Most of us who have shot pheasants over a staunch-pointing Brittany, watched a Lab make confident blind retrieves of wounded mallards, or observed an energetic beagle, nose to the ground, unravel the track of a cagey cottontail, deeply appreciate a proficient gun dog.
Every hunter who heads out in search of upland birds or waterfowl, or is in pursuit of rabbits, raccoons, coyotes, black bears, coyotes, and other game will have more productive and enjoyable outings when accompanied by a well-trained, well-mannered dog.
There’s no big secret to accomplishing this goal, but there is no magic bullet, either. It takes time, effort, and hard work by both dog and trainer.
During the next several weeks, regular training sessions, employing the proper techniques, and considerable patience, can properly prepare you and your dog for this fall’s hunts. Here’s a look at some low-tech and high-tech training accessories that can help smooth out and speed up the process.
Crates, books, and DVDs
One valuable training tool often overlooked by dog owners is a portable kennel; it’s especially helpful when house-training younger dogs and for building their confidence while they’re on the road or when being placed in an unfamiliar environment.
While the idea may at first seem unusual or even cruel, we have to remember that dogs are historically “den” animals and like enclosed, safe environments. A dog’s kennel is his den and should be a safe place within our house, while riding in a vehicle, or when in a motel.
Providing this for your dog, starting at a young age, is not only good for you, but also your dog. Having a crate or den for your dog will give him a safe place of his own, as well as give you the ability to know where he is and what he’s doing to prevent accidents, especially with puppies.
You should start your dog in a crate that is the right size – one that gives him enough room to stand up, turn around, and lie down without hitting his head on the top. As the dog grows, it will be necessary to go to a larger portable kennel.
If you don’t already have a good a book, or two, on training hunting dogs, you’ll find they can help you save time and avoid serious training mistakes. There are many good ones available from stores or online. Authors like Dave Duffy, Larry Mueller, and Bill Tarrant have considerable experience training dogs, and their books communicate proven methods.
There also are many training videos that provide step-by-step instruction for training specific breeds, with videos focusing on the training needed for hunting upland game or waterfowl.
Bells, whistles, check cords
Properly training a young dog requires maintaining a “point of contact” with the animal when it’s well beyond arm’s reach. This can be accomplished by going low-tech with a check cord or taking the high-tech approach with an electric collar.
A check cord is simply a 3⁄8-inch tightly woven rope about 20 to 25 feet long. It’s especially useful in controlling pointing dogs and correcting them if they break point. It’s also a big help in teaching them manners around game.
“Tie a bowline knot about 7 inches from the D ring on the snap that attaches to the dog’s leather collar,” says trainer Delmar Smith. “When you want the pup to whoa, say so, and by flicking your wrist, roll the rope so the bowline knot socks him under the jaw. We’re enforcing our word through a point of contact, but we’re not physically touching him during an unpleasant moment.”
Whistles serve to replace or emphasize voice commands already learned. They’re especially useful when hunting with flushing breeds. One sharp blast means stop, two beeps signal direction change, three beeps mean come.
Bells attached to the collars of pointing dogs once were popular in helping to locate them when they went on point, but they have now been largely replaced by electronic “beeper” collars. The mechanical bells, however, may still be useful in keeping track of flushing dogs in tall or thick cover. Having a good supply of retrieving dummies is also important.
As in most other facets of life, electronic products are very much a part of dog training and hunting. With ranges from a half-mile to 2 miles, electronic collars will not only aid in off-season training, but also can help you locate and control your dog while afield.
The Edge from Dogtra is an e-collar that can be customized and expanded. It offers stimulation in nick, constant, and a non-stimulating pager vibration modes. A LCD screen displays the level of stimulation, mode, and a battery life icon for the two-hour rapid-charge lithium polymer batteries. Built-in high-intensity LED lights are on the receiver/collar, both of which are fully waterproof. The Edge has a 1-mile range.
D.T. Systems’ new SPT 2400 series collars combine new training features, including “jump and rise” training aids. The jump stimulation is suited to training methods that involve jumping frequently between two stimulation levels. You can set a level of intensity to the nick or continuous stimulation buttons that is appropriate for training your dog.
The rise stimulation button continuously increases the stimulation level until the button is released, enabling you to hold the rise button until you notice a response from the dog, essentially allowing him to choose the appropriate level of stimulation.
All SPT 2400 series have completely waterproof and rechargeable (Ni-MH batteries) transmitter, and collar units, an easy-to-read LCD screen with a low battery indicator, and a 2,400-yard (1.3-mile) range.
For upland hunters, SportDOG is featuring the Upland Hunter Model 1875, and waterfowlers should find the Wetland Hunter beneficial. Designed for hunters who run their pointing dogs at long distances, both on open prairie and in thick cover, the SD-1875 provides control via electronic stimulation, vibration, or tone, while also helping keep tabs on big-running dogs with a remotely operable audible beeper.
The WetlandHunter 1825 collar has up to 16 stimulus levels and a choice of momentary or continuous correction at ranges up to 1 mile. Vibration and tone options help you build a customized remote training system that can be easily expanded to control up to six dogs. Users also can select from eight stimulation levels each within low, medium, or high setting on the compact receiver.
Along with its line of electronic collars, Tri-Tronics is now offering hunters who pursue raccoons and predators under night skies the Night Razor, a powerful and versatile cordless cap-mounted spotlight that produces 180 lumens. Weighing only 5.5 ounces, the cordless Night Razor eliminates the need for heavy battery-pack belts and runs off a rechargeable, self-contained battery and features a compact, rugged, waterproof design.
It’s also important to protect your dog against Lyme disease during summer training sessions. Talk to your vet about vaccination, especially if you live in one of the high-risk zones. At least ask which medications will provide the best flea and tick protection.