By Brian Johnson
To make your dog’s first duck hunt
a success, you’ve got to think like one!
As a professional duck dog trainer for over 20 years, I’ve trained well over a thousand dogs. I’ve spent so much time around them that I’ve reached the point where I honestly believe I can think like one too. One thing I do know is that on opening day, your newly trained Labrador is probably thinking about some things you aren’t even aware of.
If you can learn to think like your dog, you’ll be able to avoid a few common pitfalls that most dog owners make. Training a duck dog is no easy task, but by avoiding these mistakes you’ll end up with a better duck hunting dog and a more enjoyable hunting season. Below is a list of three common mistakes dog owners make, and the thoughts running through your dog’s head during those little slipups.
Mistake #1 – Ignoring your dog until the season opens
Many well-intentioned owners send their dog to a trainer for several months at a time, and fail to visit the dog in the process. A day or two before the hunting season begins, they frantically call the trainer to pick up Fido for his first hunt.
Fido thinks: “Help! I’ve been kidnapped! Who is this stranger, and where is he taking me? What is this food he’s feeding me? I’m nervous, scared and UH OH … I think I’m gonna have diarrhea!”
The solution: Make sure to schedule a visit with your trainer and your dog at least once a month, and even more so as the season gets closer. Your duck dog should be picked up from the trainer at least 2 weeks prior to your first big hunt. This will allow your dog time to adjust to your family, you and your expectations. The last thing you want is for your duck hunting dog to act like you’re a complete stranger.
Mistake #2 – Surprising your dog on opening day
You wake up at two in the morning, fumble through the dark and load Fido into the truck. You arrive at the duck lease, unload Fido, drop him into the boat and race to your spot. You throw decoys out, climb into the blind with your four best friends, and shoot 12 times at the first flock of ducks that come in. Then you expect your trained lab to perform flawlessly on this first hunt.
Fido thinks: “What’s wrong? Why are we up so early? Is everything OK? Where are we going? Who are all these people? Wait, give me a minute … I need to poop. I’ve never been on a boat ride. Warn me before you take off like that! My toenails are slick on the deck of this boat, and I could fall overboard! Hey, should I fetch those decoys? Why are you throwing so many and making those big splashes? This looks just like when we train. I think I’ll go get a few.”
The Solution: Take Fido on a boat ride to the place he’ll be hunting at prior to your first hunt. If you use an ATV, do the same thing. Train him to sit still while you throw decoys out, then run him from your duck blind. It might be a good idea to have your buddies come along to do a little extra shooting, starting at a distance first and then moving in closer. On the morning of the hunt, be sure to air Fido out and let him go potty. A turd dropped in the front of the boat is no laughing matter! Also, on the first hunt or two, plan on working your duck dog and letting your partners do most of the shooting. This will help Fido catch on much more quickly and pay lifelong dividends.
Mistake #3 – Getting upset with your dog
When Fido doesn’t do so great, you scream, holler, yell, blow a thousand whistles and think about leaving him in the marsh. You’re mad, he’s confused and your friends wish you would just calm down.
Fido thinks: “This sucks! He doesn’t hit but one out of ten ducks he shoots at, and I’m supposed to be a 100 percent on my retrieve? I can’t see squat from this stupid blind, and if he yells at me one more time or even thinks about shocking me again with that darn collar he can swim out there and get his own spoonbill.”
The Solution: Have realistic expectations. The first time I played golf I wasn’t so good. After a few rounds I got better. As long as Fido has the skills, he will become a better duck hunting dog. Make sure your duck dog is in a spot where he can see all the action. Try to have a partner shoot a single over the decoys that will present an easy retrieve so your dog will have some success. If he struggles, walk out to get the bird and toss it for him. Praise him for the retrieve. Be sure to prepare your buddies by telling them this is your dog’s first hunt. Most of all, love your dog and make sure he has fun. And have fun yourself while you’re at it! You got a hunting dog not just to shoot ducks, but to enjoy shooting ducks for it. Duck hunting is a great privilege, and we should cherish each and every hunt.
Avoid these mistakes. Start thinking like your dog – all it takes is a little common sense – and you and Fido will be on the road to happiness together.
About Brian Johnson:
Since his college years, Brian has training dogs for duck hunters. Besides his dog training business, he is the pastor of the Outdoorsman’s Church of Winnie, TX Contact him through www.DuckDogTrainer.com. When he is not preaching, training a dog or hanging out with his family, you can find Brian on a golf course in pursuit of a different kind of birdie!
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