posted on August 13, 2005 00:00
Sunday, September 16, 2001
Learning The Hard Way : Let Your Dog Be Your Hunting Partner
Ray Mulé, FWP wildlife biologist
It’s been said that a dog’s nose is a million times more sensitive than a human’s. Most of the time, when bird hunting, a dog’s nose will also be more reliable than your brain. In addition, the dog may also surprise you by learning and retaining a lot more than you thought and by how well he responds to a few carefully chosen, often repeated commands. In fact, the hardest lesson to learn may be to trust what your dog is telling you. Here are some tips for bird hunters as they look forward to pheasant season, which begins for residents October 6-7, with the general pheasant season opening October 8 across the state. Trust Your Dog’s Nose Once when I was out in the field, a wild eyed hunter appeared babbling about how he should have trusted his dog. He told me the following story: "My dog was locked solid on point. I walked out in front of the dog and started kicking around trying to flush the bird. I stomped and kicked for several minutes and nothing happened. The dog remained locked up, but I couldn’t believe there was a bird there. I kicked around some more and nothing happened. I finally started yelling at the dog to move on, but he wouldn’t budge. I kept telling the dog to get going, and he finally took a step. At that instant, a huge rooster pheasant exploded at my feet. I was so flabbergasted that I didn’t even shoot. The bird flew off, but the dog was still pointing right at my feet. When I looked down I saw several long rooster tail feathers sticking out from under my boot!" The moral of this story is trust your dog’s nose. Let The Dog Do Its Job Always give your dog a chance to succeed before you assume he has failed. This has happened to me more than once, especially with pheasants in tall grass. I shoot at a bird and it falls out of the sky like a rock. It must be stone cold dead, right? The dog makes a beeline to the bird, noses around for a second or two, then continues on like a racehorse headed for the finish line. He’s over the hill and out of sight. I assume that he has hit the scent of another live bird which, of course, is much more interesting than a dead one. I wait in quiet exasperation while the dog is nowhere to be found. I finally reach the boiling point, and start yelling and screaming for the dog to come back to the area of the fallen bird. Imagine my surprise when the dog comes from who knows how far away with, you guessed it, a crippled rooster! A humbled hunter can only say, "Good dog." Keep It Quiet And Keep It Simple Try not to yell at your dog and keep the commands to a minimum. The dog only understands the English that you teach him. A few obedience commands given quietly at the appropriate times and the occasional "good boy" for a job well done are the only things your dog needs to hear from you. The dog will handle the rest of your gibberish the same way my wife deals with mine - by ignoring it. A hunting buddy of mine, who will remain unnamed for obvious reasons, had a lax attitude when it came to disciplining his dogs. They were potentially good dogs, but with little or no training and a tendency to run out of control and flush birds out of range. I suggested he get an electric collar--we never call them shock collars anymore-- and I could help him use it properly for training and command reinforcement. He did buy an e-collar, read the book and tried it out on one of his dogs. But he abandoned the idea after the dog yelped when he inadvertently used a little too much "juice." The next time we went hunting, the dog was out of control as usual. I’ll never forget my friend running after his dog shouting, "If you don’t start listening, I’m going to put the shock collar on you!" The moral of this story is keep it quiet and keep it simple. Of course, this only applies to the handler/dog relationship - eloquent pontificating on the great issues of the day is otherwise an integral part of the upland experience! Good luck in the uplands this fall! And be kind to your canine companions.