The opening of each new hunting season is something I look forward to each year. When the season ended last January, I was ready for a break, but, as usual, by March, I was rested and ready to go again.
For me, owning a good hunting dog and not using him is like owning a boat and not fishing. I feel guilty when I’m not out in the fields pursuing some sort of birds with my dog. Even in the off-season, I keep my hunting dog in good shape — both physically and mentally by working him at least three times a week.
Most dogs, no matter how well trained they are, need a tune-up about this time every year. If your dog is young, or not fully trained, or not experienced with dove, there are some precautions I would recommend. You may not know how the dog will respond to the first hunt of the year, and the first day out, you will likely find out how good your training job was. If you’re breaking out a new dog, there are a bunch of unknowns that may form a long list in your book of concerns. And, the first hunts will usually define the kind of hunting dog you will have for the remainder of his career.
If you’re going to attempt to correct any unwanted behavior while on the hunt, certain precautions should be taken. For example, any corrections should be clear-cut in your dog’s mind. If you add discipline while your dog is confused, you could get into some trouble that can be avoided and you may see some unwanted side effects that are hard to handle for most amateur trainers.
Also, disciplining a dog when there are birds involved is not necessarily a good idea. You don’t want the dog to associate birds with severe correction. Birds are the dog’s reward and the reason he puts up with the training. The last thing you want to create is a dog that dislikes going to the field.
For an inexperienced or young dog, the first hunt can create an uncertainty as to what you expect from him and that can create anxiety.
The reason this happens stems from the fact that in training your pup, he discovered that learning something new is often followed by some form of discipline. I don’t advise any harsh discipline for a novice in his first hunting experience.
If you have a well-trained, experienced dog who is accustomed to discipline, it’s okay to use the e-collar if he should break on a shot bird. But I do not recommend using the e-collar on a first-timer; there are other steps that can be taken.
For instance: you can simply tie your young dog down and not release him for the retrieve until he settles down. If you have a hunting partner who is a decent shot, you can put the dog on a leash and work him on the sit command to show him that steadiness carries over to the field. After all, the dog has to learn to apply the skills he has learned in training to the hunt. So, you want the dog to enjoy the hunt as much as possible, but not allow him to make the occasion frustrating.
For the first hunt, the atmosphere should be one of excitement tempered with decent control. You’ll be pleased, and possibly surprised, to watch your pup discover the joy of working and honing his natural instincts. This event should be a well-deserved reward for the many days of training, and I hope you have a successful day in the field together.
Have a great dove opener!
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Grady’s column appears in WON every other week and he can be reached at reibar.com.