Time For A New Bird Hunting Dog?
By Chris Larsen
Hunting with a well trained dog is a true pleasure. Whether you pursue upland birds or waterfowl, having a canine hunting partner just adds to the enjoyment of the experience. Some bird hunters would never dream of hunting without a dog. These guys have kennels, runs, and more training equipment than your local outdoor retailer. If you’re considering your first hunting dog, you don’t need all that stuff. However, there are some serious questions you need to ask yourself before looking at litters.
A puppy is like a baby except it cries more and you can’t put a diaper on it. It poops on the floor. You can’t take it with you to anyone’s house. It digs holes in your yard. It howls in the middle of the night. It’s a puppy. It doesn’t do this to make you mad(although I had a puppy that I’m sure took a lot of pleasure in angering me). The first few weeks of having a puppy in your house is a difficult transition. The pup has spent his first seven or eight weeks with his littermates. Now there is no other canine in his life. He’s trying to figure out who his leader is, where his food is, and where he can do his… business. It’s up to you to be the leader. Here’s where it gets tricky for a lot of new dog owners. You can’t be too soft. But a lot of guys lose patience and become tyrants. Good leaders, in the dog world and the human world, put their charges in a position to succeed. A successful student makes the student and teacher look good. A pup that is constantly berated or beaten will become hesitant at best, aggressive at worst. If you have the patience to be a good dog leader, the rest of his training will be a lot easier.
A puppy also takes a lot of time. For kennel dogs, house training isn’t really an issue. But most first time dog owners will have the dog in the house. Let’s face it, most hunting dog owners will hunt their dogs about 30 days a year at most. So the dog needs to be a good companion and housemate the other 335 days. His first job is housetraining. This takes time and determination. I have always crate trained pups and believe it is the best method for housetraining a dog. To do it effectively, you may need to take the pup outside every hour or so at the beginning. We brought our last pup home on a Friday night and my wife took the following Monday & Tuesday off. I took Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off. Our puppy had eleven straight days of attention from his human leaders. By the end of that time, he knew where to do his business, to come when called, and to sit. He is now seven years old and has never “gone” in the house since. Perhaps we were a little compulsive, but the time commitment was worth it.
Of course, we were not done yet. We took turns coming home for lunch for about a year to make sure he could get outside for a little exercise and relief. And the training wasn’t done. You’ll need to invest a lot of time if you want your dog to perform. Whether it’s housetraining, pointing, or blind retrieves, constant repetition is required for optimum results.
There is a significant monetary investment as well. I’ve hunted behind some very competent “junk” dogs in my time. And if you’re willing to go that route, good luck to you. However, most people who plan to hunt their dogs will want to purchase a dog with some pedigree from a reputable breeder. These dogs won’t be found in the bargain bin of your local classified section. But the dollar signs don’t end there. You’ll need to take him to a veterinarian for examinations and vaccinations. If the dog is being exercised properly, he’s going to need a quality diet. If the family goes on vacation, the dog will need to be boarded. In my neck of the woods, ticks are rampant in the fall. My dog needs tick protection and a Lyme’s vaccine. Do you hear that ringing sound? That’s the sound of an excited cash register.
Dirt & Hair
This is the deal breaker for a lot of people. Dogs shed. They have dirty paws. If you let him jump on you with your hunting vest on, he’s going to jump on you with your business suit on. Dogs don’t know they are dirty. My wife loves our dog. But she hates the trail of hair that follows him around the house. We vacuum constantly to stay on top of the hair. If we plan to wear black clothing, we don’t get dressed until we’re about ready to leave the house.
Owning a dog is a lot like having kids. You are proud and happy when they reach their potential. My eyes may have watered the first time my dog happily brought a bird to hand. It was the culmination of all the time and training we both put in. We were a team. But just like kids, there will be moments that you can feel your hair turning gray or leaving your head permanently. They will test you. They will make you red in the face. They will make you wonder if you were really ready.