Very few hunters are receptive to the idea of maintaining their dog’s skill level during the off season and I believe that’s a big mistake. I hope that after I explain just how uncomplicated it can be to retain your hunting dog’s skills throughout the summer months, you’ll use some of this knowledge so your dog will be field ready when the first bird season opens in September.
The ideal training situation is to work your dog for about ten minutes on a daily basis — that’s all. Then if possible, once a month you should get together with some of your hunting buddies to prepare a training session where you shoot birds, to simulate hunting conditions for all of your dogs.
If you don’t have time to work your dog on a daily basis, that’s okay, but do figure out what days you have available and set up a training schedule. As I have learned, if you do not do this chances are you won’t get around to making it happen. Then, the closer we get to the opening day of the season, it’s a good idea to increase the frequency and length of those training sessions. This will not only sharpen your dog’s skills, but get him in good physical shape as well.
Dogs play the hand they are dealt, so if you want your hunting dog to become a pet during the summer months, guess what: he’ll become a pet. That means that his discipline level will slip during this time and so will his willingness to perform the skills he has learned. Conversely, if you maintain his training, he’ll be an even more obedient pet for the whole family to enjoy.
All dogs want is a modicum of consistency in their lives. They want you to be dependable. They want to be able to count on some sort of routine. They want to know what is going to happen next and just exactly what role they play in that scenario. When their lives are predictable, dogs tend to become better citizens.
If you can’t go training on a given day, just sitting in a chair in the backyard reading the paper, book or magazine with your dog by your side can suffice in a certain way. Dogs have to learn patience on those slow days when the ducks and/or dove are not flying well. So, just lounging in your lawn chair throwing him a bumper every once in a while is maintaining a certain training level and that’s about as easy as it gets, fellow trainers.
Still, if your dog has achieved handling status, there are drills like the wagon wheel that can give him a better understanding of the line to a downed bird. The casting drill will also sharpen up his interpretation of your hand signals when directing him to a fallen bird.
Hopefully, I have pointed out just how simple or how complicated you can make your summer training schedule. It’s your choice. Training your dog need not be a chore. It should be fun and bring a certain pride of accomplishment to your life.
So, get creative this summer, make a training schedule and if you don’t like my suggestions, create your own. But train your dog. Please.
Have fun training!
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Grady Istre’s articles appear every other week in WON and he can be reached at reibar.com.