Dove hunting starts the bird season in September, and various birds are in game through February. Having a good bird dog is a definite asset to the hunter. According to Walt Barnes, local duck hunter and dog trainer, the three most important factors in training a dog for hunting ducks or other birds are being obedient, being in shape, and being safe.
Being obedient means the dog pays attention to its owner. It must sit, stay, and heel on command, as well as retrieve and hold a bird. A dog’s natural tendency is to go after the bird and keep it. So the dog owner must teach the dog that the duck belongs to his owner and the dog is to bring it back to his owner. A good practice annually is to reintroduce training beginning in June for the upcoming hunting season.
Being in shape means healthy eating and getting exercise. This is true for both the dog and the hunter. Running, jumping, and traipsing through wooded areas are part of hunting. An unfit dog will not have the stamina or the energy for the hunt. Safety is always an important factor in any activity. Having a well-trained, physically fit dog will make it easier for the hunter to control both him/herself and the dog. Know where the dog is before firing a gun. Watch for other hunters and their dogs. Check your dog after the hunt for foxtails, sticks, ticks, cuts, scrapes, and in winter months for ice.
Most important of all is to remember that a dog is a dog. So be patient and use lots of praise. You should both end the training session with wagging tails.
For healthy eating, Howard’s Meat Center sells specially blended meat mixes such as “Chicken Barf,” a blend of various white meats, and “Beef Barf,” a blend of beef heart and beef liver, are especially tasty dinner options for dogs. “Barf,” by the way, doesn’t mean what you think: it stands for “biologically appropriate raw food.” Howard’s also stocks knucklebones and various jerkies for man’s best friend. A special favorite of dogs is “Beef Heart Jerky.”