With opening day of dove season this weekend there will be a lot of new pups going on their first hunt. I personally have a love/hate relationship with dove hunting because you can really screw up a dog on their first hunt if you don’t do things right. Plus, if there are no birds flying and it’s 100 degrees out it can be pretty miserable for both you and the dog.
The number one rule I always have when taking a dog on their first hunt is to remember to HAVE FUN! This is most likely going to blow their mind if there are a lot of birds flying so I always tell their owners if you are going to take your dog, prepare to not shoot for the first half of the hunt so you can focus on your dog. I would retrieve the first dove myself, bring it back and toss it right in front of the dog so we have a really close retrieve, then I will let him retrieve a close shot bird next, and once we have that under control I am going to start letting them jump into the game and start retrieving the doves.
I never expect the dog to be 100% perfect and I don’t get on to them constantly during their first hunt because I could take their drive and love away really quick because they could easily associate hunting with discipline. We want to make them love the game first then slowly add rules. I have talked about this concept before in a previous post when talking about teaching a dog to retrieve. We do the same things when teaching a child to play baseball. We start with T-ball and slowly add rules to the game. I still expect my dogs to behave while we are hunting but I’m not looking for perfect retrieves or handling. I do expect the dog to sit calmly and quietly beside me. If i have dog that is whining their head off and not calming down then we are going to go back to the truck. I am not going to reward the dog for whining by letting them retrieve a bird.
Beware that some dogs are just NOT dove dogs and never will be. I have one dog that just can’t handle a dove in his mouth no matter what you do. I have tried every method you can think of from old school to new methods and he just can’t do it. Remember a dove is essentially a dog holding the freshest best treat in the world in their mouth so for a dog to not just swallow a dove takes some training.
I always take a bumper just in case there are no birds flying because you don’t want to make them sit outside all afternoon in this heat and not be rewarded for good behavior (sitting calmly). I have also resorted to shooting crows so they could have something to retrieve but I have only had one dog interested in retrieving crows. The rest want nothing to do with them (I can’t blame them).
Another thing to remember-and I can’t stress this enough- BE CAREFUL and watch your dog close. They can overheat QUICK in this heat. If you suspect your dog is overheated, never throw them into a pond or body of water as this can trap the heat in and not cool them off. The thing you want to do is put ice on their belly, in between their toes, on the tips of their ears, and get them in your truck with some air conditioning or in the shade. You want to put ice where their skin is so you can cool them off quicker. I have only had to do this to a dog one time when they were suspected to be overheating after a long run in a hunt test. I am extremely cautious when it comes to the heat and I don’t mess around. I only dove hunt in the evenings if I am going to take a dog I always sit in the shade.
My next blog post will be about what I never leave home without when traveling or hunting with a dog. Stay tuned and happy hunting!!!