If there was ever a bird hunt that didn’t need a dog, a dove hunt is it. But use one anyway.
We generally shoot doves over open fields, so they’re not too hard to recover. They don’t run off like pheasants or quail, either. Nevertheless, take your retriever because it’s a great training venue.
Pigeon-holing (no pun intended) dogs into narrow-use categories fails them and you. Just because your Chessie has the build and skills to be the ultimate ice-water goose-fetcher doesn’t mean he can’t help you out, enjoy himself and learn a few things by picking up doves. Just because your Gordon setter is destined to become the world’s greatest long-range pointer doesn’t mean she won’t be an all-round better dog if she’s forced to bring in downed doves.
Dove hunting is a bonding, practice and training event. All dogs should attend. Here are several things you can work on.
Sociability If there are lots of hunters, kids and other dogs where you hunt doves, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to help your dog behave, interact calmly and learn to be an agreeable, controlled canine citizen. Use a leash to maintain control at first and insist that she obey all known commands. Don’t get so absorbed in looking for doves that you let Dog slip away.
Steadiness to Shot If Dog is experienced and has the typical Pavlovian response to gunshots, here’s your chance to reinforce the need to wait until you give a “fetch” command. With dove limits at 10-15 birds in most states and many shooters needing more than two shots to bag each bird, you’ll get plenty of chances to show Dog how rushing out after every shot is a waste of time. Make him wait.
Gun Shyness Any dog nervous around guns could overcome that at a dove shoot. But you have to play it smart. Start at a distance and gradually move closer to the action as the dog shows acceptance. Play fetch, tag or any physical exercise Dog loves while the distant popping goes on. Soon you’ll be playing right near the action, and then he can fetch the real thing.
Blind and Multiple Retrieves With birds dropping left and right, make the time to work Dog on doubles, triples and blinds. Many dog trainers put their students on a dove field just so they can direct them to multiple blind retrieves and finds after the shooting is over. Glean and clean.
Anything else you can think up. Whatever skill set needs work, you can probably figure out a way to work it on a dove hunt. Let Dog brush up her skills in the dove field so she’s in top form on the water or in the uplands.