At 3:00am we where making our 3hr. drive to our goose pit in Alberta. Gary (which I will hold his last name) was doing the driving while I tried to keep Buster from spilling coffee all over me. You see, Buster thought I was in his seat so I had very little room besides that Gary feeds his dog six pieces of cheese every morning if he can get him out of their bed; see he sleeps with his 90lb.wife and a 110lb. beast. The smell was terrible I mean bad!!! This was just a preview of what was to come. He would break as the geese were 90 yards out and on the geese we did manage to kill Buster wouldn’t even retrieve them. You could almost see the evil in the dogs’ eyes as Gary was praising the dog with “Good Boy”. Gary said “ He must just be cold I’ll just give him a little snack to warm him up.” You guessed it more cheese!
It only got worse as the day went on, as was the drive home. Here are a few tips to keep your cool this season as well as you hunting partners. First off ask your buddy if you can bring your dog especially if you are hunting his blind!
Keep your dog in a dog box. It’s safer for you and him (McDonald’s coffee is awful hot).
Keep him on a leash when outside the truck. He will actually enjoy it as well as it sets his mood. This will keep things manageable at the launch with all the commotion of other dogs and hunters rushing to get their gear organized. You see by showing control from the start, it is much easier to control the dog during the hunt.
If you have trouble with a dog breaking just tie him up. Don’t set the dog up to fail. By the way it’s a good idea to tie him in the boat as well. It makes for a much more pleasant ride especially if the dog is not all wet!
If you set you decoys out prior to opening day it’s a good idea to take your dog along and run some drills with him so he will know what to expect. Loading up, riding in the boat and even the surroundings around the blind are all going to be new to him. Throw some bumpers for him from the blind, as this will create a realistic atmosphere. I was talking with a friend who knew of a guy who spent a ton of money on training and opening day the dog would not even jump off the dog platform. You can’t blame this one on the trainer!
If you have a new dog or hunting a new location, plan on hunting for the dog not yourself especially for the first few volleys. Don’t even shoot; work the dog and make sure he doesn’t break and that he marks the birds. If you have been training with an electric collar LEAVE IT AT HOME! I have seen too many dogs ruined on their first outing. Everything is new to him and he is going to make a few mistakes. If you burn him with the collar without him knowing what you want he will be either shy of that location or completely shut down on you. Think of it as taking a kid hunting for the first time. Use the first few days for teaching him the ropes. You have made a big investment in a hunting companion for the next 8 or 9 years don’t blow it on the first day!
A very good veterinarian friend of mine has Claiborne Animal Clinic in Homer. John Tinsley had a few tips as well. “Dogs should be exercised prior to the season. There is a great amount of physical stress put on a dog in the field and by having your dog in top physical condition it is less likely the he will injure himself with a ruptured ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)”. John also suggests feeding a super premium quality food such as Pro Plan Performance or Eukanuba. After all how many pro athletes do you see eating at fast food restaurants! “Feed the dog at night before the mornings hunt and then again after. If twice a day feedings are not suited to your situation then the best time to feed is at night”.
Make sure you dogs vaccinations are up to date. You will lessen the odds that he will succumb to disease while under this much stress. “If traveling be aware of diseases prevalent in those areas such as Lymes Disease in the Northeast”. In extreme cold conditions use a dog vest. It will cut down bruising and cuts from the ice. “Make sure the vest fits snugly in order to keep him warm”.
“As duck hunting and water go together be sure to check the dogs ears daily. Ear infections (otitis) are relatively common among retrievers”. If noticed early, remedies can be simple. If left unnoticed you may end up going without “Fido” for a week or more.
If while hunting you notice your dog is unsure on some things or develops a problem then spend the time to show him what it is you want. Work him through these problems either during a lull in the action or after the hunt but DO IT and do it at the blind! I had a problem last year with my new 7-month-old chocolate lab “Lady”. She did not want to jump off a point in front of my blind since it was shallow water and I feel she must have hurt herself by launching off like “Superman”. We immediately worked her through that. It took a little while but John was with me on that morning and he understood the importance of it. So what we were 2 birds shy of a limit. We can make that up this year. All three of us!