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Transitioning Dogs Between Upland and Waterfowl Seasons

Written by Eukanuba Staff

Years ago, when I was living in Montana, a friend and I frequently hunted at a public access area that had pheasant fields combined with a dozen small ponds that attracted waterfowl. It was common to encounter both ducks and pheasant, and his retriever was happy to work both. What really impressed me, though, was when my friend spotted a flock of ducks making their way toward us. He called his dog over, and the three of us tucked into the cattails. The way his dog made the transition from actively flushing pheasants to holding steady while mallards dropped into the pond was incredible.

GSP on point in broomstraw

Having a dual-purpose dog that can do everything from grouse to geese is an attractive prospect for many hunters who don’t have the space or time for multiple dogs. As it turns out, though, a versatile dog that does double duty doesn’t require double the training.

Teach Your Dog His Place

Ethan Pippitt of Kansas-based Standing Stone Kennels breeds and trains German shorthaired pointers that are just as comfortable in the duck blind as they are pointing a covey of quail.

“We like to say ‘train like you hunt so you don’t have to train while you hunt,’” Pippitt says. “Having a dog that does both is less of a transition and more about early-season preparation. Versatile dogs come in a lot of forms, but we focus on shorthairs because they can be used for everything. No matter what breed of dog you hunt with, obedience training is critical.”

Pippitt is a firm believer that the most important thing to teach a young dog is place.“If your dog has a good understanding of place, the rest is so much easier,” he says. “You can apply it anywhere you are hunting, whether that’s in a boat or on a tree stand in flooded timber. It’s all the same behavior. Incorporating steadiness drills that involve denials, where they watch another dog make the retrieve, is also very important. If you don’t have another dog, go pick up the bumper yourself so the dog learns that they don’t get every single retrieve that’s thrown. By doing that, you end up having a dog that’s a lot more patient.”

Pippitt also makes an interesting point that versatile dogs develop differently from breeds that are strictly focused on retrieving. “If you are wanting a dog to do both, you need to prep for both, and put the emphasis on what the dog is weaker at,” he suggests. “Versatile dogs develop differently from retrievers. A lot of people have this mentality that dogs are dogs. Aspects of that are true, but for the most part a versatile dog’s brain is developed to be independent, and when you start to put a lot of handling and reps into drills, shorthairs tend to get bored. A lot of the time, less is more. Incorporate a few reps and then go on to something else. You always want to keep the dog hungry for more. The biggest mistake I see is overdoing training. There is an art to knowing when to end a training session. Just because you want your versatile dog to be a duck dog doesn’t mean you should train them the way duck dogs have traditionally been trained. You want a dog that is cooperative, but still independently hunting and working, so as a team you can do things together.”

Focus on Obedience

Since the 1980s, Todd and Benita Otterness of Thunderstruck Retrievers in central Minnesota have been breeding, training, and competing with golden retrievers. They are passionate about training retrievers that excel in a variety of hunting situations.

“I grew up hunting ducks, pheasants, geese, and grouse with a dog,” says Todd. “We expect our dogs to do it all.”

Like Pippitt, the Otternesses don’t see waterfowl and upland hunting as distinctly different for a dog.

“So much of the scent tracking and flushing is natural,” says Todd. “It’s not so much of a transition as it is obedience. Focusing on obedience is what allows the dog to perform in a variety of situations.”

“We are teaching a puppy how to sit, how to stay, how to heel, and making that fun for them,” added Benita. “We are creating a relationship with the dog where it learns we are working together. When we are hunting upland game, our cue is ‘hunt ’em up,’ and they know that means it’s time to look for birds and flush.”

Both Todd and Benita stress the importance of making training part of a daily routine.

“Some people think they need a lot of acres and a pond to train a dog,” says Todd. “We are lucky to have those things here, but the majority of the training we do, the average person can do right in their yard, even if they live in town. Teach it in your yard and then take it to the field.”

“Once the dog understands basic obedience and knows what you are asking them to do, we start incorporating distractions,” said Benita. “Think about when you’re running a big field with a group of people and there are other dogs around, whistles, and the usual commotion. Adding distractions really tests a dog and makes sure they are solid.”

What these trainers show is that there’s no reason you can’t have a dog that will jump into a pheasant field after a morning in the duck blind. Developing a dual-purpose dog is certainly achievable if you focus on basic obedience and keep a dog excited about training.


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