6. Get Birdy
Re-introduce the dog to birds before the season. That is, replace your plastic or canvas bumpers with frozen or live birds. “No birds, no bird dog,” Stewart says. One way to have birds available is to breast out game birds during the course of the season, and then freeze the remainder of the carcass for training purposes later on. Wrap the bird’s body in heavy tape to keep this from becoming messy. “You can use frozen birds, pigeons, pen-raised quail, or other game birds,” Stewart says. “And you will be amazed at how your dog responds.” [Be sure to check with your state game department to see if special permits are required to train with game birds.]
Exposing the dog to gunfire prior to the season should also be mandatory. “Do multiple gunfire, not just a single shot, because hunting dogs are going to hear multiple shots more often than not,” Stewart says.
7. Be Cool
To ensure the health and safety of your dog, precautions should be taken during warm-weather training sessions. “Try to stay out of the direct sun,” Stewart says, “and try to involve water.” Dogs do not perspire, per se. They cool off through their mouths, by panting, and, to a lesser degree, through their foot pads, which release heat. “Heat continues to build in dogs,” Stewart says. “Too much, and they go down to heat exhaustion.” Try training early in the morning when there is dew on the ground. Or, find a grove of trees (not thick woods, which can be extremely warm).
Instead of running or roading your dog to get it in shape when the weather is hot, send the animal on long water retrieves. Water helps keep a dog cool through evaporation. But, if the pond or lake water is warm, it probably is not cooling the animal as much as you might think.
With a 141-acre training facility, including six water sources, Stewart has the luxury of replicating nearly all possible hunting situations. One of his ponds includes fingers of land that extend into the water, channels, coves, and an island. He uses this body of water when teaching land-water-land retrieves.
9. Go Boating
If you typically use a boat to hunt waterfowl, it is in your best interest to introduce your dog-particularly if it is a puppy-to the watercraft long before opening day. “We teach boat entrance and exit,” Stewart says. “Dogs can be miserable to have in a boat if they are out of control.” Whether you are working with a pup or an older dog, put the animal in the boat and assign it a place to sit. Then make the dog stay there until you release it. The more a dog gets accustomed to the boat, the more comfortable it will become.
10. Meeting Mr. Decoy
Who hasn’t seen a retriever drag decoys in its wake? Usually, this happens when the decoy line gets tangled up in the dog’s legs. But, some of us also have witnessed duck dogs grab decoys by the head and pull them to the blind. “We start them around decoys on land-that lets them (dogs) get used to decoys,” Stewart says. “If they bump them, they know what they are about.”
Stewart recommends working both young and older dogs around decoys. He maintains a couple of decoy rigs on his training ponds. The decoys are set in groups of six or eight, with open lanes between each group. Stewart begins by tossing a bumper just short of the decoys, throws the next one in the decoys, and then another well beyond the decoys. He also pitches bumpers into the lanes. “This teaches them that all birds are not found in the decoys.
Article by: Gary Koehler, Senior DU Magazine Writer