Here’s a wake-up call for upland bird hunters, not a day too soon:
“It takes six to eight weeks to get your dog into shape for hunting season,” said gun dog expert Jim Closson of Boise.
“Be sure to introduce the dogs to the birds that you will be hunting,” said Closson. “I once met an owner who only trained with pigeons. His dog was great at retrieving pigeons but he would not pick up any other bird.”
Here’s the rest of a preseason checklist for hunters with a canine companion:
• Veterinary care – Bring vaccinations up to date, treat for parasites.
• Identification – Consider microchips or tattoos, but at the very least be sure the dog is fitted with a collar that includes a contact name plate riveted in place.
• Obedience – Dogs should be well trained to respond to off-leash commands under distractions.
• Conditioning – Dogs (and hunters) need to be walking and running to build stamina and condition feet well in advance of opening day.
• Swimming – Believe it or not, some dogs need to learn how to swim. Even water-loving retrievers need to get plenty of preseason swim conditioning.
• Socialization – Get the dog accustomed to being around other dogs.
• “Leave it” – A command every field dog should know in order to prevent it from getting into something harmful, such as snakes, poison bait or drinking stagnant water that could hold giardia. (Always have fresh water for your dogs.)
• Retrieving – Dogs should go through retriever program to fetch and bring a bird to hand. Some trainers recommend starting with bumpers, advancing to frozen birds, then fresh-killed birds and finally live, banded birds to make sure the dog has a soft mouth.
• Most important – be sure the dog’s completely gun-sure. Introduce gunfire at a distance while the dog is at a heightened level of confidence and gradually, over days, work the sound closer to the dog, always while it is doing something fun or absorbing.
Taking your dog to a trap range and tying him to the bumper of a truck and shooting all around him is not a good way to introduce it to guns.
Do this right the first time or your dog could be gun-shy for good.
A proven way is to begin by having your dog chase some clipped-wing or Velcro-winged pigeons. Once its confidence is high, introduce a small-caliber gun like .22 starter pistol at a distance of 100 yards.
Done correctly, a hunting dog will love the sight and sound of a shotgun.