Hunting Season is upon us! I’m already getting pictures from the field from all of you and your retrievers. It looks like many of you are finding success early. I know a couple of clients have made the trek up to Canada & North Dakota and had great success.
As we get into the meat of the season, its good to keep in mind our retrievers skills actually erode in some areas throughout the course of the season. This can be frustrating to say the least near the end of the season when our dogs just aren’t as crisp and clean as they were when we started.
This is very surprising to many owners. “he was perfectly steady when the season started. I don’t know why he isn’t now?” or “she just doesn’t want to seem to go as far for a retrieve as she used to”, are two common ones I hear all the time.
Through the course of the hunting season, all retriever’s skills will slip in two broad categories.
Due to the uncontrolled & often chaotic nature of hunting, we tend to let obedience slip over the course of the season. By not correcting it we are actually, “un-training” our dogs and we are telling them that what they are doing (or not doing) is okay with us. Since it’s impossible to take the chaos out of an action packed hunt, you must do some brief work in a setting where you do have complete control.
The solution: Find times when you can insert some brief obedience work. This can even be walking to or from the blind in the morning. Or in the garage at home. I like to make my dogs walk at heal on the way to the blind. I don’t let them run wild. While on the walk to the blind, I’ll blow a quick sit whistle and give the dogs a very light nick on the e-collar. I’ll do this once or twice on my walk. This alone will set the tone and remind the dog that you’re in charge & that they need to pay attention & listen.
As always, NEVER tolerate breaking! This is not only dangerous, but once a dog starts breaking its harder to stop in the future. If your dog breaks during a hunt STOP THEM & NEVER let them pick that duck up. If a dog breaks I will use the e-collar heavy on them and yell (yes, yell) “NO! HERE! Here!” & nick them with the collar on the way in. It has to be abundantly clear that what they just did is REALLY, REALLY Bad! Lastly, you go out and pick up the duck yourself. The dog must learn: if I break, I don’t get the duck. The only way to get it is by sitting still and waiting to be sent.
If you notice your dog is having trouble making longer retrieves as the season wears on, this is due to the dog becoming conditioned to only make relatively short retrieves. This is very common because 80% of the birds we kill are at about 30 yards right in the hole. After your dog makes a large number of those retrieves, getting them to punch out to 100yds for that cripple is a challenge. This happens on both marks & blinds.
The solution: On marks, simply find a time to have a partner help you with throwing some long bumpers for your dog. Have them go out to 100 yards on land, or maybe on the other side of that slew you hunt. Sit your dog at heal, wave to your friend – to signal them to throw a duck or bumper. Then send you dog on their name. Punching them out deep like this every so often will help dramatically.
On blinds, simply run long (100-150 yard) “pattern blinds”. Find a park or open field somewhere you can train. Place a white stake, or use a tree if you want to go really easy, at about 125 yard away from where you will send the dog from. Then line your dog up and send them on the “Back!” command. Put about 3-4 bumpers out there and repeat until all the bumpers are picked up. The dog with run faster & with more confidence on each bumper. Then go back to the exact same spot a few times throughout the season and repeat.