Just mention dog training to most novice trainers and the first image to pop up in their head is the vision of their dog retrieving, flushing or pointing a bird in the field. To them, that’s training. That’s understandable, because most inexperienced trainers have never been schooled in the importance of yard work, so all they picture is the end result. Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s difficult to see the value of working with your dog in a non-hunting environment.
I often get phone calls from hunters all over the state asking me what they can do to train their hunting dog when they live in a metropolitan area. I always reply, “Use what ya got.” By that I mean, your back yard, parks, school grounds or even a golf course. Of course, when using public areas, you should always get permission and use the area when there are very few, if any, people around and always leave it at least as clean as you found it.
You can teach your dog the fundamentals of everything he needs to know to become a proficient hunter right in your own back yard. Understand, I’m not saying that field work is unimportant, but it’s difficult to drive great distances to shoot birds or train with your cronies on a consistent basis when you live in a city. So, instead of wasting precious training time waiting for the perfect place to train, prepare your dog for the field by teaching him all of the basic commands, drill work and introduction to birds in your yard. That way, when you do take him to the field, he’ll already have a basic understanding of what’s going on. Your time in the field will go smoothly because of the obedience and rapport you have already developed.
Always, when working with a young, inexperienced dog, it’s best to teach the fundamentals in a restricted area where you have complete control over the dog’s actions. But even If you have an older, more experienced and well-trained dog, you can hone and refine his skills there too. Taking hand signals or going where sent on multiple retrieves are two skills that translate well from yard to field.
I had one caller ask, “What can I do with my pointing dog in the backyard?” I asked him, “Does he hold point in the field?” “No,” was the reply. I then described a good method for teaching the “whoa” command. This is an essential lesson for any upland dog and it’s easy to do.
Simply stand the dog up on any kind of a fairly high platform that gets him off the ground, such as a sturdy patio table. Most dogs will become uneasy when first placed in an unfamiliar place, so there in the beginning you might need to calm his fear through repetition and praise. Then when he’s stable and standing nicely, say ‘whoa.”
After a week or so, test the command on the ground. If he’s steady, it’s time to try it out on birds.
For retrievers and flushers, you have an entire basic course consisting of “heel,” “force fetch,” “come on command” and “steady to shot” are all concepts that can be taught in the back yard. Again, proceed slowly and surely through the lessons and insist on a high standard of performance.
Do not use, “I don’t have any place to train” as an excuse not to educate your hunting dog. Simply taking him for a walk in the park can be training. Enhance your rapport while teaching him to obediently walk with you. Work on his social skills by introducing him to people and new environments. Fellow trainers, there’s always some place and some way you can teach your dog — you just have to be a little creative.
Have fun training!
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Grady’s column appears in WON every other week and he can be reached at reibar.com