Re­triev­ing with ease

Hun­ters have an eth­i­cal obli­ga­tion to re­trieve game birds by what­ever means and re­triev­ing dog breeds will do it nat­u­rally with some ba­sic skills. Mark Davis writes that nei­ther you nor your dog needs to be an ex­pert to achieve re­sults.

Field and Game - - GUNDOGS - With Mark Davis

In this is­sue there is an ar­ti­cle in which Dr Matt Draisma pro­vides some use­ful in­for­ma­tion for the ben­e­fit of shoot­ers who do not own a gun­dog.

He ex­plains how to con­struct and use grap­pling hooks to re­cover birds. Dr Matt has gone to con­sid­er­able trou­ble in de­sign­ing and con­struct­ing th­ese de­vices and I ap­plaud his ef­forts; at the end of the day, it doesn’t mat­ter how we re­cover birds as long as they are brought home for the ta­ble.

But I would ar­gue that un­less there is a le­git­i­mate rea­son for not own­ing a gun­dog i.e. your place of res­i­dence pre­cludes the own­ing of a dog — or maybe you’re a cat lover — then us­ing a gun­dog is far and away the best method of re­cov­er­ing birds.

Dr Matt men­tions my use of the term ‘well trained’ as a re­quire­ment for your dog be­fore tak­ing him hunt­ing; he is quite right, a poorly trained dog will spoil a hunt.

So, what does ‘well trained’ mean — well for duck hunt­ing, your dog does not need to be a Re­triev­ing Trial Cham­pion, but ideally, he should pos­sess some ba­sic skills, like be­ing steady to shot and come when called.

The sit com­mand means sit and do not move un­til in­structed oth­er­wise.

In the last is­sue, I gave ad­vice to a reader on solv­ing some prob­lems that had arisen with his young dog. The sit com­mand elim­i­nates many prob­lems, ob­vi­ously break­ing to shot is one, and poor mark­ing is an­other.

I can guar­an­tee you that dogs on the move do not mark well and this is be­cause they have to take their eyes off the fall to ne­go­ti­ate the ter­rain in front of them.

Teach your dog to sit with high lev­els of dis­trac­tion and temp­ta­tion hap­pen­ing around him. A good sce­nario is dum­mies be­ing thrown and shots fired, with­out your dog be­ing able to re­trieve any of them; well, not the first twenty or thirty any­way.

You will pick them up your­self or have an­other dog re­trieve some of them un­til you de­cide he is be­hav­ing well enough.

Throw many dum­mies, but one should be away from the rest so as not to con­fuse your dog. Let him re­trieve this one, then again place him at sit and pick up the rest your­self. This will teach him that not ev­ery­thing that falls out of the sky is his and to only go af­ter what you send him to. This is not a one-off ex­er­cise, I use it of­ten even with my RT Cham­pi­ons, it keeps them hon­est.

You can also in­tro­duce all man­ner of temp­ta­tions: one I like to use is the shack­led duck (do­mes­tic) — sit the dog and al­low the duck to walk around him, and if you can, fire a shot. The duck might get a fright but no harm comes to the duck, well, not un­til din­ner time any­way.

When out hunt­ing avoid the ‘bang/ fetch syn­drome’. By this, I mean do not send your dog as soon as you fire the shot, make him wait and vary the time be­fore send­ing him. I’ve watched hun­ters in the field do this. What they don’t re­alise is, they are in­ad­ver­tently teach­ing their dogs to break.

The re­call com­mand is really the only other com­mand he needs to know be­fore tak­ing him hunt­ing. You want your dog to come when called when faced with the same types of dis­trac­tions utilised in teach­ing the sit com­mand. Of course, with both ex­er­cises you grad­u­ally in­crease the level of dis­trac­tion ac­cord­ing to the dog’s progress.

There is an­other im­por­tant ex­er­cise to in­clude in re­call train­ing and that is a re­trieve. Send your dog to re­trieve a dummy and when he is re­turn­ing, throw an­other over your shoul­der and call him straight into you.

Grad­u­ally change the an­gle of the throw un­til you can land it right be­side him, this will teach him to ig­nore birds fall­ing around him and con­tinue with the one he has.

There you have it, two train­ing ex­er­cises eas­ily taught and you will have a dog that will be a plea­sure to hunt with.

How­ever, what about di­rec­tional work and blinds (birds my dog hasn’t seen fall), I hear you say. Yep, great skills for your dog to have and as I have writ­ten pre­vi­ously, the more train­ing you put in the more ca­pa­ble he will be­come.

But my point is this — even a gun­dog who is equipped with only the ba­sic skills is go­ing to be far more ef­fec­tive at re­triev­ing your ducks than any other method.

And when it comes to wounded game, the gun­dog has no equal; in cover, swat­ter loads can be in­ef­fec­tual and grap­pling hooks would be use­less.

So, happy hunt­ing ev­ery­one, do the right thing in the swamp, dob in the bludgers who are threat­en­ing our sport — and look af­ter your dogs.

Mark Davis has been a Field & Game mem­ber since 1983 and is happy to an­swer any ques­tions about dog breeds and train­ing meth­ods. Send any ques­tions for our gun dog team to e

di­tor@fiel­dandgame.com.au and in­clude a photo of you and your dogs if you are al­ready an owner. You can read more about Mark and Wendy Davis’ breed­ing op­er­a­tion at www.beeree­gan­labradors.com and find out more about re­triev­ing com­pe­ti­tions and clubs na­tion­ally at www.re­triev­ing.org.au or www.fiel­dandgame.com.au

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