CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Grady Istre's Blog



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.



Hunting dog insecurities
How many of you dog owners think your dog can’t be intimidated by a new hunting situation? It seems quite a few hunters would place a bet that his dog would handle just about anything, especially you owners of experienced dogs.

Because our dogs seemingly handle every situation in life without any problem, we are sometimes lulled into thinking they can handle anything, anywhere, any time. Not so, fellow hunters, some dogs are as in­secure as a muskrat swimming across an alligator pond.


Hunting dogs can be intimidated by weather conditions, terrain or just about anything they have not encountered before. Over the years, I’ve witnessed some cases and heard stories about dogs that refused to work when they encountered ice and snow, mud, swift or cold water, and first-time encounters with a large bird such as a goose. These are just a few examples that come to mind. Of course, young dogs with little or no experience are the most susceptible to these intimidation factors. It doesn’t happen often, but older dogs fall victim to unfamiliarity just as well.


I know of a 5-year-old Labrador that allowed belly-high mud on an isolated island in a federal refuge to intimidate him to the point of refusing to retrieve birds that were shot and fell into the decoys some 20 yards away. When a dog is in familiar hunting surroundings where he is more comfortable, he will generally handle his insecurities much better than if he were in unfamiliar territory.


Another factor can be a remembered stress from a difficult lesson during the course of training. Training teaches dogs that there is a certain way they are expected to perform, and if they don’t meet that standard, they are disciplined. Therefore, when dogs become unsure about how they should perform, they may choose to do nothing instead of taking the chance they will be disciplined.


I had one client call me on his cell phone from a planted pheasant field telling me that his newly-trained flushing dog would not leave his side to find game. I advised him to go back to the clubhouse and purchase a pheasant, take it to his assigned field and simply shoot it for his dog. Three hours later I got another call from this now very enthusiastic guy telling me what a fabulous job I did on his dog. Sometimes a jump start like something familiar is all it takes to get a dog going in the right direction. It takes keen observation to determine if your dog is nervous about being disciplined or just worried about something unfamiliar.


If you run into a problem with your dog refusing to performing while in a hunting situation, (especially a young or first-timer), stop and look at the problem from the dog’s point of view. Instead of getting angry, and doing something that will make your problem worse, ask yourself: what would it take to make my dog at ease? Turn to something the dog does well and keep it simple so there can be no doubt as to what is expected.


Usually, that’s all it takes to remove the confusion and get your dog hunting again.


Good hunting!


* * *

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


The importance of yard work
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!


* * *

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



The importance of yard work
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!


* * *

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



Introducing your puppy to water work
When I first began training dogs as an amateur, back in the days more years ago than I care to mention, it was a “rule” that puppies should be a year old before being introduced to water. The philosophy went something like this: don’t scare the little guy; wait until he’s mature enough to handle any unforeseen circumstances; if he gets spooked, he’ll never be a good water dog. Now, I’d like to tell those old-schoolers: “That’s bull!” I think puppies should become acquainted with as many different situations as they can handle as soon as practically possible.

There may be exceptions, of course, there always are. There may be very shy pups that need to be brought along with a patient hand and those pups could be slow to mature in every way. Those exceptions are sometimes large pups that develop later due to their size alone. But, most puppies gain confidence through overcoming small fears and these accomplishments provide a great foundation for future training.


I like to take my pups to as many different environments as possible, as young as possible. Just taking them on walks can be instructive. Seeing different landscapes, watching birds, meeting people — it all adds up. I also like to have my pups watch the older dogs work. I keep them on a leash in a safe place where they can relax and observe everything that goes on in the field.


But, when I introduce a pup to water, I like to do that alone with him in a controlled situation. The best situation is to find a nice sloping bank where there’s easy access and where you can wade in yourself. I usually throw an object the pup is already familiar with, that he’s already retrieving, like a ball or a sock, or even a bumper. If he goes out for the retrieve, then that’s great, but, if not, you can wade in and get him to follow. If he doesn’t go along readily, you can carry him with you and gently set him down in the shallows where his feet can touch the bottom. He’ll probably head for the shore, but that’s okay.


Next, you can carry him out with you, throw the object toward the shore (because that’s where he wants to go anyway) and he’ll retrieve that and take it with him to the shore. If you can progress to wading out and having him follow for a retrieve, that’s great. But, if not, just having him get into the water and/or making any kind of a retrieve at the water’s edge is enough to accomplish for a first effort. The goal is to have this first session fear-free and easy. Always quit on a positive note, even if you’re not completely satisfied with the outcome.


The same process goes with introduction to birds. If you’re encouraging your pup’s birdiness early, you can blend two lessons nicely. Once the pup is chasing clip-wing pigeons in the yard, you can move that playfulness to the water. Making water work joyful and exciting is the key. These beginning lessons are a great start toward making your puppy into a belly-busting water dog.


Have fun training!


* * *

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


Overhandling your flushing dog
With the upland bird hunting season opening this month, I thought some info on handling your flushing dog might be in order. Hopefully, it will help you have a more successful and rewarding hunt.

Often, when people talk about “handling” a dog, they mean giving hand signals to direct a dog to a fallen bird, but that’s not what I mean to discuss here. Sometimes, we do direct a flushing dog to a bird he hasn’t seen by giving him “back” and “over” commands and that’s helpful, but it’s more important for a flushing dog to find birds in the first place. And, when he does find the bird, to be in shooting range. Both these necessities take training and, then, experience, but these experiences should be in a disciplined format.


When I school clients who hunt with a flushing dog, I recommend that they first make their dog sit before releasing him to hunt a field. That’s because it’s a good idea to start out in a disciplined manner. Then, when you release the dog, he is in a somewhat obedient frame of mind.


Send the dog out into the field and allow him to quest, watching for his natural tail and head movements that can indicate when he has caught scent of game. The idea is to have the dog move in a nice flowing motion, on his own, but fairly close to you and attentive to your commands. Your hunting companions will appreciate this because no one wants to hear a handler yelling or whistling at his dog all day long. Even though it’s not a good idea to interfere with the dog while he’s enthusiastically questing, if he gets out of control and ignores you, you should react right away. A disobedient attitude needs to be corrected immediately or it can become a bad habit.


The proper hunting situation is when the dog gets into a rhythm and moves back and forth in front of the gunners while you walk quietly behind him. This is how I describe an ideal hunt to my clients, but some of them seem to have taken my cautions too far. In an effort to control their dogs, they have intruded so much on their dogs’ natural tendencies that they have lost that balance between the “hunt” and the “control.” They have gotten into “over-handling” in the field. Their fears of having the dog get out of gun range, or having the dog become dis­obedient has caused them to whistle or call the dog in­cessantly. As a result, they’ve almost taken the quest and natural hunting instincts out of their animals. Some sensitive dogs will quit the hunt al­together and return to their handler’s side.


Sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect balance of obedience and natural instinct. My advice is to step back and take a good look at your dog as this season begins. Is he happy in the field, yet tuned into you? Is he loose enough to hunt for birds, yet attentive when you call to him? If you get the feeling that the two of you are partners out there under the morning sky, enjoy it. You’ve got something most people can only dream of: a wonderful hunting companion that brings pride and joy to the hunt.


Good hunting.


* * *

Grady’s column appears every other week in WON, he can be reached at reibar.com




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