10 Tips to Prepare Your Dog Hunting Season
A brief refresher course to keep your dog ready for action
1. Obedience With a Twist
Basic obedience should be an integral part of your off-season training. Heel, sit, stay, whistle, and steadying drills should all be addressed. In addition, since duck hunters often tromp through water of varying depth, Stewart believes in training retrievers to heel in water-keeping the dog under control while you are wading. Retrievers often are required to sit still for extended stretches of time. “We also teach the dogs to sit on stumps, on water stands, and in water for long periods,”
2. Steadying to Shot
One technique is linked to clay target shooting. Stewart will bring together three or four gunners and their dogs and position them either on buckets (like a dove shoot) or in simulated blinds. Clay targets are launched. Once every five or six shots, a bumper will be tossed. But only one dog will be sent to retrieve the bumper. Each dog is allowed only two or three retrieves per outing.
This exercise also reinforces honoring. The dog is taught not to seek out the bumper until after getting the OK from the handler.
“Once a dog is using its eyes and marking well, it doesn’t take any more than from two to six good marks a day and the dog is back on it,” Stewart says. “What you should be doing is more complex marks, like in woodlands. “Get the dog tuned up to hunt the cover, to hunt the grass at the edge of water,” Stewart says. “Teach the dog to get into that cover, because if a duck is shot or wounded, it will usually head toward cover.” Do not forget marks that require the dog going over barriers. “I would do some marks across ditches, across fences, and across water,” Stewart says.
The straighter the line a dog runs toward a mark, the less handling one is likely to have to do. “The object of these drills is to get the dog holding lines,” Stewart says. “You have to put the straight-edge back on them.” Dogs will fade to the contour of the land, in accordance with the wind, or with natural barriers, such as ditches or other obstacles. “Teach them to run through the barriers,” Stewart says. “You want the dog running a nice, clean straight line instead of scalloping.”
In either case, the longer the better. Place the dog in a sit position. Then toss a bumper parallel to the fence or building, either of which will then serve to discourage the dog from running wide.
The time-tested baseball diamond setup remains one of Stewart’s favored methods for fine-tuning a dog’s understanding of handling via hand signals and whistle. With the trainer stationed at the imaginary “home plate,” and the retriever positioned on the “pitcher’s mound,” the dog can be taught to go right (toward first base) or left (toward third base) with overcasts, or toward second (with the “back” command) in search of hidden bumpers or bumpers tossed by hand. One of the goals here is getting the dog to go after the bumper that you want it to retrieve first.
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