November 30, 2009
How To Turn Your Pup Into a Boat Dog
By David DiBenedetto
When it came to being a boat dog Pritchard had no choice. When she and I are not in the woods, we’re in a boat trying to catch some fish. Since Pritch was a puppy I’ve been taking her with me on almost every outing, and she now has an excellent pair of sea legs. But not every gun dog takes to a boat with ease, especially in the smaller crafts we use to hunt ducks. This is not something you want to discover on opening morning.
Here are a few ways to insure your pup will hop right in (and out) when it comes time to float for some birds:
Beach the Boat: If you have access to a small johnboat, drag it up on shore and have your pup jump in and out while the boat is stable. Let her sniff around and explore until her heart is content.
Puddle Jumper: Next, pull the boat down to the water’s edge so that it’s sitting in a couple of inches of water but relatively stable. With pup aboard, make a short toss with a bumper and let her hop overboard and retrieve it. When she seems unfazed by the new platform, move out to deeper water.
Grab the Bird First: When pup swims back to the boat, be sure to reach down and grab the bird before hauling her in (see below). Leaving the bird in her mouth while you lift her aboard may cause her to clamp down, possibly leading to the dreaded hard mouth.
Up and Over: While some dog vests now have grab handles, lifting a dog aboard is not difficult. Reach down for the scruff of her neck and lift. When her front legs are over the gunwale, apply a bit of downward pressure to give her enough leverage to hop in.
Make It Easy: There are a few modifications that can be made to small boats to make pup’s experiences on the water a bit easier. Place some non-skid tape around areas where your pup will need some extra grip, so she’s not banging her knees or slipping off of seats. Also, bring a carpet square and designate it as her place. Work on this both on and off the water, and she will know her spot when it’s time to hunt.
Like all lessons, the above should not be done in one day. Take your time and progress forward when your pup is ready. If anyone has any other boat-dog tips feel free to share. I, for one, have never used a dog ramp to haul a dog aboard, but I do know some duck hunters love them.