Is Your Dog Steady to Shot?

In my last post I mentioned that I was reminded how you should always train to what you personally want to accomplish. I can think of no better example of that than Eric Johannsen and his black lab Stormy (photo). Eric is the owner of Johannsen Farms Outfitters in Tolstoy, South Dakota, a 5,000-acre working family farm that is also uniquely managed for truly jaw-dropping numbers of wild, free-ranging pheasants.

I had the pleasure of hunting with Eric and Stormy recently and as kindred retriever guys we started talking dogs. Eric is an ardent amateur trainer who - when he's not farming - spends every spare moment in the spring and summer training. Stormy is an AKC senior hunter (he's a Lean Mac dog, for all you field trial guys) and Eric's primary guide dog during hunting season. In all respects Stormy is a perfectly trained dog who could easily go on and earn his master hunter title, but for one thing: Eric deliberately trains his dogs to not be steady to shot.

Now in a hunt test or field trial not being steady to shot will get you dropped very quickly, but as Eric explains it, for the conditions and the way he hunts, it makes sense. "The reason I don't train them to stay steady to shot is a function of where and how we hunt," says Eric. "When a client wings a bird and it drops in heavy cover, my dogs have got to be able to mark that bird down, get in there right then and get it before it has a chance to run off. The time it would take me to release the dog if it were steady might very well be the difference between getting that bird and losing it."

A perfect example of training to what you want regardless of conventional wisdom. Anyone else deliberately train their dog to not be steady to shot? If so, why? I've unintentionally done the same thing with my old chessie, Tess, whom I originally trained to be steady because I wanted to run her in AKC hunt tests. Children, career and other life got in the way of that plan, and since I primarily duck hunt alone these days and shoot mostly singles, I have in the past few years allowed her, for better or worse, to lose that steadiness.