Hunting Dead and Tracking

As stated earlier in the retrieve training piece, the idea is that the dog is responsible for bringing to you the birds that you shoot. Simply put, the dog must be conditioned to the fact that when you shoot, there is then something on the ground in the cover for him to look for, pick up and bring to you.

We have covered the idea of how to get the dog to go out on command and bring you something, a dummy, a shot bird, etc. that he knows is there. In this piece we will cover how to get the dog to find and bring you birds that it may not be aware have fallen.

One has to face up the idea that bird shooting over a dog is is not always like it us drawn up in the Currier and Ives paintings, with perfectly mannered dogs and better mannered birds perfoming in blissfull concert with gunners who never miss. In fact, especially with a young dog, once the birds are in the air, calamity reigns in most cases. The dog points, you walk in and flush...a hen pheasant...the dog chases it off as you bring your gun down and are startled out of your socks by a rooster that flushes...two steps behind you, which you wheel and miss...twice. The dog flushes another bird in his chase and is heading over the hill and when you blow your whistle to call him back and flush another bird from right where the dog was originally pointing, with your last shell, you scratch this bird down as it cackles off into the wind. It tumbles into the grass. You look around and your dog is nowhere to been seen, still of in his merry games. You hustle over to where the bird fell and there is nothing there and your dog is still nowhere to be seen.

By the time your dog regains his limited senses and responds to your calls and whistles (which have scared the wounded bird even further off) a very difficult tracking job now faces an inexperienced pup. The dog has no idea that a bird is there until it picks up the faint scent of the airwashed bird, probably by accident. The stronger scent of running birds still unfound in the area and the memory of flushing birds tempts the pup with more fun elsewhere.

You end up screaming at the dog, losing the cripple and worse, convincing your dog that such situations drive you nuts and give him no reason to stick around and listen to you rant and rave when he could easily be off finding other birds and having fun.

This scene is repeated ad nauseum across the country every season and I myself had the starring role more times than I care to remember with my first dog. Such performance is counterproductive but on the other hand, is completely curable.

I like to avoid this by setting the dog up in training to learn that there is always more fun to be had around you than off on his own and that gunfire means that he should actually want to come in close to you and take you cues to find the downed bird.

I start by always planting more than one bird for the young dog in training. Put the birds out on opposite sides of his hunting course at least 100 yards apart and repeatedly flush and miss on purpose, the first bird. The young dog, especially, if you have the dog whoa trained, will get used to this bird flying off after he points it. You can reinforce this idea with the command "Gone away" as you start to hunt on to the second bird, which you kill for him. Vary your course of training alot so the dog cannot anticipate where the second bird will be and therefore, must hunt along with you to find it.

It helps if the dog is well trained to stop (or "whoa") on command and come when called. A long lead can be a big help through this bit of training. The pup will still get the idea that he is not to bother with those birds that fly off and to concentrate on finding the next bird to he can retrieve it for you when shot. Another little gem of an idea that I picked up somewhere along the way for reinforcing this is when you are out hunting, always be sure that there is something for the dog to look for and retrieve after you shoot. I have gone as far as to carry a frozen pigeon with me in case I miss alot. When you shoot and miss and the pup chases off, toss a dead bird (one from your game bag or otherwise) into the cover where you are and call the dog back. Pup should be used to this if you do some training ahead of time. When he gets back to you, motion toward the "fallen" bird and command "dead bird". Once pup gets used to always finding fallen birds near you everytime you shoot, the chasing of missed birds and in my case, hen pheasants, will cease. It is necessary to run this little drill everytime the dog points for a time during his first season. Once he is coming back after the shot without much prompting from you, you can cut it back a bit. Hopefully, you will also be dropping enough of the birds he points so that he will start to get the "whole picture" on his own very quickly by the time you have taken him on several weekends worth of outings. As I have mentioned, I am a big believer in the trained retrieve or "force training" as it used to be called method of ensuring that the dog will be a reliable retriever. I do recommend waiting until the dog is a year old and preferably also been through a hunting season with you before you go down that road, however. One can also go even further and train your bird in "tracking", that is, to condition the dog to but his nose to the ground and follow the trail of a wounded bird or other game that is trying to escape. This is particularly helpful on pheasants. The North Amercian Versatile Hunting Dog Association puts out a manual that contains complete instructions on how to train a dog to track. As I hunt with a German Shorthair, one of the continental breeds, I don't find this really necessary as it is a large part of their make-up and instinct to drop their nose to the ground regularly when searching for game. She seemed to figure out the "wounded bird" drill pretty well on her own during the season. You will have to judge for yourself on whether or not you need to spend time on this with your dog. In any event, with a little extra effort on your part, particularly during the hunting season, you can bring out a more truly effective performance from your dog and avoid alot of grief for the both of you and put those downed birds in your bag quickly and with lilttle fuss.
come, whoa and heel!!)

The Introducing your dog to birds
The "Whoa!" command
The "Come!" command
The "Heel!" command
Backing and Honoring for Dummies!

-The Bird Dog Bookshelf-