January has passed. And with it, bird hunting seasons have come to a close in most states. While we find enough to keep busy and in shape, what about our hunting companions? Though the season is over, don’t neglect keeping your dog physically and mentally ready to hunt.
Bird preserves are an option for extending hunting conditions for you and your dog. Hunting preserves may not be for everyone, but for some, it’s where they do most of their hunting, and for good reason.
Bottom line, preserves are a solid option for getting your dog on birds, and with seasons running through March in many states, hunting season is greatly extended. Here, your dog will benefit from many bird encounters and it is also great conditioning.
In order to optimize your dog’s fitness level, run it twice a day. An early morning run is a great way to start the day, and we’re not talking just chucking a ball a few times. Jogging with your dog, or biking a couple miles before work, is a fun, efficient way to tone a dog’s muscles and keep weight off.
In the evening, run the dog again. This time, mix in some bumper work, either working from piles, placing at extended ranges or tossing them. Work on hand and voice signals and maintain obedience.
In mild climates, water training can be done year-round. Working on water entries is a good way to keep your dog in shape while reinforcing compliance. Practice entering the water through mud, tall grass, amid rocks and from elevated platforms.
You can also take a canoe, kayak or paddleboard out, with your dog swimming alongside. As spring approaches, and all through the summer, water training is a great option for keeping your dog cool and in shape.
Jess Spradley, owner of Cabin Creek Gundogs, a well-known trainer of many breeds, has this to offer: “Working with bird wings you saved is a great way to help dogs locate and hold a point. If a dog was not hunting well with another dog last season, working multiple dogs with wings can help remedy this.”
Not only are bird wings great training tools, so are birds. Pigeons and quail can be purchased for training purposes. Some late season hunting may also be done. Check your state’s game bird regulations to see what invasive species can be hunted. In my home state of Oregon, starlings, rock doves and Eurasian-collared doves are prized off-season training tools. Not only do these birds allow a dog to increase retrieves, but to stay accustomed to gunshots, mark birds and hone hand signal and whistle recognition skills.
Dummy launchers are a valuable off-season training tool. Dummy launchers allow your dog to track objects through the air, manage anxiety through obeying commands once the dummy has been fired, and offer longer retrieves to be made than simply tossing a dummy by hand.
Dummy launchers are ideal for keeping your dog from getting gun-shy and afford visual and audible training tactics to be employed, be it from handheld or remote launchers. As your dog progresses, having multiple, stationary launchers allows for dummies to be cast via remote, simulating being afield with multiple hunters.
“As soon as hunting season’s over, start working on things your dog struggled with,” sums up Spradley. “The last thing you want is your dog to become lazy, out of shape and noncompliant.” For serious hunters, there is no off-season when it comes to working with their canine companion. n