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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.



How to handle on a mark
When your dog is sent to retrieve a fallen bird, the best performance is when he looks out, recalls the moment the bird was shot, locks in, then runs straight to the dead bird and makes the retrieve.

But sometimes the dog doesn’t come up with the bird quickly. Many factors come into play. Wind direction, terrain, and distractions are some of them. In these instances, the handler must take control and direct the dog to the bird with hand signals. Things can go smoothly, but sometimes it’s a battle. Handling on a mark is an art. Hopefully, the following analysis will help you hunt test competitors get called back to the next series. For my gun dog readers, there’s always something to be learned even if you never plan to enter your dog in competition.


When should I handle?


You need to have a good idea what your dog usually does when he miss-marks a bird. Observing his hunt patterns over time is how you get that information. After your dog makes the first two loops in his hunt, you should have a pretty good idea whether he is going to recover or not. If his hunt patterns are continually away from the fallen bird it’s doubtful he will recover and it’s time to handle. If his hunt continually gets closer to a different bird, be prepared to handle quickly. But, if your dog is questing closer and closer to the fallen bird, you can wait a bit before blowing the whistle.


What should my first cast be?


Your first cast should tell the dog what his marking mistake is.


The goal is to stop him with the whistle at the most advantageous spot to get him to the fallen bird on just one cast. Handle your dog when his loop is at the closest spot to the bird. For instance, if you have allowed your dog to get way too deep and wide, the first mistake to correct is depth. So, the first correction should be to whistle the dog in. Now when you have more control, you can give him an “over” to the bird.


What if I’m not sure of the bird’s location?


One of the biggest problems faced by amateur handlers is not noticing the exact spot where the bird fell. That’s the most common excuse I hear when a handler screws up while handling on a mark: “I didn’t know where the bird was.” You, as well as your dog, need to accurately know where each bird is. But, if you’re unsure, the first cast should get the dog to the general area where the bird fell. Then, the subsequent casts should keep the dog within that area. You do this by boxing him in with “over” and “back” casts and “come-in” whistles.


If you’ve mis-marked the bird and the dog isn’t finding it, move the “box” to a new adjacent area. Watch the dog’s body language so that you recognize when he winds the bird and you can stop handling. Once you begin handling, put the dog on the bird, do not allow him to hunt after a few handles.


What should I do if I think the dog doesn’t recall a mark?


If your dog delivers a bird and acts as if he’s ready to walk off line, then it’s your job to be aware of that, and get him lined up for what may now be a blind retrieve. Now, the dog may look out and recall the mark, but, if not, then send him on a blind and try to put him on the winding side of the bird. Hopefully, you will not have to handle at all. But, if the dog is on the non-winding side of the bird, don’t be foolish, handle quickly. If you get the bird on just one cast, you will likely be called back for the next series.


Be observant


Know your dog’s (or dogs’) habits in the field: How does he show you that he’s insecure on a mark? How does he quest when looking for the bird? Does his hunt pattern differ when he’s confident or uncertain? In other words, what does his body language reveal?


You can learn a lot by watching other dogs, especially in competition. Also noticing the mistakes other handlers make when handling on a mark is instructive. The general study of dogs’ body language is worthwhile. Watching other handlers’ mistakes is also a big help.


Always have fun training.


* * *


Grady Istre’s articles generally 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.


Crate training
When you pick up your new puppy from the breeder, it’s doubtful he has experienced being confined in a crate. So, now it becomes your job to introduce him to the crate that will become his home for at least the next several months.

Puppies at seven or eight weeks old are very insecure about changes in their lives. Removing them from the safety of their mother, litter-mates and the only home they have ever known, is unsettling. So, for your young puppy, it’s a good idea to create a new safe place where he can feel secure. Feeding the little fellow in his crate will help start him off on the right foot, because at this stage, food is his solace. You can add a couple of indestructible toys to the crate when you introduce your puppy to this new environment to help put him at ease.


If you plan to have your puppy double as a pet and a hunter, you’re going to want to house train him. My wife, Dana, wrote a book on this subject and it can be purchased on Amazon (Housebreak your Puppy in Two Days, and Make Him the Family Star).


When you introduce your puppy to his crate for the first time, it should be a pleasant experience. At his young age, it’s doubtful that he will offer any resistance other than stiffening up as you place him into this new home. All puppies, and even adult dogs, want a comfortable and pleasant place where they feel safe and it’s your job as an owner and trainer to create that place for them.


As the puppy gets older, he may become reluctant to enter his crate. This is not a character flaw, he is just beginning to feel a bit independent. Later, as he matures, an open crate can become a comfort zone when he needs a place to be alone or take a nap. A washable towel or mat in the bottom of the crate is a good idea because later, you can remove it and use it to train your dog to stay in a desired place. Mat-trained dogs are easy to take into motel rooms, for example, and that training begins at home. Dogs relax when they know what’s expected of them and staying on a mat is a good way to introduce the idea of obedience.


A friend of mine was very critical because I used a crate to house my two young puppies overnight. On several occasions she voiced her opinion that it was cruel to have a young puppy spend his nights in a crate. “I only put my dog in her crate for short periods of time, mostly when I’m in my car,” she huffed. Then there came a day when she could not find her dog in the house after searching for quite a while. Just as panic was about to set in, she finally found her dog. She was asleep in a traveling crate that had been placed in a hallway with its door left slightly open. She was astounded to see that her dog felt safe and comfortable in the confines of her traveling crate while inside the house. Now she leaves the crate door open all the time for her dog to enjoy at any time of the day.


It takes a bit of work, fellow trainers, but the rewards of providing a safe haven for your dog will be realized when you hunt over a now well-adjusted dog in the field. Always have fun training.


* * *


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.


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.


* * *


Grady’s columns 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.


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.


•   •   •   •   •

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.


Casting drill
Teaching your hunting dog to take directional hand signals is a huge asset while hunting game. They save time, add to the game bag, and besides, there’s nothing to beat the thrill of hunting over a well-trained dog. A handling dog is a responsive dog, and when you can direct your dog to a dead bird he hasn’t seen shot, the whole day just seems to go more smoothly. So, I really recommend taking the time to teach dogs hand signals. “Back” and “over” are the basics, but often it seems that the perfect cast to a downed bird is the “angle back.” So, I do teach all my dogs to go to the right and left using a 45-degree back signal.

castingdrill

But, before you embark on teaching the angle back casts, it important that certain basics are solid. The commands of “heel,” “sit,” “fetch,” and “come” should be taught first. Your dog should also have been forced on “back,” take left and right “overs,” and be able to perform a 40-yard known blind. This foundation of learning is important because teaching the angled back is more advanced and requires a secure foundation. Otherwise, as in any new lesson, you may get side effects due to confusion and need to go back and refresh your dog with the commands and drills he has already learned.


As always, it’s best to teach your dog anything new in a controlled environment where he feels comfortable. This can be in your yard, or any known place with some space and few distractions. I teach my dogs beginning drill work in a fenced pasture where they are comfortable and feel secure. They are accustomed to the place and it’s now a learning environment for them.


Before teaching your dog to take angled “backs” you will need to have him taking straight backs first. And, he must turn to go to the straight back, turning properly, both left and right. To start, have your dog sit in a facing position in front of you with the bumper pile directly behind him. Throw a bumper into the pile and work on the straight “back” first. The goal is to have your dog turn both ways, according to which arm you raise. If at first the dog doesn’t see the difference, you can take a tiny step toward your arm to explain to the dog that you want him to turn in that direction.


Once you’ve mastered the turning and going to the bumper pile, you can add the angled backs. The goal is for the dog is to understand the four major “backs.” They are: straight back to the left, straight back to the right, angle back to the left, and angle back to the right. To maintain having the dog turning properly, you will want to keep that going by doing a set of straight backs often during the dog’s learning process.


Here are the expected mistakes and how to deal with them: When you send the dog for a straight back and he turns incorrectly, say “no” immediately and bring him back to the facing position and recast him. The second mistake is when your dog turns in the proper direction but goes for the wrong bumper. In this situation, wait a bit until the dog is halfway to the bumper before giving him a “no” command and bringing him back to the facing position to recast him. These two scenarios clearly define the mistake your dog has made. You should not stop him in the same location for both mistakes or you may confuse the hell out of him. By stopping him immediately, he will quickly see that he turned in the wrong direction. By stopping him halfway to the bumper, he will see that he went for the wrong bumper.


There you have it, fellow trainers. Something to work on; and something to solidify your communication with your dog. With a little help from the three P’s: “patience, persistence, and prayer,” you’ll have your dog handling in no time. You’ll also have a new tool: the beautiful angle back cast.


If you need additional help or pointers in teaching this drill to your dog, I have a video on my Facebook page Reibar Kennels, which should better explain the process.


Have fun training!


* * *


Grady’s column’s 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.


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