Grady Istre's Blog

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.

It starts with a puppy
Now that the hunting season is over, a new season begins for some of you: puppy season.

Although it’s fun to play with a new pup, for the hunter it’s also rewarding to start off the little guy in a way that will introduce him to his future world in a good way. After the pup has had a few days with you and his new surroundings, you can begin to teach him some one-word commands. It starts with crate training. Giving the pup his own space — his crate — is helpful when he needs to sleep or take a break from the excitement of his new world. This is a great time to teach him the word “kennel.” This is a perfect command because that word doesn’t sound like any other. If you gently put him inside and say “kennel.” he will begin to go in on his own in a short time. Then a “good dog” is warranted and you begin the process of reinforcement when he performs a correct action to any command.

Later you can begin to teach the “sit” command by pushing down on his backside just before you put down his food. You can’t expect him to remain sitting, but this is a good introduction to the word, and food is his reward.

You can also introduce him to the “fetch” command just by saying the word as you throw a toy.

You can also begin the housebreaking process by taking him outside to do his business right after you take him out of his crate. Taking the pup to one spot in the yard is a good idea because he will begin to associate going potty with that area and this makes your command “go potty” clear. At first, you will need to carry the puppy to the designated spot then wait to praise him when he performs properly.

Actually, its important to praise your pup every time he obeys any of your commands because this reinforces their meaning through repetition. And that’s the key: repetition.

It’s good for any puppy to be handled often. Cuddling and petting are great, with an emphasis on praise when the pup deserves it. And that’s important: to praise only when deserved. Having every member of the family on board is critical because the commands should be shown to everyone for consistency.

It’s also important for the pup to spend time alone with you if his destiny is to be a good hunting dog. Short walks with you build rapport and respect. You can take the pup in the car, in his crate, to introduce him to fields where you plan to train him in the future. However, even though the pup has had vaccinations, it’s wise to avoid places like dog parks where other dogs have been. The risk of contracting the Parvo virus is just too great.

Working with a new puppy can be rewarding in many ways. If you start him off properly, you will avoid correcting bad habits in the future. Eager little minds absorb whatever they see, so this is the time to show your pup which actions are good, to avoid allowing bad actions to develop.

Starting off right with a new pup takes attention and commitment. But you will be ahead of the game when you begin formal training, and fewer corrections will be necessary. The key to a hunting partnership with your dog is a relationship built on respect. That is the platform that leads to the kind of devotion that only comes from a dog.

Have fun training!

* * *

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

Extending water marks
With the duck season in full swing, I thought a discussion about extending water marks would be helpful to the many water fowlers who are preparing their dogs for the season. Every duck hunter I know wants his dog to be able to retrieve a bird that has sailed into the next pond a good distance away.

Most dogs will learn that skill simply by being put in that position many times during waterfowl hunts over the years, but, you’re going to lose a bunch of birds until he learns that on his own. So, it’s best to teach any concepts to your dog in a controlled environment so he’s prepared to quickly learn and be confident when this scenario presents itself in the field.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “not all dogs are created equal,” well that covers more territory than one might imagine. The fact is, no two dogs learn at the same rate. Therefore, as a trainer you should learn just how quickly you can push your dog so you don’t overdo lessons and confuse or depress your trainee. You can easily slow down or setback the learning process if you push too hard.

The easiest way I have found to increase a dog’s retrieving distance on water marks is to first increase the distance he retrieves on land. While you work on land, you should also continue to increase his distance on water, but in much smaller increments. On land marks, dogs are not restricted in their movement and they can run their little legs off if they choose.

Water marks are different. Dogs have to exercise a great deal of self control in order to complete a long water mark. Until they learn descent self-control dogs prefer to do things quickly and the water just slows them down. That’s why you’ll need to accomplish long swims over time. Extending the swim in stages is necessary to give the dog confidence and build his stamina. Increase the distance until they have the self control to swim the distance you are trying to achieve. Of course, so that he knows and performs all of the basic commands.

To begin, find a pond that has a greater distance across than you feel your dog can accomplish. Have your bird thrower on the other side and give him six or so bumpers. Then have your helper throw the bumper towards you and your dog to land at a distance you feel is a doable retrieve for your trainee. I’m sure you can see that the goal is to gradually increase the distance until the young dog is retrieving all the way to the other shore.

At any point, if you should happen to overdo the distance, and your pup falters, have the bird boy give the dog some “Hup, hup, hups” and throw multiple bumpers towards the dog in an attempt to keep him coming. Do whatever it takes to get the animal to retrieve the bumper, even if he starts to come in. in that case, you have to throw a bumper in front of the incoming dog yourself. It’s not a good idea to ever allow your pup to get the idea that he can come in without a bumper or bird.

Unfortunately, it not only the dogs that need self-control. Many inexperienced trainers try to accomplish a task or skill in one lesson, that’s not a good idea fellow trainers.

A young dog can easily get discouraged if you insist he retrieve long water marks that are out of his present retrieving range. Give your dog every opportunity to learn his needed skills through a safe, secure and confidence-building environment. You’ll reap the benefits of your efforts through the increased birds in your bag at the end of the hunt and the impressed the envious cronies in the clubhouse.

Good hunting!

* * *

Grady’s column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

When should you take a young dog hunting?
It’s never a good idea to take an untrained dog to the field for a hunt because there is very little to gain and a bunch to lose. I have given this advice many times over the years and some hunters think it’s a good idea, while others ignore it completely.

Every hunter wants to take his new untrained puppy on a hunting trip with him no matter how old he/she is at the time. It takes self-discipline to refrain. So the question lingers: when should you take your puppy hunting? You’d think there would be a simple answer to the question; but, like most answers in the dog training world, it depends.

The last thing you want to have happen to your pup is to frighten him, especially with something that should be music to his ears — like a shotgun blast. Even though you’ve made the effort to give your pup some controlled experience to gunshots does not mean he will handle the noise from multiple guns going off in the field under hunting conditions. Even a dog who has graduated from a basic training course can be apprehensive on his first few hunts. If you compound his nervousness with a shotgun blast, or multiple blasts — you can create a potentially disastrous situation for a young dog.

When there are too many things happening at one time for an inexperienced dog to cope with, side-effects can arise that will set back, or in some cases, even ruin his maturing into a competent hunting dog.

Inexperienced dogs need time to figure out what the hell is going on all around them so that each element of the occurrences encountered in the field can be competently introduced. Fear is not a motivating factor for any pup, so don’t be foolish by exposing your youngster to frightening experiences before he is ready to handle them.

The smart thing for you to do is not take him on a hunting outing until he has had at least a basic training course under his belt, that way he will feel more comfortable performing essential commands. He also will have a general idea as to what will be expected of him in most hunting situations better than if he did not have that kind of education beforehand. Of course, some dogs handle pressure situations better than others, but why not take the safe route?

When educating a beginner dog, training should be done in small doses, never going beyond what the little fellow can handle at any one time. Small steps up the ladder of knowledge are always best. It’s always wise to adapt training to your individual pup.

I know many of you have read or heard a trainer say, “read the dog.” If you can do that, you can know how much a dog can handle and not go beyond his limitations in a training session. As always, tailoring a session to your pup’s abilities, and your own needs, leads to success.

As dogs get older and more mature, they are better able to handle higher levels of learning, knowledge and discipline than when they were pups. I think my Uncle Frank’s wise words apply here: “when you don’t know, you go slow.” It’s of course your choice whether to take your young pup out to the field or not, fellow hunters, but I hope you will now be aware that there are risks involved. Making good decisions is not just something we teach our gun dogs. We as trainers must make an attempt to be become as self-disciplined as the dogs we instruct.

Always have fun training.

* * *

Grady Istre's column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Blind luck
This waterfowl season, if you find yourself needing a way for your dog to avoid detection by savvy incoming birds, consider using a dog blind. Although they are relatively new to the hunting community dog blinds are becoming more popular with each successive season. Many retailers now offer various dog blinds for concealment in snow, tulles and ghillie grasses and come in several camo patterns as well. Most of the ones I have seen are collapsible. They fold up like a suitcase for easy carrying and storage, which makes them much easier to transport to the field.

THE USE OF NATURAL cover fastened to the dog blind helped conceal Cami during a goose hunt in Alturas last season

I have not yet used one of these dog coverings in a hunting situation, but I would not hesitate if the circumstances warranted concealing my dog. It has been my experience that ducks and geese look for any movement made by either hunter or dog and or easily suspicious of any given setup. So, training your dog to stay inside his blind quietly is paramount. I can see that it would be even more important to conceal your dog in a cut grain field where there is usually less cover than in a marshy area where it’s more difficult for our feathery foes to spot a hunter and/or his dog.

Teaching your dog to use one of these blinds can be a challenge, but in the end it’s well worth the effort. I start by first teaching a dog to confidently use the down command. Then once your trainee understands and is comfortable performing the down command, it’s time to get him accustomed to having something covering him. I like to use an old jacket or blanket to cover the dog from the neck back, leaving his head and front legs free. It’s important not to move too fast. Patience with your dog’s understanding and insecurities is the key here and your dog must become comfortable with each new step before moving on to the next.

I don’t like to introduce new word command to a dog’s vocabulary, so use the well-known, “kennel” command with a gesture to order a trainee into the dog blind. Then, once he’s comfortable with this I practice in the yard under controlled conditions. Eventually, your dog will get the idea and will automatically run into the blind and lie down when commanded; they quickly learn that good things happen when they’re in the blind.

HERE, A SPRIG is being familiarized with his blind in the back yard.

I have a client and friend, Jeff Studt, who told me that he used treats to get his dog, Cami into the blind then quickly gave the down command before she could come out. “When Cami sees the blind come out I hardly have time to get it on the ground before she dives into in and makes herself comfortable.” Jeff told me.

This is not a training process that will be accomplished overnight, but you’ve got the entire summer to get your dog acclimated to this new apparatus Use your time wisely.

There are other advantages to using the dog blind. For instance, if he is housed in a dog blind several feet away. Once your dog is acclimated to his blind it’s a good idea to gradually move the blind as much as 20 to 30 feet from the guns, which will diminish the concussion of the gun blast and save your dog from any unnecessary hearing loss.

Have fun training!

* * *

Grady Istre’s column appears every other week and he can be reached at

Preparing upland hunting dogs
With the upland season scheduled to begin next month, now is a good time to get your flushing and pointing dogs in shape. The physical demands placed on these dogs are generally far greater than those placed on dogs that retrieve duck and dove. So, getting them into top condition is essential.

Whatever way you choose to exercise your dog doesn’t really matter. Muscle building and stamina are necessary if you want to be fair to your dog when you’re out on your first hunt of the season. Long walks when no training fields are available are acceptable, especially where the dog has some space to stretch out. However, combining exercise with some refreshers in training is the perfect combination. These dogs love to work. And, they also love to run, and that can be a problem if your dog isn’t properly schooled.

In addition to physical preparation, the dog needs some mental preparation as well. If your dog isn’t under control, you can have a miserable, frustrating hunt. Whether you’re hunting wild or planted birds, keeping your dog in gun range is a must for flushing breeds. All dogs like to have fun out in the field, and that can be a problem.

Chasing a flyaway or putting up a hunt hundreds of yards in front of the guns shouldn’t be allowed by any hunter. One of the biggest problems I see with unschooled hunters is the desire to follow the dog instead of making the dog hunt back to them. That’s one of the better reasons why every hunting dog should go through a basic training course. Again, control is essential with upland dogs. The dog should be taught to come on verbal and whistle commands. If you can’t accomplish this in the yard, it’s doubtful you will have an obedient dog in the field. Your end goal is to have a dog that understands the hunt and his role as finder and retriever. The standard of performance you set for your dog when he is young and impressionable is what you can expect for the remainder of his hunting life. It’s really important that you never allow your hunting dog to learn any lesson the wrong way, which can happen if you take him to the field too soon. Dogs learn bad habits just as quickly and proficiently as they learn good ones.

I train all my flushing dogs to hunt within 20 yards of the gunner. I feel confident that I can hit a rising bird at that distance. Right from the start, you should demand that your dog hunt at whatever distance is comfortable for you to make the shot. Over time, that space will become what I call his neutral distance from the gun.

Pointing dogs, on the other hand, can hunt at greater distances from the gunners, but need to hold point until you catch up to them. Of course, the pointing breeds can be allowed to cover much more ground because they aren’t going to intentionally flush the bird; instead, they are going to point the location, giving the hunter time to move in and make the shot.

In order for both hunter and dog to have a great day afield, the dog must adjust to the needs of the hunter or there will be very little fun for the person with the gun. It’s going to take a little work during the off season to get your dog in shape and obedient, fellow hunters, but it’s definitely worthwhile in the end.

Good Hunting!

* * *

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

Page 1 of 32 First | Previous | Next | Last

The Longfin Tackle Shop