If you have a family dog and it’s not a hunting dog, you’re missing the boat.
If you’re going to put up with, feed and clean up after a shoe-chewing dog, why not one that actually earns its keep? A hunter and his dog are like a baseball player and his glove, like coffee and a cup, like shotgun and shell.
The good news is that a good hunting dog needn’t cost and arm and leg, needn’t be bigger than a compact car, needn’t run free daily over 20,000 acres, and doesn’t require a professional trainer.
If you don’t have room for an 80-pound lab or setter, get a 20-pound cocker spaniel or 35-pound English setter or even a small Labrador. Or train a dachshund to hunt.
Seriously. Dogs are dogs, and any breed or mutt with an instinctive urge to pursue game can be easily trained to be a serviceable hunting companion. Basically you just need to train it to “stop,” “come” and “fetch.” Any dog can learn that.
Here’s how a potential hunt might go with such a dog:
You and “Fee Fee” enter the field. Corn, grass, brush, and woods spread before you. Tell Fee Fee to heel while you cross the fence. Then load your gun and command Fee Fee to “hunt ‘em up.” If she gets too far for your comfort, give the “stop” command, usually “whoa” or “hup,” but it could be “sit,” which Fee Fee needs to learn anyway.
Whistle Blasts Good For Long-Range Commands
Most hunters overlay the voice command with a long blast of a whistle. Gives you longer range control outdoors. A staccato burst of whistles can be the “come” call. With the dog stopped, you catch up. Then release her again.
If you wish to turn and go on another route, give the “come” command. It’s just that simple. Fee Fee will run, sniff, snoop, investigate, and eventually put up a bird. Shoot it, command “fetch” and she should bring it back.
It’s really that basic. Obviously you’ll need to introduce the dog to the sound of gunfire, done gradually with increasingly loud sounds while the dog is romping, feeding or otherwise preoccupied and having a great time. You train the dog to fetch, even if it does this instinctively, by making it open its mouth and hold things when you give the fetch command. Gradually extend this so she reaches for the item, then walks over to pick it up. Reward, not punishment, leads to progress. Thus trained, a dog will fetch on command.
A Rope Aids Training
You might train Fee Fee to quarter and stay within shotgun range. This is usually done with a rope about 15- to 20 yards long. When Fee Fee nears the end of the rope, command “come” or “turn.” Then turn and walk the opposite direction. The dog soon learns that “turn,” when ignored, results in an unpleasant tug at the neck, so when she hears “turn” and sees you turning, she runs that direction. You can add hand signals. Pretty soon you hardly turn or zigzag at all, but the dog does.
A delightfully easy way to train quickly is with the aid of an electronic collar. These devices may vibrate, emit a sound, or project an impulse similar to a static electric shock. An e-collar I use (D.T. Systems SPT 2432) includes a vibration mode plus a beeper locator I can activate to “hear” a distant dog. I’ve never “lost” a dog that was wearing an e-collar.
Don’t be afraid to train your own hunting dog. And don’t assume that it won’t make a good family pet, indoors or out. My setter sleeps quietly in the house, bothering no one unless called over for a rub. When we get afield, she’s a ball of bird-finding energy. Nice combination.