Gone Hunting: Choose the perfect dog for the perfect hunt
I can recall comedy legend Gallagher smashing watermelons on stage with a sledgehammer and talking about “style.”
“You gotta have style!”
I am a huge advocate of “style” when it comes to the dogs I prefer to hunt with.
What is your style? People who want to hunt with a dog need to ask themselves that question, and the answer is going to depend a lot on what type of game they plan to hunt.
There are a myriad of breeds of dogs to choose from: golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, pointers, setters and spaniels, just to name a few.
Waterfowl hunters (ducks and geese) would most likely not choose the same breed of dog as the upland hunter (pheasants, grouse and quail).
Choosing to hunt with a dog is a huge responsibility and a risky business. There are absolutely no guarantees when a hunter chooses a breed and then picks a puppy.
I have hunted with dog-owners during the past 40 years whose dog couldn’t find a bowl of dog food.
A hunter can take some of the risk out of the equation by doing homework. Research is the key to starting out with a puppy that has the potential to be a great hunting companion for the next 10 to 12 years.
A person should look at pedigrees. What have the dame and sire of the puppy done? Are they good hunters? Were they natural retrievers? Did they point at a very early age? You can count on the puppy having many of the same characteristics as its mom and dad.
Hunters can also learn a lot about that puppy by doing their homework on the owner/breeder. What type of situation did that puppy come from? The first seven weeks in the life of that puppy are critical in its psychological development.
I have seen several “professional” breeders I would not take a chance on.
I have had puppies from Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska in the past 40 years. My best hunter and companion dog came from what I would term a “hobby breeder” right here in Greeley.
Once you have decided where or from whom you are going to buy your puppy, the work really begins.
Raising a puppy to become a hunting companion, and I might add, a good and reliable hunting companion, takes a lot of time and patience.
You cannot kennel a dog for seven months and then expect that dog to be a reliable hunter.
I like to have my puppy when it gets to be 49 days old. I think this is the perfect age to begin that bonding process that is so very important to the “team.”
My most recent pup is a male from Bob Merkel’s Wrenegade Kennel in Jessup, Iowa.
At 4 months old, Autie knows his basic commands – come, stay, heel and whoa. He also retrieves to hand as long as we are in a controlled environment.
Never tell your puppy to do something you cannot enforce immediately. He will learn quickly that he does not need to do what he is told.
I am an upland game bird hunter, and once again, upland hunters use different dogs than waterfowlers.
We also teach our dogs different commands because we are in pursuit of different game. For example, I would never teach one of my dogs to sit. There is no practical purpose for an upland hunting dog to sit.
Repetition, consistency, praise and patience are the keys to having your puppy ready for that first hunt. Do the same thing every day, twice to three times a day.
Don’t get your puppy bored. Sometimes your lesson may last only minutes. Move on to something else. Come back to that lesson later in the day for a few minutes again.
When he gets it right, praise and encouragement are your best bet. Scolding a puppy rarely gets you the desired outcome.
I do believe in “style points.” Shooting birds can be accomplished by just about anyone, even the occasional hunter. Shooting birds with a buddy that you have raised and coached and bonded with takes that hunting experience to heights that go beyond explanation.
I am sure that is why I look forward to the bird hunting seasons with such anticipation.
Remember to do your homework and then teach with love and logic. Style points do matter.
Jim Vanek is a longtime hunter who lives in Greeley with his family
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