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.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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