- Setting Realistic Expectations For Your Gun Dog
Setting Realistic Expectations For Your Gun Dog
It's finally hunting season and you're excited to get out in the field for your gun dog’s first season. All gun dog owners, myself included, hope their pup will be a hunting machine from the moment they first step foot into the field for a hunt. This is rarely the case. That reality is, your gun dog's first hunt and first hunting season is a learning experience for both of you. To be fair to both of you, it's important to set realistic expectations around the first season and first few hunts. As you take your dog out into the field, here are a few key points to keep in mind.
There's no substitute for an actual hunt.
Perhaps you went out on an early season dove or waterfowl hunt. Did it seem like you had a different dog out hunting than what you've trained all summer? No matter how much we try to simulate a hunt in training, there's nothing quite like an actual hunt. The level of excitement, the sights, smells, etc. can take your dog to another level. That's okay. It's your job as a handler to keep them under control and safe in these new settings.
Your dog is still learning.
Every hunt is a learning experience for your dog, but the learning curve is steepest during the first few hunts and the first season. There's a lot to see and experience for them including your own excitement they have to process and regulate. If you've hunted with a seasoned and well trained gun dog, they will seem to anticipate whats about to happen, have a great cadence with their handler, and be under control. If you are duck hunting, they’ll watch the sky for birds. Your dog may look to the horizon instead of up into the sky. That’s okay too. It takes time for dogs to learn those skills and hunt effectively. Seasoned dogs are seasoned for a reason. They've been through multiple hunting seasons and have learned through various scenarios they've encountered in the field.
Be patient and be consistent.
Have realistic expectations for what your gun dog can do based on what you've trained. For example, don't expect your dog to trail a running rooster for a 1/2 mile right out of the gates if they've never done it before. The likelihood that your dog will be outsmarted by a cunning rooster is high and that's okay. Be patient with your dog as they learn the ropes and go through these learning experiences. However, being patient doesn't mean compromising your training standards in the field. For example, if you are duck hunting and haven't let your dog break in training, why allow it when you are hunting? Hold your training standards in the field and avoid your dog developing bad habits.
Your training will break down during the season.
This may seem like the opposite of the prior point, but there are certain aspects that will break down. An example will help illustrate this point. My dog picks up hundreds of birds every year guiding. At the start of the year, he has great mouth habits with birds. By the end of the season, he gets a "happy mouth" as I call it, and will roll birds or regrip them more than is needed. This is okay. I keep notes on what I want to revisit, and do just that once hunting season is over and we start training again.
As dog owners, the most important thing we can be is fair. Realistic expectations help us to be fair on our journey with our gun dogs. There is no destination with your gun dog - only a continuous learning cycle filled with memories. Enjoy this journey and every hunt with them this hunting season.