As we seem to have rounded the corner into summer like Usain Bolt running a 200m event, it can be hard to stay focused on keeping your hunting dog trained up and tuned in. Hot weather, lots of distractions and fear of overheating your dog are all factors that make training difficult to get done when the mercury appears jet propelled.
Picabo Angler Wing Shooting Guide Ross Copperman points out a few things you can do even when it's hotter than Hades and you're short on time:
1. Keep the Rules Consistent. I know, I know, there are kids running around, sprinklers on, new K9 friends to meet at the park or lake and it just doesn't feel like fall. Well, fortunately one of the easiest things you can do for your dog during the off season is to actually not do something: Don't let the rules change. Your dog should obey every command at an even tone of voice on the first try. If you use an e-collar hunting or training, don't let it collect dust. Expect the dog to maintain the level of discipline you have established at all times and correct them when they don't, no matter where you are or what you're doing. Too many people become lax with their expectations of basic obedience during the off season and spend way too much time trying to reestablish it come fall. Keep your rules the same rules all year long.
2. Quick, Small and Easy. Training your dog and keeping it focused doesn't have to be a huge production. Most trainers will say they try to keep sessions short no matter what time of year in order to keep the dog engaged and not overwhelm them. So take a few bumpers out on the front lawn and do a few 10 yard retrieves. If your dog is trained to be steady to shot/flush, then expect the same in the yard and have them hold until sent. Do doubles--it's a great time to work on multiple retrieves as the dog can see all of them with no variables. "Walk and Fetch" is another good one--take the dog for a walk anywhere free of distractions and have it heal as you walk. Casually toss the bumper and have the dog hold until commanded, then retrieve it to you (or simply retrieve it if it's not trained to hold). Repeat. For us pointer owners, this can be a great way to keep them steady on the flush for the fall. In short, just because a session doesn't involve live birds, guns or launchers doesn't mean it's not reinforcing or teaching the dog new things. Keep it under five minutes and your dog will remain fired up for the next time, and always end on a good note with tons of praise.
3. Water Water Water! Whether your friend is a webbed foot Labrador who thinks he's Michael Phelps or a German Short Hair that is just a bit hydrophobic, now is the time to work on his water retrieves. For puppies or beginners, simply toss the bumper out to a depth that they can wade to without actually swimming. Lots of positive encouragement is good. For more experienced dogs, throw the bumper as far you dare, so long as you're reasonably confident the dog can handle it. Remember that you're not doing any good when you create a failure--you want to build confidence by pushing the envelope slowly but surely through repetition and lots of praise. Once your dog can handle everything you can throw, enlist the help of a friend to go farther out and throw the bumper deeper while you have the dog at heal. Make sure the friend waves or yells to get the dog's attention before throwing the bumper. Slowly build the distance and be sure to make it fun for the dog! Once the dog is nailing these, feel free to throw out a decoy spread that they have to navigate. Yeah, people will laugh but introducing decoys to a dog in the actual blind is a recipe for disaster. Again, two to five well-done repetitions are way better than twenty that lead a dog to lose interest. Quit while they are still fired up and again, always end on a good, albeit easy note.
4. Ranging and Quartering. Get up early while it's still reasonably cool and make sure the dog is happily hydrated. Bring some water and go "hunting" somewhere free of snakes or other hazards. No, you won't have a gun but instruct the dog to hunt for you however you choose to do that and simply work on controlling it's range and appropriate quartering if it's a flushing dog or work on extending ranges, etc. if it's a steady pointer. Throw in some intermittent "here," "come" or whistle commands and make sure it turns on its heal on the first command, building attentiveness and discipline. The only thing that makes this drill better is if you can do it with birds so the dog is rewarded. But even without, the dog will learn where its boundaries are and become more attentive in the field.
5. Blind Manners. This is one that you can do anywhere, anytime. A well trained dog is a safe dog and nobody wants a dog that runs around the blind, knocking over thermoses or worse, firearms. I see too many folks with dogs that are incredible hunting dogs--great retrievers, huge drive, great workers--but they haven't bothered to train their dogs on how to sit still for long periods of time. So when at home or elsewhere, simply command your dog to remain still however you have chosen to do that--heal, sit, stay, whatever. But teach them that no matter where they are, when you issue that command, it's non-negotiable. You can start by having them do so on a bed or mat--sometimes this makes it easier for them to understand. After they become steady, have them do it again in the same place with said mat removed. Once you are successful, begin having them do it anywhere, with or without you in sight. Remember that if they move, you want to put them back on "the spot" and repeat the command in an even tone.
6. Get Out There. If you have the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to make use of any "pay to play" or training facilities you have within reach. Go EARLY and shoot straight--pen raised birds in an easy cover situation is one of the best things you can do for your dog's confidence. Picabo Angler has a special early season program that starts Mid August, where we encourage you to come on out and knock the dust off while we set the stage for some fun, informative "hunting" situations using pen raised chukar--contact John Huber for details. And don't forget to save the birds! Put them in the freezer and use them later for "dead bird" location, retrieving, tracking or pointing drills.
Most of all, have fun and keep your dog hydrated and cool--when in doubt, stop and cool them off. Make use of these tips and I guarantee you a better start to you hunting season come this fall.