Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Last-minute dog preparations for the hunting season

The fall hunting seasons are rapidly approaching and it’s time to prepare. Making sure all your equipment is in order, reviewing the regulations, scouting your hunting grounds, and shooting practice are critical components of the pre-hunt checklist.

Often overlooked, however, is making sure your dog is ready for the hunt.

“The biggest thing on any dog that’s already had hunting experience is to tune up the basic obedience – that’s going to be at the root of 99 percent of the dog problems you deal with out there,” said renowned trainer Tom Dokken, of Dokken’s Oak Ridge Kennels.

Going over commands like sit, stay, heel, and down are the most basic ones that a dog needs to be good at. Those can be worked on with a leash or e-collar. Making sure those commands are good, especially when there are distractions, will pretty much take care of it all.

“For an upland dog, the big thing to work on is range, not getting too far away, and that’s just basic control. For a waterfowl dog, it’s the problem of jumping out of the blind too early and that’s just sit and stay,” Dokken said.

Reviewing all of these commands with your dog, in a variety of conditions, is critical.

“The basics need to be solid because when you are out hunting, you are not going to want your attention focused on the dog, you want it focused on the hunt,” Dokken said.

Once your dog has reviewed and mastered basic obedience without distractions, it’s time to do it with distractions. A lot of dogs do a great job with basic commands at home, but are so excited once in the field that they forget.

If possible, once the basics are mastered, introduce gunfire or birds to the basic obedience drills. Birds can be purchased either live or dead from most game farms and can be very effective training tools. Retrieving dogs associate gunfire with the act of retrieving, but a dog that takes off without being told is dangerous.

Reviewing “stay” with gunfire can take quite some time. Start on the leash so you have direct control and then move to the e-collar if that’s what you use in the field.

The social dog

“It takes a lot of time to get a dog that’s socialized and obedient in a variety of conditions with a lot of distractions,” Dokken said.

Taking your dog with you into social settings is a good opportunity to get your dog good at being obedient with a variety of distractions.

“If you have a well-trained, obedient dog, you can take them most anywhere,” he said.

Finding good places where dogs are allowed can be difficult, however. That was a problem Ali Jarvis faced with her dog and it led her to create the website SidewalkDog.com, where she has a directory of dog-friendly places to go.

“We are basically a community of dog owners who like taking their dogs with them places and sharing that information with other dog owners,” she said. “You can really get your dog well socialized and exposed to a lot of stimuli by going to different places together. It’s obedience training but it also allows you to run errands or do some socializing yourself with friends.”

Jarvis said her website includes listings of places like dog-friendly restaurant patios, coffee shops, events, apple orchards, parks, and sporting goods stores. She also is currently adding dog-friendly campsites and dog-friendly lodging in popular hunting destinations.

Get your dog in shape

If on opening day your dog is out of shape, you are not going to get the best performance out of her. A dog might not look out of shape by being lean and a healthy weight, but that doesn’t mean the endurance is there or the muscle conditioning is ready for the field.

Swimming this time of the year when the heat is on is a good low-impact way to build both endurance and muscle tone.

“If you are going to go running with your dog, be sure to do it during the coolest parts of the day like around sunrise or sunset,” Dokken said.

Keeping your dog hydrated, both during preparations and the hunt, is something that a lot of hunters tend to overlook. It can be especially easy to overlook while upland hunting.

“Most dogs, when they get up stiff and sore after a day of pheasant hunting, are actually dealing with dehydration rather than being out of shape,” Dokken said.

Teaching a dog to drink out of a water bottle, by putting peanut butter on the tip and having it lick that while you pour water out, is a good idea. Carrying a water bottle and portable dog bowl works as well if the bottle trick doesn’t work.

Practice these hydration skills now so your dog becomes accustomed to drinking water this way so it’s just common practice once you are in the field.

Dokken also likes using hydration formulas because it helps make the water taste better and replenishes your dog.

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