Spring Training: Getting the most out of your pup

Harrison’s pup Waylon is now six months old. Watching her progress over the last few months has made me evaluate the training I did with Nali when she was a pup. By far the best training I did was consistently taking her to flush birds. Even as Nali reaches 4 years old I plan to take her out this spring for practice. This blog focuses on how to get the most out of spring training.

Live Reps

Get your dog in hunt-like scenarios as often as you can. It doesn’t matter if you’re not flushing tons of birds, the dog will learn the routine, which will put you one step ahead when October comes. My first spring with Nali I spent a lot of time at state parks both on areas open and closed to hunting. To promote chick survival rates you should avoid flushing hens between May 1st and August 1st (Matt Dollison, Iowa DNR), but running your dog the next couple months won’t have any significant effect.

Remember, you’re training yourself as well. As your dog tracks more birds you’ll learn to read her body language. Watch for changes in the dog’s tail, energy level, and any stiff movements. It’s a challenge to follow your dog left when the habitat looks better to the right. That’s where springtime practice provides an opportunity to develop trust in your dog and build the pup’s confidence.

Before hunting with a dog I would spend more time in “promising” areas with no pheasants and less time covering sparse habitat that actually held birds. You must find a balance between getting your dog into the right sections and letting them call the shots. When in doubt, follow your dog.

New Zealand

In New Zealand Max likes to follow a deer that the dog has bumped. Goats often give a young dog multiple chances to point as well. At times your dog will walk down wind and it feels like they’re screwing up when in fact the dog is just getting into better position. It may be hooking around the animal to approach directly down wind.  It will feel like a leap of faith when you’re exhausted and your dog expects you to follow it with the wind at your back. It doesn’t always go your way, but you’d be surprised how often the dog knows what it’s up to.

Mix It Up

If you don’t live near public land, parks that have resident ducks and geese offer learning opportunities. I like working with quail because you can watch them land and flush the covey multiple times to give the dog more reps. They will also keep roosting in the same draws, so you can go back week after week for more training. As long as your dog keeps using its nose without shutting off her ears, you’re making major headway. Many hunting dogs know the sit command in the kitchen, but struggle when distracted by the smell of live birds. So count it as a success every time your pup flushes a bird within range.

Conclusion: No Pressure

Every hunt will present new challenges for you and your dog. It’s incredible to watch as the pup learns to use its nose and the wind. Enjoy the process, and take it slow.  Different dogs develop at different rates. There’s no reason to race when you enjoy what you’re doing. Keep sessions short and focused, only forty-five minutes or so tops. For me, concentration and discipline start to wain after about an hour. Also, there’s no need to run a young dog too hard. You have plenty of time. Good luck.

Enjoy your dog and enjoy hunting, Stu

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