“Uh ho, you threw that one a little deep into the corn,” I said as I watched Windsor, the 110 lb yellow lab, bound across the grass towards the imposing sea of green stalks and golden tassels.
The summer training tune up for the four labs at Watson Hunting Camp was about to wrap up and we decided to give them a little challenge. The healthy cornfield was tall and thick, and Windsor was nosing his way through it searching frantically for the bright, white bumper. After a 5 minute search, out came the sturdy lab, proudly displaying his find.
This had been a good session for the dogs and their owners, as even the veterans can get a little rusty after a few months off. The spring snow goose season gave my lab, Mika, a chance to do some real work in the “offseason”, but she always needs a little reminder on how things are done.
Mika has so much energy that it’s almost a hinderance. Some dogs get all worked up when you pick up your gun or pull a camouflage coat out of the closet-Mika gets excited when you open a door. So once she realized that we’d be working with decoys, bumpers and gunshots, she could barely contain herself.
Her first year was like that all the time and I’ll be honest, it was a tough year. I made the decision to keep her in the house, and nearly regretted it. You remember the Tazmanian Devil? Mika made him look like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
But after a couple years of working with her, getting her real experience in the field, while taking the time to train like this, she’s really learned to focus that energy-most of the time anyway. With the excitement of getting around the hunting gear and 3 other young labs there too, it was a little bit of a chaotic scramble until they all calmed down and got to work.
We worked on teaching the dogs not to break on gunfire. With young dogs, I’ve been encouraged to let them break to increase the drive to retrieve. Now that they’re a little older, it’s time to reinforce the idea that they can’t do anything until they’re told, including waiting until the command that tells them it’s “ok to go and retrieve” the bumper/bird/etc.
Training styles differ and I’m no expert, but I would encourage the “go” command to be used with the dog’s name if you plan on hunting around other dogs. For instance, when I’m ready for my dog to retrieve, I can say “MIKA!” and she’ll know that it’s time to go. Some use the word “Back!”, and there is the old stand by of “Fetch it up!” With 4 dogs, we ran into a bit of confusion at times when a command would be given and all 4 of them would try to do it.
It was a fairly comical as we’d tell one of our resting dogs to “lie down!” and all four dogs would get comfortable at the same time.
By the end of the session we had tired dogs, but they were well versed in the days exercises. This type of training can be invaluable this time of year. It’s warm, so keep the drills short, have lots of water on hand and offer some shady areas. But it’s important that some training gets done. These dogs were all younger than 3, but dogs of any age can use a tune-up before the season starts. With the introduction of an August season in Minnesota, the time of the year for them to be sharp will be here before you know it.
Here are a few more pictures from our field training session. Up next: Training over water from a permanent duck blind, complete with a new ramp that none of them have ever seen before. We’ll see how that goes!