Hunting season is around the corner and all of us are feeling the itch! Whether you have a seasoned gun dog or a new pup, these seven tactics will make sure you are prepared!
7) Imagine you are signed up for a marathon but haven’t ran since the 7th-grade gym class mile. Come race day, you would literally explode! Your lungs would burn, your knees would give out, and you probably wouldn’t make it past the first mile without accumulating some sort of injury! Now, put yourself in your dog’s shoes. If they have been a couch potato since last hunting season, it’s not fair to ask them to trudge through swamps, trek miles across pheasant country, or swim 300 yards for a crippled goose. Start taking your gun dog on hikes and swims to build their endurance. Swimming is the best form of exercise because it is low impact on their joints. It’s your responsibility to keep them healthy and prevent potential injury!
6) There is nothing worse than hunting with an unruly gun dog. We’ve all seen it! A dog that is constantly being yelled at, breaks when birds are working the decoys, or won’t sit still in the boat. It is also not fun to hunt with a dog owner who is frustrated because their dog isn’t behaving! Don’t be that owner! Brush up on your dog’s obedience in the backyard and in the field on your hikes. Start in an area with distractions and begin changing locations where the dog needs to be focused on you while other exciting things are going on! You and your hunting buddies will be glad you did!
5) If your dog hasn’t hunted before and you only use bumpers during training, you may be in for a surprise, and not the good kind. If a dog has never seen a real bird, or a bird that has some life left in it, it is highly likely they go out, sniff the bird, and not bring it back. It is important to train with the real thing! If you’re a duck hunter, find ducks and use them in training. If you hunt upland game, use pheasant, chukar, grouse, or quail. Whatever you pursue during the season, get your gun dog on those birds before their first hunt!
4) Train your gun dog in the hunting scenarios they will see during the season. If you know you will be hunting in flooded timber, start teaching them to retrieve off a dog stand. If you hunt out of a boat, take them on fun boat rides and throw bumpers off the side so they learn to jump in and deliver the bird back to you. Same goes for pit blinds, ground blinds, etc. Make these new experiences fun and exciting!
3) If you’re a waterfowl hunter, use duck and goose calls during your training sessions. Adding the calls will increase the dog’s excitement level and increase the likelihood that they’ll be too excited to obey the known commands. It’s also important because a dog who hasn’t heard a call before will look up at you blowing the duck call and wonder what the heck you’re doing instead of looking out and watching for birds!
2) Opening day shouldn’t be the first time your gun dog sees a decoy! You will be pretty embarrassed if your new pup goes out for a retrieve and drags back a plastic duck instead of the belly up mallard floating next to it! Take a dozen decoys and spread them through your yard and heel your dog around them. As they go to sniff the decoy, pop them on the lead and command “leave it.” After they realize decoys aren’t important, toss a bumper past the decoys and they will barrel through the spread to complete the retrieve. After several successful yard sessions, you can move the decoys to water and finish the introduction there.
1) The most important tip for training your gun dog is to properly introduce them to gunfire! You should never take a dog hunting if they haven’t been around gunfire before. It’s also important to hunt with buddies who understand that your dog’s first hunt is a learning experience, not a shooting experience. A pup will be overwhelmed if you and your friends unleash heavy artillery at first light! Here is a helpful video for introducing your dog to gunfire the right way! Remember, you won’t have a gun dog if they are afraid of guns!