Hunting Dog Basics
By PJ Maguire
Dogs are companions, first and foremost. As hunters with retrievers, we should always keep that in mind when training, hunting or playing with our dogs. The vast majority of your retriever’s life will be spent going for walks and chasing butterflies, not hunting. However, it is easy for us to forget that when Rover is running wild through a CRP field on opening day of the duck or pheasant season.
When it comes to molding your pup into an experienced gundog, there is no substitute for basic obedience. If you purchased your first pup, or have never attended an obedience class with a professional, I encourage you to do so. Not only will you gain a wealth of knowledge about basic dog training, your pup will become socialized with other dogs. The pups that are not socialized are the ones that bite other retriever’s ears off at the boat ramp. If you have children, bring them to the classes as well, they will probably enjoy it more than you.
Dogs and humans alike are creatures of habit. It is good for dogs to have some kind of routine in their lives. Feeding dogs at the same time everyday is an easy way to do this. Also by placing them in a restricted area, like a kennel, you can add routine and enforce dominance over them. Puppies should be placed in some kind of kennel for at least two thirty-minute periods a day.
In the off-season, it is vital to keep retrievers in shape for their own safety.
Retrievers are bred for desire and will push themselves to the limit while hunting. For an unhealthy dog that could be dangerous and life threatening. Healthy dogs require both diet and exercise. Most owners feed their retrievers too much all year long. During the off-season retrievers require less food than during the hunting season. I have a professional breeder friend who recommends feeding retrievers just once a day, in the morning, during the off-season.
Exercise in the heat of the summer can be tough on dogs. The same professional breeder friend recommends only working dogs in the morning and evening. He also does a lot of water exercises during the summer as well. Swimming is the best aerobic exercise a dog can get and it is easy on the joints.
One easy way for a duck hunter to avoid embarrassment is to introduce your retriever to boats and decoys before opening day. I would recommend bringing a retriever along in the boat every time you go fishing if there is room. The more time a dog spends in a boat the more accustom they will become.
Dogs have good and bad days. It is important not to expect more than your retriever is capable of doing. If you have not trained your dog to make a blind retrieve, do not expect it to complete one. If you haven’t practiced a double retrieve with your retriever in years, do not blame the dog for retrieving the closest bird first. You have to show and reinforce the tools you want your retriever to use in the field.
There are times when a dog owner may choose the assistance of a professional dog trainer. If one does not have the capabilities and time to train a dog efficiently, a professional may be worth the expense. If a hunter purchases a problem dog an expert may be the only solution. Retrievers that do not naturally retrieve may need to be ‘force broken’ or ‘force fetched’. I believe that well-trained dogs make hunting more fruitful and enjoyable for all.
I have a good friend that has the miss-fortune of having a Border collie for a retriever. Believe it or not the dog does retrieve ducks for him while jump-shooting potholes. The other day he explained to me how the Collie is smarter than our other buddy’s Lab. He said his Collie would climb on top of the Lab’s kennel and steal treats from a box. The Lab must not know the treats are there, because she does not take them from the top of the kennel he explained. I did not have the heart to tell him a little obedience might not hurt.