It’s sad when the hunting season comes to an end, but a word that always comes to mind for me is opportunity. I suppose this is a mindset you must develop after years of being a waterfowl hunter, especially one with gun dogs (I’m not the only one here, right?).
So why opportunity? Because, over the course of the season, you notice plenty of skill gaps you and your dog can refine to be even better next season. Let’s discuss a couple skill gaps I usually find in dogs below:
Take your hunting buddy or your spouse to the fields and put actions in place to work on skill deficiencies you noticed over the hunting season.
For example, did you notice your dog break and run after downed birds before you sent them? If so, practice patience and steadiness by having marks thrown while you make the dog sit patiently by your side.
If the dog moves a muscle, deny the retrieve by having your buddy in the field pick up the bird.
If your dog has been properly taught compliance by turning pressure off, you can also overlay pressure in forms of e collar stimulation, verbal or physical pressure (pop the dog on the collar with a steady tab). This part is important because it’s all about timing.
Make sure the pressure turns on and off at the exact time of the movements so the dog understands desired and undesired behavior.
Ok, so you’ve practiced steadiness and now your dog is comfortable and consistently waiting to be sent—now what?
Add distraction with a hint of chaos and see how they respond. If you were in a real hunting scenario, then you wouldn’t be in a quiet field with the dog sitting next to you at the line. Instead, you’d be on a boat with duck calls, gunfire and people hootin’ and hollering.
During all that commotion, that’s when the dog needs to be steady and patient; so add that into the training to make it as realistic as possible.
Since you have a friend in the field to help work through a few behaviors you encountered during the hunting season, use this opportunity as a chance to stretch out your dog on longer retrieves.
A lot of gun dog owners throw bumpers themselves, which limits the distance a dog will search for their bumper. If you can toss a bumper ~40 yards, then your dog will be conditioned to only go that far… but what if a duck swims off and is now at 60 yards? You’ll want your dog to mark the fall and chase down the bird in a real-life situation so you’ll need your field buddy to vary the distances between marks.
It’s important to do this over land and water so your dog can be comfortable and successful working in both environments.
Listen to Gunner Founder Addison Edmonds on Lone Duck’s 60th podcast episode: “Old dogs can learn beer tricks with Addison Edmonds.”
Lone Duck Outfitters is a professional gun dog training outfit that provides a community for all who share a passion for The Unspoken Bond. Learn more about the Owens brothers’ operation here.
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