training attitude
If you are training your gun dog yourself, you should be aware of the necessity of maintaining a good training attitude in your protégé at all times.

A good hunting dog is always the desired result, so being careful not to overplay your hand when discipline is used is something every trainer should strive to understand and implement. Finding ways to maintain a good working attitude every session is an essential goal. Dogs are forgiving, but they have a limit as to how much negativity they will tolerate. Being aware of their energy and knowing when to end a lesson is the key.


Dogs are individuals, and they all have different levels of tolerance for discipline. There’s a time when their attitudes can go from one of willingness to one of rebellion and/or con­fusion. So, it’s necessary to know your own dog’s signs before you reach the end of his tolerance.


Some dogs may decide to give up and others may rebel under stress. Both grinding repetition, and/or too much correction can trigger unwanted behavior. There are various signs of avoidance and each dog has his own way of giving his trainer the message of “too much” or “I quit.”


It’s not prudent to work a dog into a situation where he thinks being back in the kennel is preferable to being in the field. When that kind of negative attitude becomes evident, I blame the trainer, because he should be reading the dog more accurately before reaching that crossroad.


The trainer should be careful to remain calm, fair, and ready to explain the situation to the dog when necessary. Just going back to the teaching part of the lesson relieves pressure and can get the dog back into his proper positive learning mode.


There is no time when losing one’s temper results in a positive outcome. Remember that there’s another choice: stop the training session and decide to resume the work the next day. Or, turn to something easy that the dog enjoys and does well. Then, you can reward that good work with a flyer or some deserved praise. The last thing the dog should do is something positive so he can relax, unflustered.


Training a dog is, for me, much easier than training his owner. Often, beginners are reluctant to ask questions. They either think they will appear foolish or that they will interrupt the flow of the training session. It’s natural for trainers to assume that owners know more than they do.


We sometimes forget to explain things in language a novice can understand. That’s why I encourage my clients to speak up and let me know when anything is unclear. I really want to have confident, self-assured clients because I’ve learned that it’s lack of knowledge that promotes frustration and even anger.


Working a dog while angry is a huge mistake because it can easily change the dog’s attitude and make him resentful. Trying to restore a dog’s confidence and joy in working can be an uphill battle.


The trainer’s efforts will take time away from progressing the dog’s education and a resentful dog may carry negative memories that exhibit themselves as intentional misbehavior under competitive or hunting conditions. This is a situation to avoid, fellow hunters. Taking a piece of a dog’s overall training attitude can’t be replaced. If you just keep training fair where the dog makes progress, and gets a reward of some sort, you will usually stay out of trouble. The partnership of man and dog is a noble goal and a well-earned reward that every hunter should strive for.


Always have fun training!


* * *


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


•  •  •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Dog blinds
These days, most waterfowl hunters are concealing their dogs from view of savvy ducks and geese that they hunt by using a blind. I myself had never used a dog blind while duck or goose hunting until this year. In the past, I’ve seen dogs returning with a duck in their mouth, splashing through the pond, and still ducks are landing right next to them. Not only did the ducks seem to have no fear of the dogs, but they did not associate a dog with hunters. As I see it, that has changed. Over the years, ducks have educated themselves by paying attention to hunters’ tactics and I really believe it's due to the larger number of waterfowl hunters.

doginblind

My granddad was a market hunter back in the heyday of American waterfowling. He used hand-carved decoys made of cypress wood to lure in his prey. The decoys were unpainted, improperly-sanded replicas of ducks, many of which had their heads missing because he shot most of his ducks on the water. Yet, he lured in and shot enough ducks to sell and feed his family. I don't think those old decoys would attract as many ducks in today's hunting world.


Manufacturers of dog blinds get more creative every season. They started out by simply making a metal shell and covering it with camo cloth, and that worked well for starters. Into today's market, the blinds fold flat for storage and have a handle or shoulder strap for ease of carrying out to the field. Some of them have telescoping legs that fold down to elevate the floor some 34 inches in order to keep your dog higher up out of the water. To make your hunting dog more comfortable, many of these enclosures have a porous bottom, which eliminates excess water from a wet dog. Depending on your needs, you can purchase one of these blinds for around $55 all the way up to just under $200, and there’s a great variety to choose from.


One other advantage to using a blind has to do with steadiness. Most dogs feel more comfortable lying down in these blinds, and that makes them more steady to shoot when the action begins. Just having your dog in the “down” position will add to his discipline level as well. It does takes a bit of training to get your dog comfortable with using one of these blinds, but that not unusual. I've witnessed guys trying to force their dogs into a blind without much success. I simply take a dog treat, break off a piece, and give it to the dog. Then, while you have your dog’s attention, quickly toss the remaining piece into the dog blind. I’ve yet to have a dog not go in after that treat.


You can even think ahead, and feed your dog his dinner meal inside the blind. The idea is to demonstrate to the dog that it not dangerous, and no harm will come to him or her if she enters the blind. I had one client who put his dog in a dog blind while he cut his lawn. Getting creative by putting your dog in different situations can only help.


The ducks are getting smarter, fellow hunters, and we need to either adjust or just admit that we have been outsmarted by a DUCK.


Have fun training!


* * *


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


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


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 reibar.com.


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.



Dove season 2018
With the opening of dove season just around the corner, I hope you and your dog are properly prepared. It can be a real mistake to take a dog out to the field to work if he’s not in good shape. This year, especially, may be hot and dry and an unfit dog can really suffer under those conditions.

It’s never too late to exercise your dog if you take care not to overwork the dog in your haste to get him fit quickly. It’s best to work up to longer work sessions gradually. Walking with your dog is ideal and foxtail season is mostly over. Of course, it’s wise to walk any field before taking your dog out, to be sure there aren’t trash hazards or snakes.


A park is great because it’s usually mowed and crowds keep varmints away. Even a stroll in the cool of the evening is helpful, and is better than no exercise at all. The ideal hunting spot is one with a pond that is familiar to you and poses no hazards for the dog’s safety.


Of course, if your dog isn’t fit and you still want to take him hunting, you will need to be especially vigilant. Overheating can occur quickly and is probably the most common danger I see in the field. If a dog goes down from heat and exhaustion, he can certainly be revived, but the likelihood of having the dog collapse in the future after such an episode can be more likely.


An overheated dog should be cooled off as soon as possible by taking him into a shady area and allowing him to pant until he recovers. If he’s not too unsteady, a swim can help. Whether or not to put the dog in icy water or pack him in ice is debatable. Some trainers suggest using ice, but a recent article in Retriever Field Trial News says this is a bad idea.


The author, an experienced veterinarian, explains that dogs cool themselves solely through panting. His advice is that ice contracts the capillaries in the skin and inhibits panting — both part of the dog’s self-cooling mechanism. So, probably the best advice remains that care should be taken to avoid overheating a dog in the first place.


A productive hunt with a fit dog is, of course, every owner’s goal. The experience of enjoying the companionship of friends and dogs is something I cherish. Preparing a dog to be the best he can be — trained and in shape — is a worthy goal. The very process of training a dog is enjoyable, but the hunting experience remains the real reward.


Have fun hunting.


* * *


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


•    •    •    •    •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


'Heel and sit'
Every drill or technique you teach your hunting dog should lay down a path for the future, as well as the dog learning how to perform the particulars of the drill you’re teaching.

I’m going to take a simple drill such as “heel and sit,” and show you how this basic command can be made more solid when properly taught and enforced.


All of the basic drills should be a stepping stone to the next level of discipline and education. In many cases, an amateur trainer will do a much better job than a professional trainer in the teaching aspect of each drill or skill. Novice trainers make up for their lack of experience by the enormous amount of work and repetition they put into each technique/drill they teach, whereas professionals tend to use discipline in order to move ahead. My opinion is that repetition is not quite as good as expertly applied discipline to solidify each command or technique your animal is required to learn and perform.


The way to determine when any basic skill you are teaching is solid in your trainee’s mind is when his attitude changes from worried when he sees the leash come out, to confident and looking forward to the work. When you see your trainee with that, “I got this” attitude, then it’s time to move ahead to the next skill level to be taught.


When a particular drill or skill is properly taught and also enforced, it also makes the previous drill and skill more solid as well.


For instance, the discipline that is required to do a proper “force fetch” job on your dog will make the previous “heel and sit” drill more solid in the dog’s mind.


The reason for that is because the overall higher discipline level your dog has reached makes all previous drills and techniques more solid. As the working discipline level rises, your trainee develops a more submissive attitude towards his work.


I know it’s unfair of me to expect a novice trainer to read the attitude of his dog when discipline is involved, but my fellow trainers — you’ve got to strive to be better, and reading your dog’s attitude is one of the important keys to becoming a better trainer. That’s why professional trainers can use discipline instead of repetition to quickly advance their trainees.


Dogs will often do things like look away, sniff the ground, or use any distraction such as a sparrow flying by to disrupt the teaching of a new drill. These are normal avoidance ploys. They go away on their own after a dog becomes comfortable with the new skill.


Puppies will also tend to “heel” a bit of a distance away from you in the beginning. It’s not a good idea to try to correct this problem in one or two lessons. A few small jerks on the lead on a daily basis will help your dog submit and he will “heel” by your side before long.


Basic yard drills teach your puppy about discipline and submission, which are the two most important ingredients in turning your puppy into a worthwhile hunting dog.


Don’t take any of these drills lightly, fellow trainers — they set the tone for all future obedience and learning.


Have fun training!


* * *


Grady’s articles usually appear every two weeks and he can be reached at reibar.com.


•  •  •  •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


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