Veteran Advice for Rookie Dogs and Dog Owners

posted on August 21, 2016

Hey Pup, I hear you’re finally going hunting. About time! What’s it been, eight, 10 months since those people took you in, fed you, conditioned you to loud noises and started dangling bird wings in front of your nose? I’ll bet they fired you up by throwing a few bumpers and tennis balls, too, eh?

I remember my puppy days. Yeah, they were fun, but now your real job begins. Bird finding! Duck retrieving! Whoo-hoo! It’s what you and I were bred for. Time to let the wolf out. But let it out slowly if you can. If you do this right, you’ll have fulltime employment with the boss. Screw it up and … well, he’ll probably keep you around, but he’s less likely to put you to work. Take it from me: People will not like chasing you across fields and wetlands while you try to catch every pheasant and duck in North America. And don’t expect them to appreciate how ravenous you are when you eat that first quail. Humans are funny that way, so humor them and try to get along. Control your inner wolf.

First, steel yourself for excessive confusion and excitement. I mean to tell you, Pup, the air just before the hunt is going to be electric with anticipation, anxiety and tension. You’ll catch it—I still catch it even after eight seasons—but resist joining in. You and your owner will be a lot happier (not to mention on time) if you dutifully hop in the kennel and lay low while your human runs back and forth finding and loading various things he should have organized the night before. Like his gun, the right shells, waders, bird vest, hunting license, your lead and e-collar … the list is long but it’s not your responsibility. So don’t sweat it. All you need is your nose and legs, and you’re not likely to forget those. Relax, don’t whine, bark or race down the street and get lost amid all the confusion. Just get in the kennel and hope your human can get his stuff together.

Be sure to eat hearty 24 hours before the hunt or at least 12 hours before. If Boss has been feeding you a proper athlete’s diet of about 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat, you’ll have enough staying power for the day, but fueling up closer than about 12 hours from high activity means you’ll push blood flow to the gut instead of working muscles. The insulin rush after eating can lead to low blood sugar and the weakness that comes with it. Sadly, many humans don’t understand this. Try to resist pigging out if they plop a huge bowl of goodies under your nose too close to kickoff. Boss should have a proper meal waiting for you immediately after your hunt.

This is a hard one, Pup, but try to drink yourself into a stupor. Muscles always function best when well lubricated. You’re going to be churning through more calories and panting away more moisture in an hour than you do in three days at home.

If your human is smart, he’ll have been lacing your water with 1 percent glycerol for two weeks before your hunt. This helps pull water into your muscles. Since every human knows they can lead a dog to water but not make him drink, they should “bait” your water with a bit of flavor: milk, beef or chicken bouillon—anything tasty to entice you to hydrate before the race. Cross your toes Boss doesn’t forget field water. He should offer it every 15 minutes. Drink hearty, matey.

Once at the starting line, you’ll face a real temptation. All those months of pent-up desire are just waiting to explode, and Boss will probably rev you up with excited talk and all his body tension: “Here we go, Girl. This is it. Wanna find a bird? Find a bird? Birds out here! Birds! Let’s get ’em!”

This is counterproductive. Try to ignore it! Resist the urge to explode from your kennel and run 10 miles in circles around the truck. Have some self-respect, Pup.

Ideally your owner should caution you to “stay” while he calmly snaps on your lead or straps on your e-collar. Once this is done he should set you on the ground calmly and let you do your business. You’ll have to run at this point. I know. We all do, even us old veterans. But try to remain within the general vicinity. Don’t make the rookie mistake of racing across the field or splashing deep into the marsh, flushing every delicious-smelling bird in the county. Humans don’t appreciate this, but they should anticipate it and keep you under control with lead or collar. But they’ll probably forget.

When the hunt starts you might find yourself ignored as Boss and his buddies laugh and joke as they work through cover, but beware sensory overload. Bird numbers are at their annual peak, and you might be awash in more feathered perfume than you ever dreamed of smelling. This is your critical test. This is the moment when many a potential field champ has succumbed to temptation, flushed a bird, chased after it, flushed another and cleared the field. More than a few dogs have kept going. Haven’t been heard from since. Some end up begging at ranch doors, sleeping in cow sheds for the rest of their lives.

Your boss should know this and nip it in the bud by taking you to a field without so many birds and certainly without additional hunters. It’s hard enough to maintain control with just a few birds and one gun, but a bunch of birds and a bevy of noisy humans shooting and shouting—now that’s a recipe for disaster. My sympathies if your human doesn’t set you up better than this. He should concentrate on you and how you’re performing, not on shooting a limit. Think one point, one flush, one shot, one bird, one retrieve and one reward at a time.

Your human also has the responsibility to make sure you take a break. If Boss is smart, he’ll rein you in from time to time, calm you down, force you to stop and think. Nothing worse for a new recruit than sensory overload. Once you’ve gotten into birds, you’ll be dizzy with all the smells, feathers, flying, shooting, running, shouting. Hope your boss calls you in, sits you down, lets you calm and regroup. When you’ve had time to let that first experience sink in, he should allow you to progress to the next. A longer break at midmorning or midday—say at least an hour, preferably two—will really help you regroup and start fresh.

Yeah, yeah, we veterans know you young pups can run all day and bark all night, but this is a profession, not amateur hour. Pace yourself. Think about where you’re going and what you’re doing. Try to help your human calm down so he comprehends the big picture. He’s setting you up for a lifetime of hunting success. This is the first day of the rest of your hunting career. You don’t have to hit a grand slam your first time up.


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