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New Skills Make a Better Hunting Dog

Branching out to new experiences and adventures will improve your hunting dog’s performance at what he or she already does best. And it’s just plain fun.

a black lab waterfowl hunting dog
WaterfowlEukanuba

Most hunters specialize their hunting dog. “Oh, Lady there? She’s a pheasant (or insert other upland bird here) dog.” “My Buck? He’s a duck (or goose) dog all the way.” “Little Rex? He’s my rabbit dog.”

Focus is good, to be sure. Lessons learned early and reinforced often become second nature to dogs, and that’s what you want. But when late season rolls around and you two have been at it together for so long once again, it may be time to ponder new adventures to tackle and take together.

All hunting dogs have a great capacity for learning. New challenges will stimulate him or her. The exciting experiences gained, and new skills obtained, will likely even make your dog better at its specialty. And who knows: You may even find a new favorite pursuit to share.

Shed Antler Hunting

It’s been all the rage to talk about. But many hunting dog owners still haven’t actually added shed antler hunting to their dog’s skillset. And that’s a shame. It’s easy to do – much easier than you think. It’s a superb off-season activity for providing exercise and simulating hunting. And you might even come home with a trophy piece of bone.

And yes, you can let your dog keep and chew up any small or squirrel-gnawed antlers you don’t want to save; that will also increase your dog’s desire to find more antlers.

Training, if you can call it that, is easy. Procure a few deer antlers. Let your dog smell them a few times a day for a few days, and have one to chew. Hide antlers in the woods or other free-walk/hiking area. “Guide” your dog that direction on an excursion. Let him find the antlers. Encourage fetch. Praise generously. Repeat this process. Don’t complicate anything. Make it easy and fun.

Final note: Any dog – upland dog, waterfowl dog, hound dog – can double as a shed dog.

Upland Dog to Waterfowl Dog

Give your upland bird dog some waterfowl hunting experience. Water retrieves are good, and the skills learned and fetches made on a duck pond may just help you get a fine water retrieve later when a rooster falls into the slough of a ruffed grouse splashes into the creek.

Make your first duck hunts on the “easy” side, meaning: Don’t hit the big water for late-season divers, or ice-rimmed waters for the last mallards of the year. Instead, hunt early teal seasons, or work the wood duck migration, when conditions are mild and water is warm to just cool. Consider a jump-shoot too.

Waterfowl Dog to Upland Dog

Give your waterfowl dog some upland hunting experience. Duck and goose dogs are special. The self-control they show when waiting from a duck blind or sacked up next to your layout blind is amazing. Runs in the upland fields or woods are good for those dogs’ souls, and the activity leverages a skill that’s bred in them anyway: coursing cover close, flushing birds and, especially, bringing those birds back to hand.

The experience gained digging dead birds out of heavy grass or brush will translate into increased skills at finding those ducks that tumble back into the marsh grass, cattails or tules instead of splashing onto water.

Pheasants and ruffed grouse are natural upland targets for a waterfowl dog acting as bird dog, but prairie grouse are a fine target too. And all these birds also occupy different kinds of good duck country anyway. Bobwhite quail are another great target bird.

Dove Hunting for Any Dog

Many dogs are already dove hunters. But if you haven’t taken on the wingshooting challenge these little speedsters present, it’s time for you and your dog to just do it. The timing is delightful – the earliest of early fall when weather is mild. This means dove hunting serves as a great warm-up for upland dogs and waterfowl dogs alike because of all the retrieves they get (should you actually hit some birds!).

In addition, the obedience and control dogs have to show while sitting and waiting for dove action will only make them better in the duck blind or upland fields later.