I remember being in the goose fields with some buddies like it was yesterday. We were in a pit blind, but my Lab, Memphis, was outside. She was concealed in her own blind, where she could easily hear commands and make easy retrieves. After we’d waited patiently for a while, a flock of geese crested the horizon and headed for our spread. As the birds got closer, they got louder and louder, double clucking their way to the dekes. We threw open the blind doors, and then a buddy yelled: “Stop! The dog broke.” We immediately changed gears to get Memphis under control.
Memphis is a master hunter with a few years under her belt. Yet even for a seasoned dog, the excitement can be too much to contain. She was fine, but lessons were learned that day. A steady dog is a safe dog, and we all need our gun dogs to be safe. Here are four ways to make sure your dog is steady in the blind.
A denial mark occurs when a dog watches a handler makes a retrieve. Denials teach dogs that not every retrieve is theirs. They also reinforce commands of obedience. Denials are especially useful when running several dogs to train each of the dogs to wait for their turn. Dogs that are used to making every retrieve are more likely to run into the spread before it’s safe or commanded. Use denials as a regular part of your training to help create patience in your dog. If your dog inches forward or breaks during training, that’s a perfect time for a correction and a denial.
Corrections for Breaking
Breaking dogs must be corrected, even if they only creep forward a few feet in anticipation of being sent on a retrieve. When training, as when hunting, there needs to be a crystal-clear line of what is safe and what is unsafe work. Safe work means the dog does not move until commanded.
To correct breaking of any degree, run a denial mark. Then, lead the dog to where it was supposed to sit. That combination teaches the dog that if they move from that spot before a command is given, then they won’t be rewarded with the retrieve.
A black Lab leaping through the air during a training session.
Simultaneously training several dogs is a great way to teach your dog that not every bird is theirs to retrieve. Making your dog wait patiently and watch another dog work is called honoring. I highly recommend handlers work on honoring in the off season. Once hunting season rolls around, the dog is accustomed to sharing the workload with others.
To teach your dog to honor, have it sit calmly at heel behind a working dog. Launch a bumper, and when the working dog is sent, the honoring dog must remain still. If the honoring dog sits up or whines, correct the behavior. Provide direction of what you want the dog to do, so it understands. The dog needs to know it needs to sit quietly until it’s their turn. Honoring should be a lifelong training exercise to ensure safety in the field.
Add Realism to Training
Add as much realism to your training as possible. When training our dogs, we use primer pistols, duck calls, and multiple shooters. We always work the dogs from their stands. If there’s something you think your dog may encounter in the field, recreate it in a training situation. Be sure their first encounter is as controlled as possible, and that they are geared for success.
If all else fails and you’re still worried about breaking, don’t be too proud to secure your dog. That day, I secured Memphis to a stake for safety and was able to work through the breaking. I enjoyed the rest of the hunt with my friends, knowing that she was safe.