How to Break a Gun Shy Dog
When it comes to good hunting dogs I have to admit that I am far from being an expert on the subject. In fact when it comes to a good gun dog you will get as many suggestions and techniques as you will ever want if you ask enough people. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and the proof of a good gun dog is realized in a waterfowl blind or in a grassy upland field. It is then that the old saying” When the tail gate drops, the B.S. stops “ comes into play.
I have asked for the assistance of my good friend Jeff Foiles who is owner and operator of Foiles Migrators Strait Meat mallard, and honker waterfowl calls. Jeff also holds more calling titles than I have time to list here. With some good sound advice and taking the time to do it right you may well find yourself with a top gun dog to enjoy not only as a hunting companion but as a well behaved friend as well.
Let’s start with buying the right pup. Jeff advises that you should never buy a pup from a pet store, or even from the neighbor down the street who just happens to have some lab pups without checking out the dog’s bloodlines. Jeff is quick to add that not only should you check out one side of the family tree but more importantly both sides of the family tree. Good intelligence capabilities are very important Jeff stresses.
The next step in preparing a good gun dog is to find a good trainer. Find a trainer that will take the time that is needed in training your dog, Jeff adds. Many trainers take on more dogs than they can handle. When this happens you come out the loser. Jeff uses Scott Geisler from Galene Michigan. Scott trains a limited amount of dogs at one time, and takes great pride in training dogs that nearly anyone can hunt with.
Another important thing to remember Jeff says is that you yourself must be trained as well as your dog. You must know how to use the commands but more importantly you must know when to use the commands.
One of the most important steps in training your gun dog is to force break the dog. This phase of his training will take about thirty days. The force breaking training starts when your dog has gotten his set of adult teeth. This particular training teaches respect and discipline. Force breaking teaches the dog to hold onto a downed bird until you give him the command to release the bird to your hand. One great sign that your dog has learned this phase well is to witness the dog come out of the water with bird in mouth and resist the urge to shake and drop the bird.
Jeff stresses to work your dog in as many varied types of cover and hunting situations as possible. Work the dog out of a boat, or a pit blind, or in heavy cover Jeff advises. This teaches the dog to be at ease in any hunting situation. More than once in his guiding experience Jeff has seen a hunter bring his retriever to a pit blind for the first time only to have the dog jump into the pit knocking over thermos bottles of hot coffee and knocking down precious shotguns in the process. A dog that does not know how to act in the particular hunting environment that he finds himself in can ruin many a good hunt. By working him in as many types of hunting situations as you can, you will condition your dog to react properly and make a more enjoyable hunt for everyone Jeff adds.
Jeff is a firm believer in using an electronic collar. Jeff prefers the Tri-tronics collar in working with his dogs. Jeff advises that you resist the urge to physically discipline your hunting dog. All this does is make your dog scared of you Jeff says, and it also leaves him confused as to what you want out of him. When you push the button on the electronic collar all the dog gets is a sore neck, but he realizes the behavior that he was exhibiting is not acceptable and will learn not to repeat it in the future.
If you go off on the dog with a temper induced rage all you have done is give your dog a destructive lesson Jeff firmly states. Use the collar and spend the time to do it the right way and you won’t be sorry.
Blind retrieves are another important step in training your gun dog. This writer in fact has seen many a good upland dog do some blind retrieves that were nothing short of phenomenal. Many hunters use a whistle for this type of retrieve, and very effectively I might add. Again the electronic collar is custom made for this type of training. IF the dog does not respond to a your command the button is pushed for the collar and the dog is reinforced not to repeat the problem behavior.
Good bloodlines, patience, a competent dog trainer, and actual hunting experience make for all the right ingredients for a good gun dog. Jeff’s black lab Buck who has since passed away exhibited all of these qualities and then some. I often marveled at how well this dog worked when hunting geese with Jeff.
Many times the big black lab would come prancing back to the goose pit or blind with not one but two big fat honkers tucked into his velvet mouth that was so soft he could retrieve a piece of fine crystal and you needn’t worry.
Buck had more heart than nearly any dog I have ever hunted over. I remember well one bone chilling day in Michigan where I was goose hunting with Jeff. The big hearted dog came over and kept this old writer warm and comfortable by cuddling up to me in the twenty below zero cold. He was a one of a kind, and even today you will seldom hear Jeff talk of him because of the painful loss of his passing.
Great gun dogs are dogs that someone took the time to do everything right with. They are not born that way, nor are they some super natural creature. They are simply dogs that have been trained and were trainable both important factors in this complex equation. If you want a great gun dog, follow the tips that Jeff has shared and I think you will find yourself a companion who will give you a lifetime of great memories as well as a warm cuddle on a cold winter’s day.
Great gun dog, they are made not born that way.